SPICY(ISH) KABOCHA SQUASH SOUP WITH DILL, RADISH AND AVOCADO
Right now, my husband and children are sound asleep in a tent 50 feet from our kitchen door, where the air is cool and crisp. I wrapped myself around them, whispered (harmless) ghost stories and watched the fire crackle against the peaked, nylon ceiling before their eyes shuttered, releasing me to slink away... to put life back in order, to wash dishes, and set some dough to proof for the morning. Sometimes I envy the freedom of childhood, the sweetness of slumber not wrought with a list of to-dos, but more so I love my role as the magic maker—the one burning the midnight oil for tomorrow’s gain. Because it’s all moving fast: their childhood, this fall—already. I think that’s why I love cooking so much, it’s the only thing I can grasp to slow things down—to put a meal in front of them, to sit across the table from a girl who’s lost all signs of “early childhood”, from a boy who’s legs spring out from his pant legs again and again, inching us from babyhood to boyhood, ever quicker.
What has any of this to do with this soup? My dough is proofing and the bonfire is still flickering so here I sit, writing this recipe up for you as I promised I would, because all I know from where I stand is that maybe, just maybe, the right pot of soup can stop time for all of us—if only for a moment.
RECIPE + MORE SQUASH SOUP KNOW-HOW, BELOW
SPICY KABOCHA Squash soup with dill, radish and avocado
1 TABLESPOON BUTTER
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, PLUS FOR GARNISH
1 YELLOW ONION, THINLY SLICED
1 BAY LEAF
1 TO 2 TABLESPOONS HUNGARIAN HOT PEPPER PASTE, OR HARISSA
SEA SALT AND FRESHLY GROUND BLACK PEPPER
one 2 1/2 to 3 lb kabocha, butternut or honeynut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
4 TO 6 CUPS CHICKEN BROTH OR VEGETABLE BROTH (SEE NOTES, BELOW), WARM
1 AVOCADO, CUT IN QUARTERS
1 TO 2 LARGE, OR 4 SMALL RADISHES, THINLY SLICED
1 HANDFUL OF HERBS, SUCH AS DILL, MINT, PARSLEY OR A COMBINATION
A FEW TABLESPOONS PLAIN YOGURT, CREME FRAICHE OR SOUR CREAM
Flaky salt, such as Maldon
Freshly ground black pepper
FRESH CROUTONS (SEE tutorial, BELOW)
HEAT THE BUTTER AND OLIVE OIL IN A LARGE STOCK OR SOUP POT OVER MEDIUM HEAT. ADD THE ONION AND BAY LEAF AND COOK, STIRRING OCCASIONALLY, UNTIL THE ONION IS SOFT AND TRANSLUCENT, 7 TO 10 MINUTES. STIR IN THE HOT PEPPER PASTE (START SLOW, YOU CAN ADD MORE LATER) AND STIR TO COAT. SEASON WITH SALT AND PEPPER.
ADD THE SQUASH CUBES AND STIR TO COAT, THEN POUR OVER 4 CUPS OF BROTH TO COVER. ADD 1/2 TEASPOON OF SALT, AND BRING THE LIQUID TO A BOIL. COVER LOOSELY AND SIMMER UNTIL THE SQUASH IS COMPLETELY TENDER, ABOUT 30 MINUTES.
REMOVE THE BAY LEAF ( DISCARD), AND PUREE THE SOUP IN BATCHES IN A BLENDER, OR DIRECTLY IN THE POT WITH AN IMMERSION BLENDER (MY PREFERRED). PROCESS UNTIL COMPLETELY SMOOTH, ADDING MORE WARM BROTH, SALT, PEPPER AND HOT PEPPER PASTE TO YOUR LIKING (REMEMBERING THAT YOU WILL GET MORE FLAVOR FROM THE TOPPINGS AT THE END).
SPOON THE SOUP INTO FOUR BOWLS, AND GARNISH WITH RADISHES, AVOCADO, HERBS, YOGURT, CROUTONS AND A DRIZZLE OF YOUR BEST OLIVE OIL. SPOON ADDITIONAL PEPPER PASTE OR HARISSA OVER THE TOP IF YOU LIKE A VERY SPICY SOUP, OR GO HEAVY ON THE DILL AND MINT IF YOU LIKE THINGS MORE FRESH. SERVE WARM.
PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES
TOTAL TIME: 35 MINUTES
SERVES 4 TO 6
A BIT MORE ABOUT SQUASH SOUP:
If you Google squash soup, there are probably 985,890 references, and a good chunk of them would be solid, even delicious recipes. There’s not a tremendous art to mastering one, to be honest, so it’s fair to feel that one squash soup is as good as the next. I disagree, and here’s why: If you order butternut squash soup at a fine dining restaurant, something reputed to be brilliant with vegetables like say, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, you will get a velvety thing of beauty, the kind of soup you’d not only like to drink, daily, but also perhaps bathe in. A similarly title recipe at a diner, though, might be chunky or chalky or overly creamy—it might cure the squash fix, but not memorably.
What defines a good one is in part, the squash itself. For this I love to use Kabocha, which tastes a bit like a butternut meets pumpkin, but I promise that if you start with butternut, honeynut, or even carrots or sweet potatoes (using the same peeled and cubed weight, one for one), you will also have a deliciously soothing soup. The other important detail is that you get the ratio of stock or broth, to squash just right. This part is deeply personal—I want something drinkable, but still satisfying, not thick or baby food-esque, but we may differ on that. Defer to your own tastes here.
For the deepest flavors, I like to use chicken stock plus a bit of Hungarian hot pepper paste in mine, for a heat that makes this both satisfying, and healing. This is the first thing we make in the fall, and it’s on repeat all the rainy, snowy, sniffly days. In place of the Hungarian pepper paste, Harissa does a fine job. Likewise vegetable for the stock, dear vegetarians—we most often make this vegetarian at home.
Finally, the exceptional soup experience is all in the garnish—bits of texture and flavor that surprise your mouth during an otherwise comforting experience. I use avocado for fat and radish for crunch, along with a drizzle of creme fraiche, yogurt or sour cream, depending on what we have on hand. Dill is a nice touch here, but so are a number of other spices—like mint and parsley or a combination, so flex to work for you all season long. For the grand finale, add a spot of oil, and croutons if you have them, or have the time to toast a few in a pan (tutorial, below).
A CROUTON TUTORIAL:
Cut 4 thick slices of whole-grain, sourdough, rye bread or baguette into cubes (leaving the crust on). Heat 2 tablespoon olive oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Toss the bread cubes in the oil, turing with tongs or a spatula to toast on all sides, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper (don’t skip this step! You’ll see). Transfer to a plate to cool completely before tossing in your soup or salad.