Everybody Loves Soup

In Kenya, everybody loves soup.  Whether it is served with rice, chapatti, or ugali (a starchy, polenta like side dish made from ground maize and sometimes millet), the more soup the better.  No meals are ever complete with some form of starch (and sometimes a meal can be nothing but starch even), and perhaps for this reason, it’s always nice to have plenty of flavorful liquid to eat their rice or ugali with.

I have been craving for spices and when I was asked to teach a few cooking classes at the orphanage, I can’t help but share one of my all-time favorite soup recipe with them: The Moroccan Bean Soup with Pumpkin and Swiss Chard.  Soups are incredibly versatile and “souly” satisfying.  It also happens to fit in the “open kitchen” and the 3 rock stove top here.

The technique is rather simple.  You start with your aromatic veggies, along with garlic and spices.  After some sweating, you add whatever veggies that will take the longest to cook, and in this case, the pumpkin.  I’m not peeling the pumpkin here, as it will get soft enough to eat when you cook it for a long time. (not to mention all the additional fiber!)  Along with carrots and tomatoes, as they all create a nice base flavor for the soup.  In addition, tomatoes’ cancer fighting properties also triples once it has been cooked over a period of time, above 30 minutes.  Once you have a nice base happening, add your beans, along with the bean’s cooking liquid and add more water depending how thick you like your soup.  Add your green veggies at the very end, as they only take minutes to cook.  Fresh herbs like cilantro or parsley should go in just before serving, as you wouldn’t want the heat to destroy its vibrancy.  A squeeze of lemon juice would round up all the flavors and also some additional vitamin C.

In this recipe, I am using cinnamon and smoked paprika (or cayenne).  At home, I probably would’ve use an additional blend of cumin, cayenne, and coriander.  Since I’m in the bush, I’m trying to keep it as simple as it can be, using local ingredients and dishes that anyone can replicate on their own.  These spices are commonly used in Moroccan cooking, and as a bonus, it also have a long list of wonderful medicinal properties.  Cinnamon is known for its role in regulating blood sugar, hence a great spice to use for diabetics.  Paprika or cayenne are both in the capsicum family, which stimulate and aids in digestion, and also high in anti-oxidant which help us to fight cancer.

Feel free to use similar vegetables according to what’s available to you.  Pumpkin and sweet potato are always nice in the fall.  In the summer you can use zucchinis.  In this recipe, I’m just using the cheapest local bean I can find in the market, but it would be great to use chickpeas or any sturdy beans that won’t fall apart after it’s cooked.  You can also increase the spice level if you enjoy spicy food, but since I’m cooking for kids, I try to tone it down and not to scare them with spices.

Serve it with plenty of brown chapatti, or crusty bread.

The kids love helping out!! (they’re peeling the garlic in case if you’re wondering…)

And so does the mamas!

Prep is done!

Start with your aromatic veggies and spices…

Then add your tomatoes… ( you can also add a few good spoonfuls of tomato paste, but I have no access to that in the bush unfortunately…)

Add your pumpkins (don’t peel them!) and get a nice base going…

At the same time Team Chapatti is busy with rolling, rolling, and more rolling…

Too bad you can’t smell how good they are…

Group pic time!  (I’m not here because someone needs to hold the camera…=P)

Moroccan Bean Soup with Pumpkin and Swiss Chard


  • 1              small pumpkin (about 1kg, any local variety), washed, remove seeds and fibers, cut into 1.5 inch cubes (don’t peel)
  • 1 lb           carrots, washed and cut into medium dice
  • 1lb          onions, cut into medium dice
  • 1lb           tomatoes, cored and cut into medium dice
  • 1 lb          local beans, sorted and soaked for 8 hrs, drained
  • 1 large bunch of Swiss Chard, remove leaves from stems, finely chopped
  • 1                heads of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tbsp        smoked paprika, or more to taste
  • 1 tbsp        cinnamon, or more to taste
  • 1 bunches  cilantro, washed and coarsely chopped
  • 1                   lemon, juiced, or to taste
  • Freshly ground cumin and coriander, add by teaspoonful. (optional)


  1. Cooking the beans:  Put the sorted and soaked bean into a large pot.  Add enough water to the beans to cover 2 inches above the beans.  Bring to a boil, turn heat down to simmer.  Skim off foam if there’s any.  Simmer for 40min – 1 hr, or until beans are cooked.  Reserve the cooking liquid.
  2. In a large pot, add 4 tbsp of oil over medium high heat.  Add garlic, onions and spices until onions are soft, about 5 mins.  Add tomatoes and cook for another 10 mins.  Season with salt.
  3. Add pumpkin, carrots and beans and enough water to cover 1-2 inches above the veggies and beans, depending whether a thick or soupy stew is desired.  Season with salt.  Cover and bring to a boil.  Turn the heat to a simmer, then continue to simmer until pumpkins are soft, about 20 mins.
  4. Remove from heat.  Mix in the finely chopped swiss chard, cover, and steam for 5 mins .  Add chopped cilantro and season with lemon. Adjust seasoning again and serve.