KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 30 — It’s the monsoon season again, with almost-daily rainfall on the East Coast. Some days, it feels the rainy season has stretched to envelop the West Coast as well. It’s hard not to fall into a slump on a wet, dreary day.
While chatting with my friends in the United States, I realise they feel the same way too, though in their case it’s due to autumn rains; a different sort of “fall”, if you will. They have a ready remedy for the end-of-year (but not-quite-Christmas-holidays-yet) blues: copious amounts of pumpkin spiced caffè lattes.
Truly, pumpkins are synonymous with American celebrations of Halloween and Thanksgiving during the fall holidays. The Native Americans had been eating pumpkin long before the European pilgrims arrived; in fact the pumpkin was one of the foods served at early Thanksgiving feasts. Jack-o’-lanterns are also carved from these bright orange squashes during Halloween.
For the rest of the world? Pumpkin is the flavour of autumn, or at least in the form of pumpkin spiced caffè lattes. Me, I prefer to leave the espresso out of the equation, if only to better fully appreciate sweet flavours of the pumpkin.
Really, there’s nothing quite like a warm mug of spiced pumpkin in smoothie form on a cold, rainy day. Yes, a warm smoothie — why not? Try it: it’s perfect for cuddling up with a thick book on one of those rainy days...
PUMPKIN SPICED SMOOTHIE
In Malaysia, pumpkins and other members of the squash family are available all year round so it’s not truly something seasonal. The spice mix, therefore, is what elevates it to something that’s quintessentially autumn-flavoured (though this may be largely due to widespread marketing in recent years).
Naturally if you use fresh spices and grind right before mixing them, the spice mix will be far more aromatic. They lose much of their heady fragrance in prepared ground form. However, for ease of use, the pre-ground spices are fine. If you want to revive some of the spices’ aroma, you can always heat the spice mix briefly in a non-stick pan prior to usage.
(Note: I’ve left out nutmeg from the spice mix as I find it more redolent of Christmas and wintertime than autumn. However, if you miss its piquant yet sweet flavour, adding a teaspoon into the mix wouldn’t hurt.)
I’ve used soy milk here — and there are many weekend morning food trucks that offer freshly-made organic soy milk in most neighbourhoods, so you needn’t even drop by a supermarket if you have the other ingredients at hand. Cow’s milk is fine too, but many Asians are lactose intolerant so soy milk is often preferable.
You may also make this autumn beverage more caffeinated by adding a shot of espresso (for those who own capsule-based espresso machines) or a reduced cup of filter coffee (just cut the amount of water by half or more when you brew using your French press or home brewer of choice).
A pumpkin spiced caffè latte, after a fashion. One that is made with love, for those weekend afternoons when a coffee chain cuppa just wouldn’t do.
Half a medium-sized pumpkin, cubed
2 teaspoons homemade pumpkin spice (see below)
250ml warm soy milk
1 tablespoon honey
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Sea salt to taste (optional)
Cinnamon powder (for garnishing)
Dark chocolate, shaved (for garnishing)
Spice mix ingredients
3 tablespoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground star anise
2 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Preheat oven to 200°C. Remove seeds and pulp from the pumpkin. (Discard the pulp; the seeds can be dried and toasted separately, with some sea salt, for snacking.) Cut the pumpkin flesh into cubes, roughly 1-inch thick. Bake in oven for about 45 minutes to an hour, until tender.
While the pumpkin is baking, mix the ground spices together in a bowl. Set aside for use later. Remove the baked pumpkin cubes from the oven and purée in a blender with pumpkin spice, soy milk, honey and vanilla extract. The heat from the baked pumpkin will heat up the rest of the ingredients.
Taste and season with a bit of sea salt, if desired. Pour into warmed mugs. Garnish with cinnamon powder and shaved dark chocolate. Serve immediately.
Yield: Makes about 4 mugs.
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