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Japanese Pumpkin Soup with Leeks (Kabocha Soup)

October 15, 2012

(Check out my Japanese cookbook giveaway [now closed] for more Japanese recipes.)

It’s pumpkin season, and everyone knows that pumpkins are the superior squash.

Or at least I am much more likely to yield to the temptation of anything that lists “pumpkin” as an ingredient, whereas substitute the word “squash” and… not so much.*

Japanese pumpkin (kabocha) wields even more power over me than the great North American pie pumpkins do.

Nostalgia for Japan (and its wealth of pumpkin-flavored goodness, both sweet and savory-with-a-hint-of-sweet) certainly has something to do with it. But even without the dash of seasoning nostalgia provides, to me kabocha tastes like pumpkin should.

Its smooth texture and honeyed flavor could entice any pumpkin-lover.** Prepared very simply– sliced raw and pan-fried for just five minutes– kabocha shows off all the richness of a pumpkin that’s been roasted, seasoned, and sweetened. But it also holds up to more complicated preparations, and absolutely shines when blended into a flavorful leek-based soup.

This recipe is my re-creation of a soup that I’ve ordered in many a Japanese cafe. (You can see a Kabocha Soup photo from my favorite cafe in Hiroshima at the top of my travel post about Japanese cafe culture.)

It’s always a rare treat to find chilled Kabocha Soup gracing a menu during the disgustingly hot Japanese summers, but of course Kabocha Soup– served warm– shows up on more cafe menus once the fall colors start to appear.

Chilled or warmed, this soup is smooth and creamy with a nutty-sweet pumpkin flavor balanced by a savory backdrop of onions and leeks.

The garnishes of cream and chives are hardly necessary; they mostly add a touch of color. Though I did stumble upon an unexpectedly delightful garnish for warmed Kabocha Soup with this batch (after taking these photos): crumbled feta cheese. It’s not very Japanese, but very tasty; it adds some sharp and tangy notes to the soup, and becomes just a little bit melty. Croutons might add some nice textural contrast, too, though I’ve never seen them served in kabocha soup before.

I realize now that I haven’t shared any recipes using Japanese pumpkin since my ode-to-the-kabocha post nearly a year ago. Next time I won’t stay away so long.

* This is why I prefer to translate kabocha as “Japanese pumpkin” rather than “kabocha squash.” One sounds so much tastier than the other… don’t you agree?

** Also, kabocha is apparently “revered as an aphrodisiac“… who knew!

Print this recipe.


Japanese Pumpkin Soup with Leeks (Kabocha Soup)

(Serves 4-6)

~ 1 4-5 lb.-ish Japanese Pumpkin (kabocha)
~ 3-4 Tbsp. butter
~ 2-3 Japanese leeks (or 1-2 shorter, stockier leeks), chopped (with greens discarded)
~ 1 onion, chopped
~ 1 cinnamon stick
~ 1-2 bay leaves
~ 4 cups vegetable stock
~ dash of ground nutmeg
~ dash of ground ginger
~ sea salt and white pepper, to taste
~ ⅓ – ½ cup heavy cream
~ several fresh chives, diced, to garnish
~ crumbled feta cheese, to garnish

How to make it:

1. Halve or quarter the pumpkin, then use a spoon to scoop out and discard the seeds. Peel the pumpkin, then roughly chop it into small, even cubes.

2. In a large saucepan, melt the butter, then add the chopped onion and leeks and cook for 5-10 minutes, or until they have softened.

3. Add the cinnamon stick, bay leaves, and the chopped pumpkin. Then pour in the vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the pumpkin is soft.

4. Move the pot off the burner, remove the cinnamon stick and bay leaves, and allow it to cool for at least 10 minutes before blending. Use an immersion blender, or use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked pumpkin, leeks, and onions to a blender or a food processor, and blend the soup in several batches until smooth. (If it’s still pretty hot, it’s best to use a towel over the blender or keep the feeding tube open on the food processor to allow hot steam to escape.)

5. Return the puréed pumpkin mixture to the pot and combine it with the broth. Season with nutmeg, ginger, salt, and white pepper, to taste. Gently stir in the cream.

6. Serve chilled or warm, with a side of fresh bread. (To serve warm, first bring the soup to a gentle simmer.) Garnish with extra cream, a sprinkle of nutmeg, and some diced fresh chives.

Print this recipe!

Related posts:
> Pan-fried Kabocha (Japanese Pumpkin)
> Pumpkin Pancakes
> Travel Photos: Izakayas and Cafes in Japan

32 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2012 11:46 am

    this recipe is amazing

  2. October 15, 2012 12:02 pm

    That soup hits all the right spots, incredible my friend :D

    Choc Chip Uru

  3. October 15, 2012 12:35 pm

    Kabocha is definitely the best squash! I love it in soups & also just whacked up with the skin in & simmered in a Japanese broth. Bring on the winter squash!

    • October 16, 2012 10:36 am

      Yes! I also love that you really don’t need to peel kabocha at all– I just did for this recipe to keep my soup a nice orange color. I love it in soups, though! I just put Japanese sweet potato in a miso soup last night, but kabocha would have been great, too.

  4. October 15, 2012 3:35 pm

    Looks great, we just got a Red Curry pumpkin (similar to Kabocha) will try it in this recipe…

    • October 16, 2012 10:37 am

      Nice! I’ve never heard of Red Curry pumpkins, so I’d be interested to see a photo of one… Let me know how it turns out!

  5. October 17, 2012 8:15 am

    I’ve never had Japanese pumpkin before. Is it just more pumpkin flavor or are there other noticeable differences? Looks great and I love the idea of using mugs to serve the soup!

    • October 18, 2012 8:29 am

      I think kabocha has more of the flavor that I imagine pumpkins should have: it’s sweeter and smoother (not at all stringy, chalky, or bland). It’s also easier to cut up and faster to cook than a regular pumpkin, and you can actually eat the skin/peel as well! (I just peeled it for this particular recipe to keep the soup a nice orange color.)

  6. Nami | Just One Cookbook permalink
    October 17, 2012 11:55 pm

    I love both kabocha and leeks! What a wonderful soup. This week is warm like 80F but I know this won’t last long. Then when it starts cooling off, this soup sounds like a nice meal to enjoy!! Oishiso~~!

    • October 18, 2012 8:31 am

      Thanks, Nami! I know, it’s been very hot in Santa Barbara, too… (Like it was 88 F yesterday, and– maybe because of that– a wildfire also started in the mountains just north of SB, in Goleta.) I’m hoping that, even if the afternoons continue to be hot, we’ll at least get some cooler evenings soon so I can enjoy more soups like this one. :)

  7. October 21, 2012 7:48 pm

    Looks delicious! :)

  8. October 21, 2012 10:07 pm

    So delicious, and perfect for fall. I’m saving this recipe!

  9. October 24, 2012 10:43 am

    Congrats on making the Dailybuzz food email…always cool…

  10. October 24, 2012 12:16 pm

    I love kabocha–japanese squa…err, pumpkin! This sounds fantastic,
    Saw this recipe on foodbuzz and found your incredible blog! I am so happy, I love your recipes!! I have been to many of the same places or worked with people from those countries and love the cuisines of japan, SE Asia and Europe and have already seen so many recipes here I want to try!!

    • October 25, 2012 3:04 pm

      Awesome! …and welcome! (Also, thank you for calling it pumpkin. :)

  11. October 24, 2012 1:14 pm

    This sounds lovely, I love the flavours you’ve got going on!

  12. October 26, 2012 2:27 pm

    looks delicious! beautiful photos!

  13. November 14, 2012 1:02 pm

    Hey Allison! Thanks for posting a recipe for this, I miss all the kabocha items in Japanese cafes too! I’m planning to make this for when we have friends over for dinner this weekend :)

    • November 15, 2012 9:15 am

      Hey Hsiu-Hsien! That’s awesome to hear– I hope you and your friends enjoy it!!

      It’s always nice to hear from friends who can empathize with my Japansickness. :)

  14. woodentaste permalink
    November 21, 2012 3:26 am

    We all should eat more Japanese …
    Thank you

  15. November 26, 2012 1:36 pm

    wow I will definitely try it! Wondering if it works with Italian pumpkins as well…


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