A nourishing and comforting sweet potato soup, mildly spiced with cumin and cayenne, and topped with salty, savoury tamari roasted pumpkin seeds.
And just like that summer is over. Daylight savings finished this weekend in New Zealand – our clocks have been turned back an hour, mornings are cool and evenings are dark. I’m already finding myself looking for jeans and cardigans, in place of the shorts and singlets that ruled all summer long. It was indeed an extreme rendition of the Great Kiwi Summer, officially the hottest on record and more than a bit overwhelming at times.
I have a love/hate relationship with heat. I’m drawn to travel in the hottest destinations the world has to offer, but I’m not very good at it. I sweat and I complain, and I go back for more. Until I’m done. Then the sweet relief of a cool, temperate climate draws me close, lets me sleep, and begins my equatorial dreams yet again.
The edge of autumn is the only hint I need to switch back to making soups. Aside from the obvious comfort factor of soup, it provides endless opportunities to be creative with flavour combinations and toppings, use up odds and ends from the vegetable drawer, tick nutritional boxes and fill the freezer with cost-effective made-ahead meals.
Thank goodness it’s soup season.
Lightly spiced sweet potato soup
I love sweet potato, or orange kumara as we call it in New Zealand. I mainly tend towards using it in savoury dishes like kumara cakes, salad, baked with toppings or in place of toast, but I’ve merely dabbled with using sweet potato in soup. No more.
While there’s a lot to be said for pumpkin soup, I loathe the chopping, deseeding and peeling process and for that reason, it’s often the soup I make when all other options are exhausted. Sweet potato offers a very similar flavour and texture, with a lot less work involved.
For this soup I start by sweating garlic, onion and celery in olive oil until they are tender and fragrant. Peeled and cubed sweet potato, red lentils and vegetable stock go in, along with plenty of ground cumin and a pinch or three of cayenne pepper.
Once everything is tender, it’s a simple matter of blending the soup until it’s silky smooth. If the soup is too thick, add a little more water.
At this stage I adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, more cayenne if needed, and a little acid – which is almost always the secret ingredient to give any soup a little lift and let its flavours shine. In this case I squeezed in the juice of a small orange, it was enough to brighten the soup, while complementing the sweet potato and cumin flavours beautifully.
And add a bit of crunch
I’m a sucker for a good topping to jazz up a bowl of soup. Croutons, seeds, nuts, pesto, cashew cream and even flavoured oils can all be used to complement both the taste and texture of any soup, and make it just that bit more special.
I topped this orange kumara soup with oven roasted tamari pumpkin seeds. You can make them while the soup is cooking and they take almost no effort at all.
- Toss pumpkin seeds with tamari.
- Spread evenly on a baking tray.
- Roast at 160C (320F) for 8-10 minutes, until the seeds are toasted golden and the tamari is dry.
- Remove from the oven, scrape onto a plate or board and allow to cool. The seeds will crisp up as they cool.
Serve the soup with a few spoonfuls of seeds and a sprinkle of coriander (cilantro) if you like it.
My family loved this sweet potato soup, so it’ll be making its way onto the Quite Good Food Winter Soup Kitchen menu for a few repeat appearances.
For the soup:
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic finely chopped
- 1 onion finely chopped
- 3 sticks celery finely chopped
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- Pinch cayenne pepper (or more to taste)
- 1 large sweet potato (orange kumara, about 600g/1.3lb) peeled and chopped
- 4 cups vegetable stock
- 1/4 cup red lentils
- Salt and pepper to season
- 2 tbsp orange juice (juice of one orange, approximately)
For the tamari pumpkin seeds:
- 1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
- 2 tsp tamari
- Coriander (cilantro) leaves to garnish
For the tamari pumpkin seeds:
- Preheat oven to 160C (320F). Toss the pumpkin seeds with the tamari until evenly coated, then spread them out on a baking tray. Roast for 8-10 minutes, or until toasted golden and the tamari is dry. Remove from the oven, scrape the seeds onto a plate or board and allow to cool.
For the soup:
- Heat olive oil in a large saucepan. Add garlic, onion and celery and cook for 5-10 minutes, until the vegetables are soft and fragrant.
- Add the cumin, cayenne pepper, sweet potato, vegetable stock and red lentils. Season with a little salt and pepper, then simmer for 20 minutes, or until the lentils are cooked and the sweet potato is soft.
- Transfer the mixture to a blender and blend until smooth (you may need to do this in batches). Return soup to the pan, adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and cayenne pepper, and add orange juice to taste. Bring back up to heat to serve, or transfer to storage containers to save for later.
- Serve soup topped with a few spoonfuls of tamari pumpkin seeds and a sprinkle of chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves.