Monday, November 26, 2012

Comsat Cooking + Gracie Diet: Lex's Tinapa Cream of Pumpkin soup

I auditioned for Pinoy Master Chef and failed. I blame no one but myself and would like to keep my scathing comments from bubbling out of my oft-uncontrollable mouth. Let's just say that I over reached and was found lacking a back story. But I liked how a friend of mine who accompanied me to the auditions got in with a very simple dish. One that, upon initial tasting, fell flat for my taste buds, but after the long hours we spent waiting for our dishes' turn to be judged, developed deeper notes and thus became richer.

That just shows how simple food can be elevated and how some dishes are best reheated. It's healthy and simple, so I'm including it in my Gracie Diet line and because it aint mine entirely, it's also Comsat Cooking. So here is a soup from Lex's concept and a few tweaks from yours truly.

Lex's Tinapa Cream of Pumpkin soup

What you need:

Kalabasa (Pumpkin)
All purpose cream
Tinapang galunggong (Mackerel Scad, here's Market Man's description) If you don't have access to this, any smoked fish like mackerel or trout will do. I really don't know if salmon would have enough of a kick to get the smoke notes you want in this soup.
Olive oil
Wansuy (Cilantro)
Cayenne Pepper
Habañero powder (optional)
Bay leaf

How to do it:

Fry galunggong over medium heat and enough olive oil to keep the fish happily half submerged in it. Trust me, using olive oil is worth it because you can use it later to finish the dish. Flake fried tinapa once it cools and set aside. Strain oil and set aside. Peel and clean kalabasa and boil with bay leaves and ginger until soft. Don't season it yet. This is where it can get a bit complicated. If you don't have a ricer or a blender, smoothening the pumpkin mash can be troublesome. If you do, then use these tools. I didn't have them at my disposal when I tried my hand at this dish, so I did it the hard way. First, I took out the bay leaves and ginger, strained the boiling liquid and saved it. I mashed the pumpkin in a big bowl with a fork, getting it as smooth as I can. I added it back to the boiling liquid. Then I slowly strained it with a fine mesh strainer. I fully charged my phone in the time I spend straining the soup, that slow. The thing is, a kalabasa is stringy and putting it though a sieve means you're going to have to work it through. But the creamy texture you get is worth the elbow grease man, I'm telling you.

Put the creamy soup back on the fire and simmer slowly. Add half of the tinapa flakes and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add paprika, cayenne pepper and habañero powder to give the soup a kick and enhance the smoky flavor. If you have saffron, not kasubha (find out the world of difference between the two in this fierce post), add it to the dish to take it to a whole new level.

To serve, add a dollop of all purpose cream onto the soup when you put into the serving bowl. This will add contrast to the bright yellow color but also tighten up the soup even more. Top with finely chopped wansuy for a dash of freshness and finish with a healthy teaspoon of the olive oil you fried the tinapa in to really enhance the smoked fish taste.

Some notes:

Now, saffron and habañero powder are very hard to come by for most home cooks. I talked about where I sourced my habañero powder on this post, but saffron is a bit more tricky. If you are, like me, an OFW kid and have relatives in the middle east, or the US try asking them for a small pack of saffron the next time they come home. My cousin got it for me at around 800 pesos for 10 grams in Oman. When you open the pack, store the precious fiery orange stuff in an airtight container and it can keep for months. Do not attempt a Paella without having saffron ready.

Now, pumpkin soup is a fairly familiar soup to Westerners, but the smoked fish is a better substitute for the pancetta and slab bacon often used to flavor pumpkin or butternut squash soup. You get an entirely new flavor profile if you can get your hands on tinapa. Also, notice that I only add the cream upon serving, so the dish is less fatty.
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