If this fragrant, sensuous soup doesn't say Cold Weather Comfort to you, then I don't know what will. It has what it takes to melt your winter weather woes away, with wafts of ginger and garlic, a thick vegetal sludginess and the ubiquitous warmth of Indian spice. This soup cooks up in under an hour, boiling into a real Happy Meal while you do something else. With a few deft strokes of your knife, you can tackle the prep, set it a-simmering and wait for the magic to happen. Soup making is one of the best examples of kitchen alchemy, conjuring archetypal images of boiling cauldrons on an open hearth delivering sustenance and satisfaction. Various and sundry items go in to the pot; a soft, tender, savoury mass emerges later, perfuming the home with tantalizing aromas, seducing us to the table to enjoy the product of our efforts.
Make magic in your kitchen:
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks, equalling about 7 cups; 1 tbsp. olive oil; 1 leek, white and light green parts only, washed well and sliced thinly; 1/4 cup thinly sliced celery; 1/2 cup peeled, diced carrots; 2 tsp. minced fresh garlic; 2 tsp. freshly grated ginger; 1 bay leaf; 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots; 5 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or water; 1 tsp. kosher salt; 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper; 1 tsp. garam masala; juice of 1 lemon; 1 tbsp. honey; Greek yogurt for garnish (optional).
Over medium heat in a medium sized pot, warm the olive oil and add the leeks, celery, carrots and shallots. Saute, stirring, until softened and the vegetables start to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook just until fragrant, 1 -2 minutes, stirring. Add in the broth, bay leaf, salt and pepper and squash and bring the mixture to a boil. Lower heat and cover the pot, maintaining a gentle boil and cook until the squash is completely tender and falling apart, about 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and add in the garam masala, lemon juice and honey and puree soup with an immersion blender. You may want to thin it with extra broth if it is too thick. Serve with a dollop of Greek yogurt. Serves 4 - 6.
Some variations worth mentioning: Substitute a can of light coconut milk for some of the broth. The silky smooth richness and creamy taste will complement the robust squash and the spices. You can also kick up the heat with some cayenne pepper or hot sauce to suit your mood. I have also enjoyed a splash of orange juice in place of some of the liquid in this recipe, for a pleasant fruity note that also brings with it more beautiful colour. You may like the idea of a dash of cinnamon and grated nutmeg too, for more depth and a way to accent the sweet undertones of the squash. Some would say that sage has a place in this soup and I would agree, including a couple of leaves in the simmering soup and removing them before pureeing.
Some people shy away from making soup, imagining it to be an enormous ordeal. How much work is it to cut up some veg and cook it? Chop and boil, basically, sums it up here. No skimming of "scum" (yuck!), no bones (double yuck), no fuss. Easy peasy.
Homemade soup on a cold day equals happiness and health. It's the best sort of magic I know.