With All Hallows Eve (Halloween) and Mexico’s Dias de Los Muertos (Days of the Dead) arrival there are celebrations, albeit quite different, on both sides of the Mexican American border.
While All Hallows Eve (31st of October) and Dias de Los Muertos (1 & 2 of November) are loosely linked, both celebrating traditions around All Saints Day, the Mexican celebration predates the Spanish Inquisition in the Americas. It is a celebration that reunites the living with the dead. Trails of marigolds are laid out so the departed can find there way home to celebrate with their family and friends. Alters in homes and cemeteries are laden with offerings (ofrendas) of food, drink, mementos, old photographs, and colorfully decorated sugar skulls. The mood is decidedly festive set against a backdrop of flickering candle light that promises a night of traditional music, feasting, and drinking along with their departed familiares y amigos.
Jose Guadalupe Posada’s humorous prints are closely associated with Dias de Los Muertos and wonderfully encapsulate the spirit of one of Mexico’s most colorful celebrations.
Pumpkins are native to Central America, dating back 7000 years. The recipe that follows celebrates the ingenuity of Mexican cooks from the past as well as the present. This sopa de calabaza is as nutritious as it is colorful and flavorsome. What better way to celebrate Dias de Los Muertos or Halloween than with this hearty Mexican roasted pumpkin soup.
Mexican Roasted Pumpkin Soup (Sopa de Calabaza) makes 2 quarts/2.25 liters
- 1 pumpkin (about 2 ½ lbs/1.25 kg)
- 1 head garlic, cloves separated, skin on
- 2 teaspoons sea salt + more to taste
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 10 sprigs sage leaves, stem in tact
- 1 large onion, finely diced (1 ½ cups)
- celery, finely diced (1 cup)
- 1 large carrot, finely diced (1 ½ cups)
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 2 inch canela bark (cinnamon) or ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon pure ground red chile + more to taste
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 8 cups/4 liters water or stock, hot
- ½ cup cream
- 1 cup crema (see note) or sour cream
- fried sage leaves
- tortilla chips
Preheat the oven to 425F/220c
Roasting the pumpkin and garlic together adds a slight smoky flavor to the soup and well worth a little extra effort. For more information on roasting pumpkin (Click here).
Slice the pumpkin in half. Remove the seeds and stringy membrane and discard. Slice each half of the pumpkin into 1 inch thick slices crosswise and then halve each slice. Place the pumpkin slices and garlic cloves in a large bowl and drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper and toss until evenly coated with oil.
Transfer the pumpkin, skin side down, to a parchment lined baking tray and nestle the garlic cloves between the pumpkin slices. Transfer the tray to the oven and roast about 45 minutes or until the pumpkin is very soft. Remove the try from the oven and set aside on a rack to cool.
Once the pumpkin is cool enough to handle peel/slice off the skin and cut the pumpkin into bite size pieces and place in a bowl.
Peel the skin off the garlic and discard. Chop the garlic and add it to the bowl of pumpkin and set aside.
Place a small skillet on the stove over medium heat and add 4 tablespoons of olive oil. When the oil is very hot place the sage sprigs in the oil and quick fry until the leaves a crispy, about 35 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer the fried sage to a paper towel lined plate and set aside to use later.
Place a stock pot on the stove over medium heat and transfer the oil you fried the sage leaves in into the pot along with the butter. Once the oil/butter is bubbling add the onions and stir to combine. Put the lid on the pot and sweat the onions for 4 minutes. Remove the lid and add the celery and carrots. Lightly season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Return the lid to the pot and sweat the vegetables for another 5 minutes, stirring after a couple of minutes.
Remove the lid and push the vegetables to the perimeter of the pot and add the tomato paste in the center of the pot. Using the back of a spoon, smash the tomato paste against the bottom of the pot until it melts and caramelizes, about 1 minute and then stir everything together. Then add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, bay leaf, Canela (or cinnamon), 1 tablespoon ground red chile, and smoked paprika. Stir everything together until well combined.
Promptly add the roasted pumpkin and garlic to the pot and add the hot water (or stock) and stir everything together. Season with the remaining salt and pepper to taste. Once the pot comes back to a low simmer skim any foam off the surface of the soup and discard. Continue to simmer the soup for 45 minutes. Skimming off foam as needed.
Turn off the heat and let the soup rest for 10 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and canela (if used), and using a hand held blender (or transfer to a soup to a food processor, or blender) blend the soup until it is smooth. The soup will be very thick and can be thinned slightly by stirring in additional hot water or stock to your liking.
Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed, including more ground red chile if you prefer a more picante soup.
Stir and turn the heat back on. When simmering stir in the cream until well combined. Continue to cook for another 2 minutes at a very low simmer while stirring.
The soup can then be served promptly or transferred to containers. Cool the soup to room temperature before refrigerating or freezing.
Serving: Ladle the hot soup into individual bowls. Add a swirl of crema (see note below) or sour cream in the center of the soup. Place several tortilla chips in the center of the crema and garnish with the reserved fried sage leaves.
Note: crema is a Mexican thick cream that has a hint of sourness. Make your own by mixing 3 parts sour cream to 1 part cream. Stir until well combined and refrigerate until you are ready to serve.