Charleston, SC is one of those places full of culture, flavors and a diverse population of people. We never miss the city when we have the chance, but never miss taking a class at Charleston Cooks! either. The first time we stopped by, I learned of the cooking school, the following spring I treated myself to a Mother’s Day gift of Low Country Cooking. There I found the reason you don’t find yeast breads in the region, instead replaced by biscuits and grits. The winters are not hard enough for hard wheat for the hearty breads and grains. Thus, the residents of this swamp riddled land learned to cook with soft wheat, producing delicate bakery goods.
I’ve already talked about grits and that’s my next goal when I pass through the region, but the fall of 2009 Charleston Cooks! offered an everything pumpkin class and I signed up in a New York minute. When traveling the islands, especially the Bahamas, food stores are hit and miss, but one thing you can always count on is squash of one form or another because it grows locally. Pumpkin seems to be always in stock. Being selfish, I didn’t just want to take this class for flavor, but also for ways to use local produce when we went farther south.
One, I’d recommend taking any cooking class offered wherever you travel, but I can recommend Charleston Cooks!
and their friendly staff. Did I mention, I practically roll away from class, filled to the brim with the treats we sample? You can’t take in another five-star restaurant with more flavor.
Curried Pumpkin Squash Soup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, halved, peeled and sliced
2 leeks or spring onion tops, trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced
3 tablespoons curry powder
1 whole star anise (I have not been able to find these except locally, so unfortunately, I have to leave them out.)
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and ½ inch cubed
1 pie/sugar pumpkin, peeled, seeded and ½ inch cubed (I have used a 15oz. can of pumpkin filling in a pinch, but I wait until the last minute when all other ingredients have softened.)
1 carrot, shredded
2 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and shredded (Last time I made this I didn’t have apples, so I substituted plums with a great result.)
1 sweet potato, peeled and shredded
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1 tablespoon chives, chopped for garnish
½ cup sour cream or crème fraiche
1 lime, zested (Fresh is best, but I have used lime juice instead. You won’t believe the added flavor.)
½ lime, juiced
1. Heat butter and olive oil in large pot over medium high heat.
2. Add the onions, leeks and one pinch of salt. Sweat until vegetable soften and are translucent.
3. Add the curry powder and star anise. Cook until fragrant.
4. Add butternut squash, pumpkin, and two pinches of salt to the pot. Cook until vegetables begin to brown and soften.
5. Add in the carrot, apple, sweet potato and one pinch of salt. Stir to coat with seasonings.
6. Pour in the stock and bring to a gentle simmer, for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft.
7. In a small mixing bowl, combine sour cream or crème fraiche, chives, lime zest, and lime juice. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
8. When the vegetables in the soup have softened, remove the star anise, and puree the soup in a blender or food processor. (I use a potato masher and have a bit chunkier soup. My pressure cooker does a great job of softening the vegetables.) Transfer the soup back to a saucepan. Season with salt and pepper.
9. Serve soup garnished with chive crème.
What recipes do you have that speak to the region you most enjoy?