Kiem Recipe (Vietnamese Vegetarian Pumpkin Soup)

Kiem Recipe (Vietnamese Vegetarian Pumpkin Soup) Recipe

This year, the Asian New Year celebration (called Tết in Vietnamese) will happen during the first week of February, according to the Lunar calendar. I've mentioned in the past that, traditionally, you're required to eat vegetarian food (ăn chay) on the last day of the previous year and the first day of New Year.

Today, I'm sharing a vegan dish called kiểm that's a staple during the celebration. The dish is a sweet, savory soup made of pumpkin, bananas, coconut milk, mung beans, lotus seeds, wood ear mushrooms, sweet potatoes, ginger, tofu and raw peanuts. This is not a very common dish and it's only made for the celebration. If you know its origin, please let me know in the feedback section.

The winner of this week's giveaway is Amanda O. Congratulations and I hope you enjoy using my first cookbook about gourmet potato dishes as much I did developing the recipes!


Yields: 10 servings

1½ quarts vegetable stock
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
2 Burro bananas (chuối xiêm)
2 cups fresh pumpkin (or butternut squash), diced
1 sweet potato, diced
20 dried lotus seeds
¼ cup wood ear mushrooms, thinly sliced
1½ tablespoons mung beans
4 kaffir lime leaves, torn into thirds
¼ cup freshly grated ginger
1½ teaspoons salt, to taste
2 teaspoons freshly grated palm sugar, to taste
1 sheet rolled tofu skin, thawed and cut into strips
1 (18-ounce) package silken soft tofu
2 tablespoons raw peanuts, shelled
1 king oyster mushroom (see tips), diced
½ cup button mushrooms, quartered lengthwise
½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly cracked


Cooking the mung beans: Wash and rinse the mung beans thoroughly in several water baths (about three times), discarding any that are floating or odd-shaped. Drain the beans. In a small saucepan, place the mung beans and cover with 1½ cups water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a bubbly simmer. Cook for about 15 minutes until soft, stirring occasionally. After 15 minutes check the doneness and, if necessary, add a little more water and continue cooking.

Prepping the lotus seeds: Soak the  lotus seeds in warm water for 1 hour.

Prepping the tofu: Drain the liquid from the package of the tofu. Slice the tofu in two, horizontally. Gently cut the tofu into 1-inch square cubes. Silken tofu is very delicate and easily breakable, so be very cautious and gentle. Set aside.

Preparing the soup:

In a large pot, place the vegetable stock. Add the kaffir lime leaves and grated ginger. Bring to a roaring boil. Add the lotus seeds, the pumpkin and sweet potato and lower the heat to a bubbly simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes until softened. Check the seasoning. Season with salt (if necessary) and pepper. Adjust sweetness (if necessary) with palm sugar. 

Assembly time:

Bring the soup to a full boil. Add the mushrooms, tofu skin, mung beans, wood ear mushrooms and bananas. Continuously stir the broth as it will thicken very quickly (about 20 minutes). Add the coconut milk and peanuts. Check the texture of the soup; it should be thick and syrupy. If you find the soup to be too thick, add more water or vegetable broth. Cook for about 2 minutes. Stir gently so the tofu doesn't fall apart. Cover and let simmer for 5 minutes.

Remove and discard the kaffir lime leaves. Finish with black pepper.

Serve immediately.

Bon appétit!


Select firm but ripe, sweet chuối xiêm bananas (baby bananas). If you can't find this particular variety at your market, you can substitute 1 regular, ripe, sliced banana.

Oyster Mushrooms with Picture
You can find king oyster mushrooms in Asian stores.  

You can find lotus seeds in any Asian stores.  

You can find fresh tofu skin (also known as yuba or bean curd skin) in the frozen food aisle of any Asian markets in the Bay Area of California.

You can find wood ear mushrooms in most Asian stores. If you can't find any, you can use any other mushrooms such as shiitake or enoki mushrooms.

Silken tofu can be found in grocery stores now but I prefer those from Korean or Japanese stores. I find the texture to be creamier. Make sure you check for silken soft tofu and not firm on the package. I bought it at a local store, called Galleria. If you live in the Bay Area, the address is 3531 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, CA 95061.

We're very lucky to be able to get kaffir lime leaves from our garden. They're very useful and smell so nice. If you have the space to plant a kaffir lime tree, go for it; it's a good investment if you like Asian cooking.

Published By: Jacqueline Pham on January 15, 2013.


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