Often while dining out, I get inspired to make my own version of a particular dish. Or I dissect said dish and figure out the ingredients and spices so I can replicate the food at home.
Recently, I enjoyed a light lunch with a friend at Kantin in Nişantaşı. This cute cafe is always bumping at lunchtime and serves an ever-changing menu focused on seasonal ingredients. For our first course, we both ordered the daily soup which was balkabağı çorbası (pumpkin soup).
|Kantin's Turkish pumpkin soup was garnished with a dollop of yogurt, fresh oregano and ground black pepper.|
For the last two months or so in Istanbul, I've often walked by small wooden stands set up in the streets or on sidewalks where a Turkish guy is cutting up fresh balkabağı (literally translates to "honey squash".) Usually, he must use a long, hand saw to cut through the tough, greenish-blue exterior.
Just off Valikonağı Caddesi in Nişantaşı, the pumpkin guy sets up his stall near the artichoke-peeling guy while across the street a second pumpkin guy holds his corner by the fresh juice guy. (I never understand the Turkish concept of setting up like-minded stalls literally right next to each other.)
Anyway, I bought a kilo of balkabağı at the Saturday pazar in Beşiktaş. I love the fact that the guys will cut AND peel the pumpkin for you! At home, I made a delicious, spicy, cumin-scented pumpkin soup, which only lasted 2 days, followed by a curry-based cauliflower soup. 'Tis the season for soup!
With the snow blowing outside here in Istanbul, it's a perfect time to make this wintery balkabağı çorbası. And, trust me, the fried garlic chips are worth the extra effort!
Balkabağı Çorbası/Turkish Pumpkin Soup with Cumin Yogurt
2 T. vegetable or olive oil
1 med. onion, diced small
4-6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 T. cumin
1 kilo (2.2 lbs.) balkabağı (pumpkin), cut into 1-inch cubes
2 med. yellow potatoes, cut into small cubes
1 L. (33. 8 oz.) chicken stock or water
To taste pul biber (red chili flakes), salt and freshly ground black pepper
120 ml. (1/2 c.) low-fat milk (Substitute whole milk or heavy cream for a richer taste.)
For garnish: Cumin yogurt - To make, stir in a good pinch of cumin powder and salt to (low-fat) yogurt and season to taste.
Fried garlic chips (Note: mine only took about 30 seconds to fry. Strain immediately and place on paper towel to absorb extra grease.)
1. In a large stockpot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute about five minutes, until softened.
2. Add the garlic and cumin powder. Cook for just a few minutes. Then add the pumpkin and potato chunks, stirring with a large spoon and cook for a few more minutes.
3. Then, add the stock or water. Add a dash of pul biber, salt and black pepper. Cover the pot with a lid and let simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the pumpkin is soft.
4. When finished cooking, add the milk. Using a hand immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. Taste and adjust the seasonings as necessary.
5. To serve, ladle the hot soup into warmed bowls. Garnish with a dollop of the cumin yogurt and a sprinkling of the fried garlic chips. (Watch your husband eat said soup in amazement!)