Two weeks ago -- on Halloween, to be precise -- we took the kids to the Oakland Zoo for their Boo at the Zoo event. Despite the crowds, we enjoyed all the zoo's special activities, like scavenger hunts, trick-or-treating, free train rides, costume parades, Zhu Zhu Pets, hairy-scary spiders.... and the best pumpkin soup we've ever tasted. I've slurped my way through many a bowl of pumpkin soup before, but this was the first one I've had that tastes like it belongs in an Indian restaurant. It had a hint of curry, turmeric and nutmeg, and it was delicious! It was just begging to be eaten with a chunk of hot nan bread. It was nothing at all like the typical things you'd find in a zoo cafe -- hotdogs, burgers and the like -- and it was delicious! We were bitterly disappointed to find out that the zoo only serves it for Halloween, and I was too shy to ask if I could have a copy of the recipe. We resigned ourselves to feasting on the memory of that lovely soup until we could come back next Halloween.
Then I found a recipe for Curried Garnet Yam Soup in Myra Goodman's (founder of Earthbound Farms) latest cookbook The Earthbound Cook. It called for curry powder, cumin, turmeric, coriander, and a bunch of other spices commonly used in Indian foods, so I thought I'd try it and see how it compared to the Oakland Zoo soup. I'm kind of a rebel when it comes to recipes -- most of the time I see recipes as guidelines, not instructions, so I rarely follow them word for word -- so I decided to substitute the Garnet yams (which I hate) for a sweet root vegetable that I love, butternut squash. I sauteed some yellow onions in olive oil, then added chicken broth, the butternut squash, all those Indian spices and some salt and pepper and let it all simmer together. After a good stir with my favorite immersion blender, I added a dollop of sour cream (the recipe calls for plain yogurt but I wanted to make it irresistible to the kids and I figured this soup is so low-fat and nutrient-dense already) and a sprinkling of thyme (don't ask me why, I just thought it looked good) and served it up.
It was absolutely delicious! Not quite the same as the Oakland Zoo soup -- I suppose the combination/proportion of spices was different -- but certainly on par with it. I don't think it needed any tinkering because everyone loved it. It just goes to show, if you start out with a good recipe, you can tweak it and make it your own. If this soup was any indication of the quality of the other recipes in The Earthbound Cook, I can see I'll be using a lot more of it as a springboard for my culinary improvisations!
This post was inspired by the latest book of the month discussion on From Left to Write, a virtual book blogging club run by my friend Linsey Krolik. As a member of the club, I received a free copy of The Earthbound Cook (ARV: $20).