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Gkaeng Liang Fak Tong
A Recipe of Kasma Loha-unchit
In the tropical heat, Thais usually eat only a few mouthfuls of this dish along with rice, much as the would eat curry and other dishes at a meal. In colder climates the richness of this soup can be fully appreciated, giving warmth and comfort. Try it with some hearty sourdough bread.
Cut the kabocha squash in half, remove the seeds and peel. Then cut the golden orange flesh into 1 to 1 1/2-inch cubes (should yield about 5-6 cups). Sprinkle and coat the pieces with lime juice and set aside.
Shell the shrimp and cut into small pieces. Slice the peppers into rounds and chop the shallots into small chunks. Do not remove the seeds from the peppers unless you do not wish your soup to be spicy. Blend the shrimp, peppers, shallots and shrimp paste in a food processor or blender. Add a quarter to half cup of water to help puree the mixture until smooth and until the ingredients are no longer distinguishable.
Reserve two cups of the creamiest part from the top of the two cans of coconut milk.* Set aside. Pour the remaining lighter milk, along with the remaining water into a medium-size soup pot. Stir in the pureed shrimp-chilli mixture. Mix well with a wire whisk to blend the paste in with the liquid, smoothing out any lumps.
Bring the soup mixture slowly to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently to as smooth a consistency as possible. Add the kabocha squash chunks. Return to a boil and simmer over low heat until the squash is soft and just about to fall apart (15 to 30 minutes, depending on the squash). Do not be concerned at this point with the appearance of the soup as it will change considerably with the addition of the coconut cream.
Add the reserved coconut cream* and gently bring to a simmer. Season with fish sauce to the desired saltiness. The squash should impart a lovely golden color to the soup. If it is not sufficiently ripe to sweeten the soup, add palm sugar to sweeten and bring forth the nutty taste of the squash. Simmer a few minutes to allow the flavors to blend. Stir in the lemon basil, lemon mint or Thai basil leaves and flowers buds and when they have wilted, turn off heat. Serve warm, garnishing the top of each bowl with a fresh sprig of the herb.
*Adding the coconut cream near the end of cooking ensures a smoother, creamier soup and minimizes the likelihood of the cream curdling. Coconut cream, particularly from canned coconut milk, will tend to curdle if boiled with water for too long or over too high a heat.
Notes and Pointers:
The squash I grew up knowing as "pumpkin" is a much different variety from the bright orange ones that are carved and decorated as jack-o'-lanterns for Halloween. Smaller, flatter and more disc-shaped, its mottled dark green peel turns to a dull greyish green, tinged with spots of yellow and light orange as it ripens. Inside, the flesh is a vibrant golden yellow, hence we call it "golden squash." Relatives to the golden squashes of home are the kabocha and the kalabasa. Tasty and sweet, both these varieties revive recollections of my favorite flavors from childhood. Brought to us here by Japanese American farmers, the kabocha (meaning "little pumpkin") is now widely available not only in Asian markets, but in supermarkets and neighborhood grocery stores as well. It is prized by Southeast Asian immigrants as can be seen by its availability in most of their markets, to the exclusion of other "pumpkins." Kalabasa, on the other hand, is only beginning to become popular and its availability is still limited.
Besides desserts and sweet treats (see sangkaya), we use golden squashes in different stages of ripeness for a wide variety of dishes, including soups, salads, appetizers, pickles, vegetable courses and curries.
For a delicious pumpkin soup, use a ripe kabocha squash - one with peel that has turned a light greyish green, splashed with splotches of yellow and orange. But it shouldn't be so old that it has dried out. Pick one with a good weight for its size. If the squash is under-ripe (i.e., still deep green in color), use a natural sweetener such as palm or coconut sugar to help bring its nutty flavor through the coconut milk. A green kabocha squash will ripen when stored in a well ventilated area for several weeks, or even a few months, so I always have one on hand. It is pretty to look at in the hanging basket in my kitchen. If you are not able to find kabocha, substitute with a good variety of winter squash that has a sweet and buttery flavor.
Recipe Copyright © 1997 Kasma Loha-unchit.
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