The Name: I made a variety of Pumpkin Soup for a dinner party when we were visiting friends in Monterey, California a couple of years back (2005). The host, David, tasted it, turned to my husband and said “I’ll give you two mules for her!” My husband, said “No way!”, to which David increased the offer to “Seven mules!” After my husband explained that he didn’t want to trade me, and besides, he’d have a hard time getting seven mules onto a Qantas flight to Australia, David decided to just eat the soup and stop the trading. Everyone went back for seconds until it was all gone – I was pleased, as this was a soup made with pumpkin, an ingredient that Americans typically use in sweet dishes, not savoury ones. The name has stuck and I now refer to this soup as “Seven Mules Soup”.
The Soup: Like all good soups, there’s no hard and fast recipe. Every time I make it, it is a little different, depending on the ingredients I have to hand. Subsitute according to your own tastes! And like all good soups, I tend to make a lot at once and freeze it. If you intend freezing it, DON’T add the cream/sour cream/yoghurt/coconut cream until you’ve thawed it out and reheated it.
- Chicken stock (I usually make my own from raw chicken carcasses and add goodies such as onions, mushrooms, celery, and lots of chilli! If you want a bit of Thai flavour, add some lemon grass, ginger, and coriander. Australians: You can get five chicken carcasses for $2 from Lenards poultry stores.)
- Pumpkin (I usually use Butternut, Jap, or Kent; don’t use Queensland Blue – it’s way too hard to cut! Americans: You call it Squash, so use Butternut Squash)
- Cream (You can use real full cream [very rich!], sour cream, natural yoghurt, Greek yoghurt, and/or coconut cream – or any combination of these! My most recent preference is a combination of Greek yoghurt + coconut milk powder. A word about yoghurt – no fruit yoghurts!!)
- Chicken breast fillet (optional – if you use real chicken in the stock you may not need this)
- Fresh coriander (cilantro for the Americans)
- Heat the chicken stock to boiling (Note: If you make real stock, make it a few days beforehand so you can skim off any chicken fat, pull the cooked flesh off the bones, then add the flesh back into the stock discarding the fat and the bones.)
- Once the stock is heated, add the peeled and chopped pumpkin (approx 1 inch cubes) and simmer until the pumpkin is tender. Add chilli if you like it and you haven’t already added it to the chicken stock. Add any Thai ingredients too if you didn’t include them in the stock – lemon grass, ginger, coriander, garlic.
- Let it cool – I usually let it cool overnight.
- Blend the pumpkin/stock mix until it is fine (you *did* remove those chicken bones from the stock earlier, huh?)
At this point you can now freeze the pumpkin soup base for later use, or you can go ahead and finish off the soup ready for serving…
Prior to serving
- Cube the chicken breast and lightly fry it in a pan to brown it all over, then continue cooking it until it is cooked through. Drain any fat.
- Reheat the blended pumpkin soup base until it boils, then simmer.
- In a small bowl, add a big dollop of one of the creams/yoghurts etc. If you’re using coconut milk powder, blend it with the cream now.
- Take a small amount of the hot soup mix out of the pot (about 1/2 a cup) and mix it into the bowl with the cream making sure that you incorporate it all; use a small whisk – it’s easier than a fork or spoon. Repeat with another 1/2 cup of soup, and maybe another. You want a cream mix that is quite liquid and that won’t separate when you add it to the soup, which is why you do this step.
- Drizzle the cream mix into the soup, stirring all the time.
- Let the soup *just* come to the boil again and turn off the heat. If the cream mix has separated, use a whisk to incorporate it again, or throw it into the blender again and blitz it.
- Pour the soup into hot bowls.
- Add a few cubes of cooked chicken to each bowl, then add a dollop of cream/sour cream/yoghurt and swirl it around; garnish with some chopped coriander.
- Serve piping hot with crusty bread (Californians – heat up some fresh crusty sourdough in the oven!)
This all sounds complicated and a lot to do, but it’s really very simple. The hardest thing for me was trying to write it down – I just make this soup so naturally that I never bother thinking about it too much!