Not that squash soup recipes don’t proliferate now, but I had intended on posting this well before Thanksgiving. Years ago, while still living back East, I was making my first pumpkin soup in my very small kitchen. My mother once marveled at how I managed to cook as much as I did in such a teeny space. You make do by teetering cutting boards on top of the trash can.

I was using a cookbook with gorgeous photography that I bought used in Houston, of all places. I say “of all places” because this was the second of only two good things about Houston. The other was the cavernous grocery store with aisles upon aisles of international food and still-hot packages of fresh tortillas. I had yet to move to Portland, Oregon, a paean to food and great grocery stores. But I digress.

While I cooked, I listened to an NPR program with door-bell ringing and foot-stepping sound effects as if famous chefs were arriving at someone’s house. Each chef announced the dish they brought and then described the recipe. It reminded me of a Three Stooges record album I listened to over and over as a kid, clanking buckets and slamming doors, your imagination filling in the rest.

One chef brought pumpkin soup, only his contained crab meat. I shut off the gas, ran downstairs, hopped over the back fence and minutes later I was back in the kitchen with rather expensive lump blue crab meat. It helped living behind a Safeway. The soup was delicious but it was also the last time I splurged on crab meat, probably the result of a not-grateful-enough family member. Perhaps I’ll try it again but this time with dungeness. But what I have loved every since is how versatile this soup can be with a little experimentation.

marketsquashesThe farmers markets, and even grocery stores, are awash in gorgeous gourds. Hubbard, delicata (at left, oblong off-white with stripes) and butternut are all good options for soup. Delicata is my favorite for its rich, nutty taste. Both it and butternut will peel with a sharp vegetable peeler. If you thought you first had to roast the squash, think again. This is easier and perhaps will prevent you from using canned pumpkin.

I strayed from my original recipe and added curry powder, which quickly became a hit. My non-cooking mother has turned my soup into a tradition, making it when I’m not around. We are a family not terribly inclined to tradition. So this, and the fact that my mother largely shuns cooking, means this soup is kept alive against all odds.

Where I start with sauteed leeks, Cathy Whims, chef of Portland’s Nostrana, turned me on to beginning with a soffrito. This is essentially chopped vegetables that are the base of many Italian soups. The difference is pronounced and adds a greater level of depth. She used a few small hot chilis that were removed before pureeing the soup, and then crumbled almond cookie on top, finishing with a peppery drizzle of olive oil. Superb.

My recipe below is a very uncomplicated, semi-Asian style soup. A friend goes all out with lemongrass, fish sauce and other ingredients for a full-on Thai experience. But you can start here and then take it where you will. The potatoes make for a creamy soup and is a good option if you want to go vegan, as many squash soups call for some cream.

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Recipe: Asian-inspired Winter Squash Soup

1 carrot, chopped

1 celery, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1/4 t hot red pepper flakes

2 T olive oil

1 1/2 to 2 lbs. winter squash (delicata, butternut or your favorite)*
or about 4 or 5 cups cubed squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 small to medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (yukon gold work well)

1 1/2 T fresh grated ginger

1 to 1 1/2 t salt, or to taste

1/2 t cumin

boiling water or stock*

1 cup coconut milk

Optional: mix juice of half a lime in 1/2 cup of sour cream or plain yogurt for garnish.

Directions:

Heat the oil in a stock pot and add the carrot, celery, onion and red pepper. Saute on low heat for about 10 minutes till soft. Add the squash and potatoes along with grated ginger, salt and cumin. Pour in boiling water or vegetable stock to just cover squash. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until squash is soft.

Allow the soup to cool a bit. Then, working in batches, puree the mixture and return it to a soup pot. If the mixture is too think to easily puree, add a bit of hot water or stock. Once the soup is returned to the pot, stir in the coconut milk and simmer a few minutes more. This soup is best made a day ahead to let the flavors meld. Adjust the seasoning if necessary. Drizzle the lime/sourcream on top and serve.

Download a PDF of the recipe.

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