Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Pepita Pesto

Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Pepita Pesto, Pomegranate Arils, and Cotija Cheese | pinchmysalt.com

I don’t always love pumpkin soup.  So many winter squash soup recipes out there are very sweet and seasoned with either pumpkin pie spices or store-bought curry powder.  I do love pumpkin pie, but I prefer to eat it after dinner.  I know there’s a reason these flavor combinations are so prevalent – winter squash is absolutely delicious mixed with warm spices and sugar.  I just prefer something a little different in my soup bowl.

This spicy, smoky, and creamy soup is exactly what I was hoping for.  Brightened with a dollop of cilantro-pepita pesto and a generous squeeze of lime juice, it was really hard to stop after one bowl (so I didn’t).  I had some pomegranate arils in the fridge so I added a handful to my bowl along with a sprinkling of crumbled Cotija cheese.  The sweet crunch of the pomegranate seeds and the salty cheese were perfect with the soup and pesto.  And the more lime juice I squeezed on top, the better it tasted.

I used a pumpkin by the name of Calabaza de Castilla, or Castillo Squash.  I think it’s also known as a Fairytale Pumpkin.  These are very similar to the pumpkins that I remember eating in Sicily – big and meaty with light-colored skin and dark orange flesh.  They have a wonderful flavor similar to butternut squash.  I bought my pumpkin at my favorite Mexican Supermarket and was able to purchase a large chunk rather than the entire pumpkin – much easier to deal with!

Castilla Squash or Fairytale Pumpkins at the grocery store | pinchmysalt.com

I roasted it like any other winter squash – cut into big chunks, placed cut-side down in a baking dish, and baked at 375 degrees until fork tender (a little over an hour for this one).  After letting it cool, I scooped the flesh from the skin and used it in my soup.  I didn’t bother making a puree from the pumpkin because I knew I’d be pureeing the entire soup later.  Although I used Castillo Squash for my soup, you may substitute any roasted pumpkin or winter squash.  Canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling) would be fine, too.

Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Pepita Pesto
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2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

2 serrano chiles, chopped*

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and ground**

4 roasted piquillo peppers***

4 cups fresh roasted pumpkin****

4 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon honey

3/4 cup heavy cream

juice of one lime

salt to taste

pomegranate arils

Cotija cheese


1/3 cup toasted pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

1 cup loosely packed cilantro

1 clove garlic, minced

1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons lime juice

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

salt to taste


1. Heat olive oil in a large pot or dutch oven over medium-low heat.

2. Add onions and celery and cook, stirring occasionally for about ten minutes or until vegetables are softened.

3. Add serrano chiles and garlic and cook, stirring, for another couple minutes.

4. Add smoked paprika and cumin and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds.

5. Add piquillo peppers, roasted pumpkin, chicken stock, and honey. Turn up heat, stir, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and let soup simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 30 minutes.

6. Puree soup in batches in a blender or in the pot using an immersion blender. Return soup to the pot (if you used a blender) and stir in the cream. Add the lime juice and salt to taste (I used a little more than a teaspoon of salt). Reheat over low heat before serving.

7. Garnish with Cilantro Pepita Pesto (recipe below), fresh pomegranate arils, and crumbled cotija cheese (may substitute feta). Serve with fresh lime wedges.

Make the pesto:

Blend pepitas, cilantro, garlic, parmesan, and lime juice in a blender or food processor (or using an immersion blender). With blender running, slowly add olive oil. Blend until fairly smooth then season with salt to taste.


*If you don't want a spicy soup, remove the seeds and mebrane from the chiles. The serranos I used were very large, so I only used two, but you can adjust the amount to suit your own taste.

**I like to toast cumin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until they are fragrant and darken slightly. Let them cool then grind in a clean coffee grinder or using a mortar and pestle. You may substitute regular ground cumin if you don't have cumin seeds.

***I find canned roasted piquillo peppers at Trader Joes. You may substitute one whole roasted red bell pepper for the four piquillo peppers if necessary.

****You may substitute an equal amount of canned pumpkin for the fresh roasted pumpkin if desired.


The Cilantro Pepita Pesto is adapted from this recipe at 101 Cookbooks.

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  1. Adryon

    Oh yummm. The pesto sounds like a really nice and different flavor profile for the soup than the standard recipes.

    10:07 am  Oct 25th, 2010
  2. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday

    Wow, this sounds so good! I’m bookmarking it!

    10:07 am  Oct 25th, 2010
  3. Elizabeth

    This looks incredible!

    10:20 am  Oct 25th, 2010
  4. Ranjani

    Beautiful! I also prefer pumpkin soup when it is spicy and not sweet

    10:38 am  Oct 25th, 2010
  5. Janice

    Oh, Nicole, I can’t wait to make this with the pumpkin sitting on my counter from my CSA. I’m with you on the sweet pumpkin soups – thanks for posting a different approach!

    11:29 am  Oct 25th, 2010
  6. Kitten with a Whisk

    This sounds so good right now!

    11:53 am  Oct 25th, 2010
  7. Bravetart

    Those garnishes are beautiful! I love your idea to include pomegranate seeds, what a good snapy, juicy crunch they must provide. As trendy as they’ve been lately, I think pomegranates are still very underutilized. Yum!

    11:58 am  Oct 25th, 2010
  8. Gina @ Skinnytaste

    This is my kind of soup Nicole! I too like my soups savory, not sweet.

    12:16 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  9. iEatDC

    Looks really tasty! I tried the Jean-Georges Vongerichten butternut squash soup recipe (from DC blogger Metrocurean) last night, and it was delicious precisely because it avoided what you complained about above–curry powder, tons of spices/sweetness. It’s basically stock, squash, and creme fraiche (or Greek yogurt, or heavy cream…). So the squash can really sing. Not even onion or celery. Anyway, maybe I’ll try your pumpkin, next!

    12:28 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  10. A Canadian Foodie

    I am crazy over the idea of having the seeds be the garnish for the soup. Wonderful idea. I love pumpkin soups and all kinds of pestos. I actually have some fresh unroasted pumpkin seeds from a pumpkin I just cooked… so it looks like this pesto will get tested later today!

    12:30 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  11. Louise

    read over the recipe sounds wonderful… don’t you just love the mexican market? some things about california i just couldn’t live without

    2:09 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  12. Rachel K

    Genius . . . the pesto and cheese topping really make it. Thanks 🙂

    2:17 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  13. Paula - bell'alimento

    Oh my goodness! Can I have a bowl please ; ) It’s just started to cool off and I can’t wait to start making soups again! Love that you garnished with pomegranate arils ; )

    2:22 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  14. Kruzon

    Pumpkin soup, although a different recipe, is very popular here in Thailand.

    8:44 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  15. SusanV

    What a beautiful soup! I’m with you on not wanting soups to taste like pumpkin pie, and I appreciate the mention of my Mexican soup.

    9:43 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  16. Sabrina Modelle

    What a gorgeous soup. I, too, appreciate my winter squashes in a spicier more savory light. I can’t wait to try this soup and I can just imagine the pop of those pomegranate arils giving a lovely tart balance to the whole dish. Seriously, this looks like perfection!

    11:37 pm  Oct 25th, 2010
  17. laura k

    Wow, what a beautiful presentation! The colors are brilliant. Just looking at that made me want to rush home and make it right now.

    10:28 am  Oct 26th, 2010
  18. Kristy

    Yum! Your soup looks and sounds great!

    11:36 am  Oct 26th, 2010
  19. Rachel

    oh how I miss my favorite Mexican supermarket! Those squash are huge!!!
    It’s very refreshing to see pumpkin paired with different spices. we sometimes forget how fabulous it is with other flavors!
    I often add pumpkin puree to chile, which thickens it up, and the chile spices go well with the squash.

    1:12 pm  Oct 26th, 2010
  20. cheffresco

    Woahh this looks seriously amazing! I love pumpkin soup though. What a great recipe – and photos too.

    6:13 pm  Oct 26th, 2010
  21. PhitZone - It’s The Great Pumpkin!

    […] Lucky for you, Nicole over at Pinch My Salt has a recipe that we will be making very shortly. So, instead of my writing up a recipe this month, I invite you to go over and check Spicy Pumpkin Soup w/ Cilantro Pepita Pesto. […]

    5:03 am  Oct 27th, 2010
  22. Todd@PhitZone

    This sounds so good that I linked to it in a post this morning.

    5:30 am  Oct 27th, 2010
  23. Plumpest Peach

    I love the garnish options here, both colors and flavors seems so spot on! Can’t wait to try!

    5:43 am  Oct 28th, 2010
  24. Deborah

    I love that addition of pomegranate seeds!

    10:19 am  Oct 29th, 2010
  25. Tracy

    Wonderful presentation! it looks simply delicious=)

    11:53 am  Oct 29th, 2010
  26. Dave

    Great looking recipe! I agree – a lot of pumpkin soups end up tasting more like dessert than they should. I’ll have to give this one a try. The pomegranate is a wonderful touch.

    12:43 pm  Oct 29th, 2010
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    3:50 pm  Oct 30th, 2010
  28. Barbs

    Made this last night – YUM!!!! So good. I can’t wait to have the leftovers for dinner. The pomegranate was such a wonderful addition. Sadly the cilantro I purchase had NO flavor so my pesto wasn’t as good as I would have liked ( I love cilantro and was so sad with the sub-par purchase from the farmers market) I may have to find better cilantro and try again. If only my cilantro plant would grow faster! Overall a great soup, I loved it!

    9:35 am  Nov 1st, 2010
  29. It’s November!!!! « California Bliss

    […] very Fall like weather. Despite the heat wave I am embracing Fall full force. I made the yummiest spicy pumpkin soup last night! I should have taken some pictures but I didn’t so I will use the ones from the […]

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  30. evan @ thesaltypear

    What a fantastic soup! I made something similar the other with butternut squash and a hefty does of allspice. I love the idea of serving the soup with pomegranate seeds.

    9:21 am  Nov 2nd, 2010
  31. Drowning « GuFf

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  32. Leigh

    I served your soup to French friends tonight. The unanimous verdict was that it was the best soup they had ever had. What an amazing combination of color and textures Many thanks for an amazing recipe.

    4:15 pm  Nov 6th, 2010
  33. Wordless Wednesday: Favorite Recipes of 2010 — Pinch My Salt

    […] October: Spicy Pumpkin Soup with Cilantro Pepita Pesto […]

    8:53 am  Dec 29th, 2010
  34. Karen L.

    I grew many of these this summer and didn’t know what to do with them. I tried some with a small amount of vanilla and a dash of pumpkin pie spice. Then I tried some with some sea salt. Both ways were simple; but very tasty. I will try some other ways too, just so to tell others. This is quite a versatile squash. WOW!

    9:26 pm  Jul 20th, 2012
  35. linda

    this recipe for squash soup is a total winner!! i followed the spice amounts carefully and didn’t succumb to my usual “more has to be better” routine. love the spicy and not sweet results…i will make this many more times i am sure. thanks for a delicious soup!!

    8:49 pm  Dec 9th, 2013
  36. christypaul2013

    I just finished making this and am eating it as I type. It’s pretty awesome. I wasn’t sure I had enough salt in the soup, but with the pesto and cheese, it’s just right. I’ve been wanting to try some of the less-familiar produce at Vallarta, and this was the best-looking recipe I found when I googled Castilla Squash at the store. Thanks.

    5:49 pm  Dec 13th, 2013
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  38. plasterer bristol

    This sounds lovely. Going to give this a go. thanks for sharing this recipe.


    9:32 am  Dec 2nd, 2015
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