pan seared hot and spicy pumpkin cakes


This is the one time of the year that fresh pumpkins are easy to score and at great prices. The farms and pumpkin patches around D.C. have convincing evidence that pumpkins are abundant, if you see what I mean. We recently drove by a patch of pumpkins and it was the most amazing display of orange against green at 6 am in the morning! We picked out three huge behemoth monstrosities to carve, have you picked your pumpkins out yet ? Canned pumpkin purees are easier to find at almost anytime of the year than fresh pumpkins. One thing that I find with canned purees is that most brands are almost inevitably a bit sweet and are mostly targeted towards pies and other dessert recipes. There are very few unsweetened pumpkin purees out in the market so I normally freeze a little  chopped or unsweetened puree that lasts for a few months. This gives me some flexibility in my pumpkin recipe options for a short while. 


This is one of my favorite pumpkin recipes that I make almost every year, at least a couple of times. These pumpkin cakes are hot and spicy and best when served fresh off the stove. I merged a few Asian and Indian ingredients to bring out the heat and flavor in the pumpkin cakes. The heat in the cakes comes from the chili pepper flakes and the sambal olek (which is my go-to heat resource for all things spicy in Asian cooking and is now available at most stores). The fresh garlic and garam masala not only adds rich and warm flavors but are also the main aromatics in the cakes. These days almost every grocery store will carry a brand of garam masala and they are quite good. A dash of turmeric brightens the color of the pumpkin while the soy sauce helps to bring all the ingredients together. There are three binding agents in these cakes, the mashed peas, the panko breadcrumbs, and the beaten egg. Since pumpkin has quite a bit of water in it, I recommend squeezing the pumpkin as tight as you can to release as much liquid as possible. If you squeeze the pumpkin before the mixing stage, you will get crispier cakes.


My food processor was a big help here! It grated the raw pumpkin easily with no hesitation. After halving my pumpkin, I peeled the hard exterior skin off and then chopped them into thick wedges about  4 inches or so in length and ran them through the food processor. I have also found it helpful to peel pumpkins after they have been refrigerated for at least 4 hours, it seems to help the skin come off easily. Another useful tool here is a cookie cutter that helps to shape and size the cakes evenly. I was tempted to coat the cakes with the breadcrumbs and then fry them but I like the pretty yellowish-orange colors of pumpkins and could not find a reason good enough to hide them.


pan seared hot and spicy pumpkin cakes

ingredients


4 cups grated pumpkin
1/3 cup frozen peas
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
1 teaspoon dried chili pepper flakes (I used dried Kashmiri chilies)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sambal olek
1 teaspoon salt
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 cup panko bread crumbs or regular bread crumbs
olive oil for frying

1. Squeeze the liquid out of the grated pumpkin and discard the juice.
2. Microwave the peas for 3 minutes on the high setting. They should get soft enough to be easily mashed. When ready mash the peas with a fork.
3. In a large mixing bowl, add the pumpkin, mashed peas, garlic, egg, soy sauce, sambal olek, panko, chili, salt, pepper, and garam masala. Combine them together with a spoon or by hand.
4. Heat the olive oil in a skillet. 
5. Spoon out about 3 heaped tablespoons of the mixture inside a 2 inch circular cookie cutter directly on to the hot pan. Quickly shape it to conform to the cookie cutter. Pan fry the cakes on each side till seared. This should take about 4 minutes on each side. Drain any excess oil from the cakes on to a clean paper towel. Serve hot.

squash yogurt soup with panko crusted chicken


How did I end up celebrating my extra Monday holiday, courtesy Columbus Day? Well, I popped onto the subway at the green line and then switched to the red line on the metro to visit the Smithsonian National Zoo in the Adam's Morgan neighborhood. I think our zoo is one of the best treasures at the Capitol more so than the monuments. The joy and satisfaction that these animals give people and kids every time I walk through there brings a smile to my face. However, as much as I love that our city gets tourists from all over the country and the world, it is kind of nice to have a slow day without having to traverse and find my way through a crowded place such as the zoo and enjoy watching the animals relaxing and doze off in the sun. Oddly enough, I also realized that it is normally quite a walk through the zoo (for me) but this time it turned out to be a nice and evenly spaced stroll and I didn't have to stand up on my toes or sift my way through people to get a glimpse of the animals. Yes, it is true that I am at a bit of a disadvantage when it comes to height.


This week's soup was inspired by Marc Matsumoto of [No Recipes]. Not only are his recipes easy to prepare and delicious but his skills with the camera make his blog an alluring treat. His most recent post on the Katsudon gave me a bit of inspiration on creating a Far-East fusion recipe for a chicken and squash yogurt soup. By using Panko crumbs, I was able to create a perfect crispy layer to my chicken that went along great with my creamy (without any added cream) yogurt based squash soup. Since our C.S.A sends us a mix of different squashes every Wednesday, soups tend to be one of the fastest ways for me to get "rid" of them. This week's soup used 2 delicata squashes, 1 acorn squash and 1 carnival squash. I followed Chef Matsumoto's recipe for his Tonkatsu pork chops but made a couple of changes for the chicken used in my recipe. Sambal olek, a type of chili paste that can be found at almost any store these days gives the soup a bit of heat.


squash yogurt soup with panko crusted chicken

servings: 4 individuals

ingredients

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, minced 
4 cups of peeled and chopped mixed squash (butternut, pumpkin)
2 cups of peeled and chopped granny smith apples 
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock, low -sodium
3 cups water
2 cups fat free greek yogurt
1 tablespoon low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon sambal olek 
salt and pepper for seasoning the soup
4 lean chicken breasts
1 beaten egg
1/2 cup plain flour
1 cup Panko crumbs
1 /2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
vegetable oil for frying
chopped scallions for garnishing

1. In a large stockpot, heat up the olive oil on a high flame. Add the garlic and cook for about 40 seconds before adding in the chopped squash and apples. Saute for about 10 minutes on a medium flame. Now, pour in the stock and bring the entire contents of the pot to boil. Reduce the flame to a simmer and let the squash cook till tender. Let the contents cool and then blend to a smooth consistency either in a food processor or blender. You can add some water in to the mixture during blending to get a smoother texture. 
2. Add the processed squash back to the stockpot and stir in the yogurt. Now add the remaining water, soy sauce, and the sambal olek. Season with salt and pepper (You can add as much water as you want to adjust the consistency of the soup, I prefer this soup to be a bit creamier so I added less water).
3. Set up a dredging station. Put the flour in a tray that will be easy to dredge the chicken in. Place the beaten egg in another bowl and the Panko crumbs in another tray. Place the chicken breasts between two strips of cling film. Using a meat tenderizer, pound the chicken till it spreads out evenly into a thin layer just like a cutlet. Remove the chicken and absorb any excess liquid with paper towels. Season each side of the breast with cayenne pepper, salt and pepper. 
4. Heat the oil up in a shallow frying pan. The level of oil in the pan should be about 0.5" or less. The chicken will cook fast since it has been pounded into an even thin layer. When the oil heats up, start to prepare the chicken. Dredge the seasoned chicken in the flour and dust of any excess and then dip it into the beaten egg. Then coat the chicken with Panko crumbs and press it gently to seal the crumbs on the chicken in an even layer. 
5. Fry the chicken in the oil, till golden brown on both sides. This should take about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness of your chicken breast. Drain the excess oil from the fried chicken on paper towels. Pour some soup into a shallow soup bowl and put the sliced chicken on top. Serve immediately garnished with chopped scallions.