Going to the farmers’ market in the winter can be a bit of a bore. In the summer, every trip is new, as you wonder what the sellers might be carrying this week. But once the fall harvest passes, most farmers are limited to produce that can either store extremely well (root vegetables, winter squash, apples, occasionally pears) or be grown in a small greenhouse (usually a small amount of greens). Around January, you start counting the months until spring.
While I used to find eating seasonally in the winter unbearable, I’ve grown to like the root cellar veggies more than I used to. While I’ll never particularly like beets, I do love winter squash, especially butternut squash. It’s surprisingly versatile, useful in salads, stews, and casseroles. It also works with a variety of different cuisines – California contemporary, Mediterranean, Asian, African, and South American. It provides fiber, vitamin A, vitamin E, and potassium. It even contains its own snack, if you take the time to roast the seeds.
Fortunately, butternut squash is almost always available at the farmers market or greengrocer in the winter. While I’m still mourning the departure of my own plants via squash bug slurping, the farmers always seem to have it in stock.
The most common method of cooking squash is to roast it in the oven. You can chop it in half, oil it, salt and pepper the flesh, place it face-down on a baking pan, and cook it with the skin on. Alternatively, you can peel it, chop the flesh into equal pieces, and then put it on the baking pan. While peeling and chopping takes longer to do, it saves on cook time in the oven. Also, if you’re doing anything else with it, it allows you to move the squash from the oven right into the pan. Otherwise, you have to wait for the squash to cool down so that you can scoop it out of the hot skin. If you’re going to peel and chop it first, I’ve found the easiest method is to cut the neck off from the body and then use a chef’s knife to cut off the skin. It’s far too thick to do it with a regular vegetable peeler. Besides the oven, you can also braise or saute it.
Once it’s cooked, soup is one of my favorite ways to use it. It’s a perfect match because I’m perpetually cold in the winter. While a lot of butternut squash soups play up its inherent sweetness, I prefer to go a less traditional route. In my version, curry balances out the sweetness with spice. Continuing the Indian theme, coconut milk makes it creamy while keeping it vegan. Because it isn’t dairy-based, it freezes and reheats in the microwave pretty well too.
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
– 1 medium to large butternut squash, approximately chopped into 2-3 inch cubes
– 1 chopped onion
– 3-4 cloves chopped garlic
– 2 tbs canola oil
– Salt and pepper (a couple pinches after every vegetable added)
– 1 cup coconut milk
– 2 or more tbs curry paste – my favorite is Pataks mild (I find it easier to combine curry paste into food more evenly and thoroughly than curry powder. I think it also has a better and deeper flavor. I believe I first saw this brand in the U.K., which has fantastic curry. Also, I think the mild has a more complex flavor than the medium, but adjust to your preference for spiciness.)
– 4-5 cups vegetable stock or more, depending on how thick you like your soup
1) Saute the onion and garlic in the oil until the onion is translucent and the garlic is mildly browned.
2) Add the butternut squash. If you have time, cut it up and roast it beforehand for about 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees to maximize the flavor. However, if you’re pressed for time, you can just cut it up and add it to the vegetables. Add a few more tablespoons of oil, then saute it until it’s tender.
3) Stir in the curry paste, enough to coat all of the vegetables.
4) Stir in the coconut milk.
5) Stir in the stock.
6) Carefully use an immersion blender to blend all ingredients.
7) Simmer the soup for about 10-15 minutes to blend the flavors. (If you’re pressed for time, skip this step.)
8) Adjust the soup’s flavor and thickness to your preference by adding more salt and pepper, curry paste, or stock.
Do you have any favorite recipes with winter squash?
I’m participating in Cate’s Cates Vegetarian Lunchbox Challenge! Check out the rest of the recipes…