Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Curried Winter Squash Soup

First of all, I'd like to wish everyone a happy Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Festivus, Giftmas, Dance-Naked-Around-the-Back-Garden-Day, and/or whatever combination of these or other holidays you observe at this festive time of year. I'm also wishing all good things for 2009; if it's anything like 2008, we are certain never to be bored. That said, I am filled with a sense of cautious optimism , which is partly due to our incoming new president, and partly to the fact that I'm a shameless Pollyanna sentimentalist around the holidays. But let's face it: it's as easy to be hopeful as pessimistic, besides being much more fun.

So heigh-ho, sing heigh-ho unto the green holly, most friendship [may be] feigning, most loving [possibly] mere folly, but for a few weeks of the year it's fun to bring trees into the house, eat too many cookies, and get in touch with people we love but see far too infrequently.

Which brings me in a roundabout way to the subject of this post, which happens to be soup (we like soup, so sue us). Way back in the second millennium, I lived in Rindge, New Hampshire for a year, where I made an awesome friend named Hal, with whom I shared a passion for squandering youthful energy and limited funds chasing the Grateful Dead all over Christendom, having what we called "loads-o-fun." To enumerate our many hijinks would be to squander the gentle reader's time and patience, but one illustrative anecdote involves him returning one of my Indian bedspreadesque hippie skirts, and leaving a message with my bemused roommate that he liked it but wanted a longer one next time (having discovered what everyone ought to know, which is that dancing, twirling, and spinning are more fun in a skirt). Get me started on our food-based adaptations of Dead lyrics - "Walk me out in the honeydew, my melon," "Don't you let that meal go down" - and we'll be here all night. Good times.

So what does any of this have to do with soup, you ask? Well, I'm getting to it. For many years, I've been making this curried squash soup, which my omnivorous, butter-obsessed mom has always loved. Not long ago, she asked where I got the idea for it, which is where Hal comes in. He did his BA at Keene State College, and after I'd fled the Granite State for Massachusetts, I'd go up to see him occasionally. I was a vegetarian in those days, and there was a place called Henry David's (like Thoreau, get it?) in Keene that was a sort of classic college town restaurant, with groovy salads and stuff like hummus that were still vaguely exotic in that time and place. Once upon a time we had a butternut squash bisque there, which was sort of sweet, a little spicy, and vaguely curryish. Even back then, I was tasting stuff in restaurants and thinking how I might reproduce/improve it, so I did some messing around with squashes, vegetable stock, and various spices, and this was the eventual result.

Having made it - or variations on it - for lo, these many years now, I still like it a lot; something about it just says "autumn." Sometimes I use parsnips instead of apples, or even both; like most pureed soups, it's pretty forgiving. Mix and match, use butternut, acorn squash, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, or some combination: it's all good. I find this soup is best served with dense, crusty bread and a big, groovy salad; in a perfect world, there will be alfalfa sprouts and a nice tahini-based dressing like Annie's Crack...er, I mean Goddess Dressing. That stuff makes me want to find a good Dead show on the archive and spin around until I'm dizzy (oh, and Hal: you can borrow a skirt whenever you like!).

Curried Winter Squash Soup
~ 1 tbsp. olive oil
~ 2 tbsp. minced garlic
~ 1 large onion, chopped
~ 1 large stalk celery, diced
~ 2 large apples, chopped (or 3-4 parsnips, or some of each)
~ 1 winter squash, cut into 1/2" cubes (about 8-10 cups)
~ 1 tbsp. good curry powder
~ 1 tsp. each: salt, cumin, fenugreek powder
~ ½ tsp. each: chili powder, dill, smoked paprika
~ ¼  tsp. each: cinnamon, turmeric
~ ½ tsp. cayenne or 1 tbsp hot sauce; more or less to taste
~ A few grinds fresh black pepper
~ Dash nutmeg or mace
~ 2 cups no chicken broth
~ 2 cups apple cider (or more broth if you don't have/like it)
~ 1 15 oz. can lite coconut milk

~ In a large pot, heat the oil and saute the garlic, onions and celery for about 5 minutes over medium heat.
~ Add the apples and/or parsnips and spices; stir to coat and cook another 5 minutes.
~ Add the cubed squash and the apple cider; raise heat to high and bring to a boil.
~ Turn the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30-40 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft, stirring occasionally.
~ Remove from heat, add the coconut milk, and puree with an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor in batches. Return to almost (but not quite!) boiling, and serve hot.

1 comment:

  1. your soup sounds amazing! we love soup, too! and i really enjoy soup 'n bread nights - they're my personal favorite! your recipe sounds awesome - and the soup looks super stellar. all i need is some cider, a parsnip (mmmmm!), and some fenugreek powder and we'll be good to go. totally going to give your recipe a try! thanks! :D