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Thai Coconut Pumpkin Soup

(Gaeng Liang Fak Thong)

Not your ordinary soup right out of the refrigerator--in fact, you'll need a local Oriental market to find the shrimp paste and dried shrimp. But what an appetite stimulant--your taste buds will spend the rest of the night thinking about this complexity of flavors. Serve hot as a first course to 6 people.

  • 2 Tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried shrimp, soaked for 5 minutes in boiling water, squeezed, and chopped fine
  • 1 red chile pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 green chile pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon shrimp paste (Kapi)
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 cups fresh pumpkin (or other winter squash), cut into 1-inch squares, then cut again into triangles
  • 1 can coconut milk (14 ounces)--can also mix up 2 cups of coconut milk from the instant powder that's sold in oriental markets
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Garnish: fresh squeezed lemon juice, chopped cilantro, and 6 slivered fresh basil leaves, if available

In a soup pot, saute the onion until golden brown. Stir in the dried shrimp, chiles, and shrimp paste and fry for a minute. Add water and bring to a boil. Add pumpkin triangles, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes. Salt to taste. When ready to serve, pour in coconut milk and bring just to a simmer (more and the coconut taste will decay). Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with lemon juice, then with cilantro. Top each with a slivered basil leaf.