What do you get when you cross soggy socks with worn-out sneakers? Wet feet, of course, so be sure to wear your boots to the market in winter because it can get squelchy underfoot.
Now that we live in a small country town, experiencing its rhythms and quirks, local farmers markets have taken on more significance. I am beginning to appreciate fresh food in new ways, and it may sound crazy but I particularly love choosing produce based on its natural beauty. As a result our fridge often bulges with pink carrots, purple chard and curly kale. Last week, I heaved home a huge, gnarly pumpkin without a thought for how I would prepare it.
Sadly, I discovered another answer to the question I posed above by simply roasting pieces of it in olive oil. (If you crossed soggy socks with worn-out sneakers, you’d get a fair approximation of the flavour of the pumpkin). I needed to come up with a new plan to turn this hefty vegetable into a flavoursome meal.
So I made a North African- inspired pumpkin soup that packs a spicy punch and really gave this coarse ol’ pumpkin a new lease of life. While it was simmering, I did some reading about harissa, the spicy condiment that really makes a difference to this recipe.
I have used harissa before, as a chilli hit with depth; most notably as a sort of marinade for roast potatoes, a bit like this recipe by The English Kitchen. I had thought it was from Morocco, but have just discovered that it is the preferred sauce of people all across North Africa. It actually originates in Tunisia, the coastal country that is still being rocked by recent tragic acts of violence against tourists.
Tunisia is a country with a rich history and much natural beauty. It features incredible Roman ruins at Dougga and a brilliant pop-culture attraction in the form of sets from the Star Wars films, which were abandoned when filming was completed. And that’s without mentioning the extraordinary beaches and beach weather which draws so many Europeans to Tunisian shores.
Unfortunately, the fear of future assaults means that Tunisia is quickly becoming out-of-bounds for visitors, which will deprive many local people of their incomes. This article in The Guardian, about how brave young Tunisian men faced down a deadly gunman to protect tourists, is heart-breaking.
I do hope peace can be achieved for the ordinary people of Tunisia soon.
What do you get when you cross a North African condiment with a tough pumpkin from the farmer’s market? A smooth, spicy soup that will warm you from the inside during a Southern Hemisphere winter.
Many Cha Cha’s North African Pumpkin Soup
3 cups pumpkin, peeled and diced
1 tomato, diced
1 Spanish onion, diced
1/4 cup red capsicum
1 cup chick peas (from a tin or soaked overnight)
2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely
1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, grated
1/4 preserved lemon rind, rinsed and chopped
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped
1 teaspoon harissa (or more, to taste)
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
Fresh chilli, chopped (as a garnish, to taste)
Plain yoghurt, to serve
In a medium saucepan, sautee the onion, garlic, ginger, cumin and bay leaves in the olive oil. When the onion has softened, add the tomato, lemon, harissa and a tablespoon of coriander; continue to stir on a medium heat until the tomato has disintegrated and you are left with a sort of paste. Add the pumpkin and capsicum and stir to coat them both with the paste, continuing to stir for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Cover the vegetables with water and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.
Remove bay leaves, add remaining coriander. Mash or puree the vegetables, then add chick peas and heat through. Check that your seasoning and spice suits you: add more harissa or salt if needed.
Serve with a dollop of yoghurt plus a garnish of chilli if you like it hot (it’s a mild-to-medium dish as is).