Fall is here! This means that I get to continue my yearly tradition of:
- trying to explain the concept of "seasons" to kindergarteners (extremely challenging, especially with a minor language barrier — even when armed with the word "otoño", seasonality is just a tricky concept if you’ve only lived through a handful of autumns, I guess).
- enjoying "sweather weather"
- eating all the honeycrisp apples
- listening to everyone lose their collective shit over "pumpkin spice"
Look, people: I’m glad that you enjoy your pumpkin lattes, pumpkin vodka, and your pumpkin nonfat sugarfree coffeemate creamer. But pumpkin does not work that way! The flavors that people associate with "pumpkin" are things like nutmeg, cinnamon, allspice, mace, and ginger – the spices that you might find in a pumpkin pie, or any other cold-weather dessert. I’m happy that you enjoy these autumnal flavors, but don’t misattribute them to pumpkin, which is an innocent bystander in this whole thing.
What does this mean? Well, you can keep putting spices in your coffee, but I would rather take my squash in another direction. Rather than playing up the natural sweetness of pumpkin and winter squash, I like to pair it with the bright, assertive flavors of Latin America and Southeast Asia. To me, flavors like lime, lemongrass, ginger, chile, garlic, fish sauce, curry, black pepper, cilantro, mint, and Thai basil really make this sweet vegetable sing.
This soup is one of my favorites, and we have it a few times a month during the fall and winter. It’s quick (especially with a pressure cooker), vegan [if you use water or vegetable broth and omit the fish sauce], filling, inexpensive, and very pretty. We like to serve it with grilled cheese, but it has also made an appearance as a first course at dinner parties and at Thanksgiving. It keeps for at least a week in your refrigerator (longer in the freezer) and reheats beautifully.
I like to use butternut squash for this recipe but you can also use a small sugar pumpkin. Don’t use acorn squash, spaghetti squash, or big jack o’ lantern pumpkins. To prep a butternut squash, follow these directions from the excellent Simply Recipes.
Winter Squash Soup with Curry and Coconut Milk
makes about 2-3 quarts, enough for 4-6 main-course servings
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 small butternut squash or sugar pumpkin, about 2-3 pounds, peeled and cut into rough 1/2" dice
- 1 small onion or a few shallots, peeled and roughly chopped
- 4-5 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
- 2 small carrots, peeled and chopped into rough dice
- 2 small potatoes, peeled and chopped into rough dice (optional, but nice)
- 1 small apple, peeled, cored, and chopped into rough dice (also optional, but nice)
- 3 tablespoons curry powder or garam masala
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste – omit if you are afraid of spicy food, use a little more if you want more of a kick)
- 1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional, use soy sauce or omit if you must)
- 2 quarts chicken stock, vegetable broth, or water (if you’re using water, you’ll want to add a little more salt later on)
- 1 14 ounce can coconut milk (Chaokoah brand preferred, if you can find it)
- juice of 1 lime
- 1-2 teaspoons brown sugar or honey, to taste
- additional curry powder, pepper, salt, cayenne, and fish sauce, to taste
In a large Dutch oven or soup pot, heat the oil over medium high heat. When it is barely smoking, add the squash, the onion or shallot, and the garlic. Cook for about 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the onion has started to soften and the squash is beginning to get some color.
Add the rest of the dry ingredients and spices: carrots, potatoes, apple, curry, black pepper, salt, and cayenne. Cook for a minute or two until the spices are fragrant and things start to stick to the bottom of the pan.
Add the stock / broth / water, fish sauce, and coconut milk. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, scraping the bottom to keep things from sticking. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and let cook for about 30-45 minutes, or until everything is very soft. If the liquid level drops considerably, add additional water.
Turn off the heat. Using an immersion blender or a standing blender (work in batches if you are using a traditional blender), puree everything until completely smooth. For maximum elegance, pass it through a sieve make it very smooth (this is optional, though).
Return the soup to the heat. Add the lime and taste. Does it need more salt? Does it need to be spicier? Does it need more acid? Adjust the flavors accordingly.
Serve immediately, with a side of grilled cheese.