I love to cook. But there is a fine line between the pleasures of the kitchen and the stress of being held hostage by a half-way finished meal, elbow-deep in dirty dishes, while the kids run screaming through the house tearing up everything they touch. So when I say I love to cook, what I mean is that I love finding the perfect balance between effort and ease, making a dish from scratch but limiting my ambitions to keep things manageable.
One way I strike this balance is to choose one part of the meal to focus my efforts on. So often I’ll make a big salad that involves washing, chopping, dressing, etc., and I’ll hand my husband chicken to grill. Or I’ll make a pesto to serve over a big piece of roasted salmon, and then just throw some broccoli in the oven at the same time.
So in this dish the shrimp is the star. I’m able to give it the attention it deserves because the recipe is ridiculously easy — two cans of pumpkin puree, one can of coconut milk, a few spices… done. And a quick note before moving on: you will need to thin the soup. You can do this with water, broth (chicken, vegetable, etc.), or bone broth. Water is perfectly fine; chicken or vegetable broth will contain sodium so you’ll need to add less salt than you would otherwise; bone broth does not have too much sodium so adjustments will need to be minimal. Bone broth is usually my choice in recipes like this because it has a relatively neutral flavor and using it in lieu of water is an easy way to incorporate extra protein and minerals into our diets.
And now the shrimp: Just because they’re the star in this dish doesn’t mean that they’re particularly difficult to cook — they aren’t. But here are a few key steps to make them as delicious as possible, and it’s worth the effort if you can manage it:
- Cook them fresh; don’t buy them pre-cooked. When buying shrimp, opt for frozen shrimp; the “fresh” shrimp you see at the fish counter have usually just been defrosted. To thaw quickly, you can place them under cool running water (fastest method), or in a bowl of cool water (takes a little longer). My understanding is that shell-on shrimp will have the best flavor… but to be honest I always buy peeled and ready to go. To me, it’s worth sacrificing a little flavor to skip the chore of shelling.
- Brine them for at least 15 minutes before cooking with salt and baking soda. The salt keeps them from drying out; the baking soda helps with browning, which imparts better flavor.
- Dry the shrimp thoroughly. You can pat them with paper towels, but if you want to go the extra yard, refrigerate them for a couple of hours before cooking. I will place them on a cooling rack nestled on top of a sheet pan so that all the edges of the shrimp are exposed to the air and able to dry out. (Skipping this step is not a dealbreaker, so don’t let it stop you from trying out the rest of the technique).
- Give them space in the pan when cooking. If they are too close together they will steam instead of sear.
- Cook until pink and no longer translucent in the middle. I’ll usually pull one shrimp off the heat and cut it in half to inspect and decide whether the rest are likely done.
In this recipe, I coat the shrimp very simply in olive oil, garlic, and crushed red pepper before cooking. Because you will be placing the shrimp on top of very flavorful soup, a simple marinade is all you need. And you can complement the flavors of the soup and add more texture with a few toppings: cilantro to brighten up the curry flavor, pumpkin seeds to add crunch, shaved coconut to highlight the coconut milk in the soup. If you don’t have these on hand, don’t worry — the soup has plenty of flavor and the dish will be delicious regardless.
You can add to this meal by scooping some brown rice into each bowl, or serving some naan on the side.
Pumpkin Coconut Curry Soup with Shrimp
Just a few ingredients yields a rich and satisfying soup. Topped with perfectly cooked shrimp, this soup is a satisfying main course.
- 3 ½ cups pumpkin puree 2 14 ounce cans
- 1 ¾ cup coconut milk* this is the equivalent of one 14.5 ounce can
- 1 TB curry powder
- 1 small lime juiced
- 2 TB honey
- 4 cups water or broth
- *regular will yield a richer soup but lite will work as well
- 1 lb. frozen large shrimp defrosted
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 2 TB olive oil divided
- 1 tsp minced garlic
- Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
- ½ cup pumpkin seeds
- ½ shaved coconut
- ½ cup chopped cilantro
Combine pumpkin puree, coconut milk, curry powder, lime juice, honey, and water/broth in pot. Warm on stove over medium heat. Add salt and pepper to taste (if you use a broth with a high sodium content you may not need to add any salt). Adjust lime and honey as needed.
Coat shrimp with 1 tsp salt and baking soda. Let sit for at least 15 minutes.
Optional step: dry shrimp with paper towels and place on a cooling rack nestled into a baking sheet. Refrigerate for two hours to dry shrimp completely.
Toss shrimp with garlic, red pepper, and 1 TB olive oil.
Heat skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 TB olive oil. When oil begins to shimmer, add shrimp, leaving space between each prawn. If needed, cook in two batches. When shrimp becomes pink on one side, flip over. When shrimp is pink on both sides and no longer translucent in center, remove from pan and set aside.
To serve, pour 1 ½ cups soup into each serving bowl. Place 4 large shrimp in each bowl, floating on top of the soup. Top with a TB each of pumpkin seeds, coconut, and cilantro.
*regular will yield a richer soup, but lite will work as well