kabocha squash: soup two ways

squash soup 2 ways

This week it feels like much of the city has been under the weather.  The real winter chill came back into the air after a mild December. I’ve been eating a ton of squash soup during the past few cold months.  Soup never captured my imagination before. I never felt satisfied after eating it and the ways to combined flavor and texture felt limited.  This is changing.

My habit started back in November with the first recipe here, for acorn squash soup.  A few weeks later, I went to the farmer’s market with Lucy.  We met our last year of college and became fast friends, both absorbed by food, literature and politics, wondering how to make sense of it all. After graduation, I moved back to New York after school while Lucy took off for Western Mass and various adventures in farming and farm education.  She makes it down to the city about once a month and we catch up over beer and whiskey.  I have yet to make it back upstate with her, but hopefully a visit will be in order soon.

Back in November, she introduced me to kabocha squash.  I picked it up at the market, holding it by the stem, examining it.  “What’s this?” I asked.  Lucy knows more about the culinary and medicinal uses of plants than anyone I know.  (I am addicted to the wild rose elixir she once gave me: pure delight).  “Kabocha squash, kind of meaty. Less sweet than butternut.”  I bought it and some broccoli raab, unsure how they would meet.  A couple of days later, I improvised a flexible soup of squash, chickpeas and greens. The squash and greens change depending on what looks good or what is cheap that day at the store or market.  Kabocha is my favorite, far and away.  It has a richness of flavor, nutty and full without the syrupy flavor of butternut. These soup recipes require the same group of ingredients cooked in different ways.  In the first, the soup is not puréed: cubes of squash, greens and chickpeas simmer in a ginger-coconut stock.  In the second, the squash gets puréed with half the chickpeas. The greens garnish the top of the soup. The second is prettier, a bit more refined, but both are delicious.  The greens are flexible in both.  For the rustic version, I like a heartier green like lacinato kale or broccoli raab. Spinach works beautifully mixed into the smooth soup at the end.

variation one
coconut oil
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
chili flakes to taste
1 medium squash, peeled and cubed
4 cups stock
1 14oz can chickpeas
1 bunch hearty greens
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
spicy chorizo (optional)

Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Separate the leaves and stalks of your greens. Cut the leaves into ribbons and set aside. Dice half the stalks and sauté with minced ginger and garlic until soft. Add spices, letting them toast in the oil for about thirty seconds, until fragrant.

Add cubed squash and stock to the pot. If the stock doesn’t quite cover the cubes of squash, top it off with water. Bring to a boil, then let simmer until the squash is tender, fifteen to twenty minutes. Mix in greens and chickpeas. Adjust for seasoning.

If desired, brown spicy chorizo in a separate pan and top the soup with it. The soup becomes more hearty and filling with the fat and smoked paprika from the sausage.

variation two
coconut oil
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
chili flakes to taste
1 medium squash, peeled and cubed
3 cups stock
1 14oz can chickpeas
1 bunch mature spinach or 8oz baby spinach
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
toasted coconut chips

Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Sauté minced ginger and garlic until soft. Add spices, letting them toast in the oil for about thirty seconds, until fragrant. Add cubed squash, half the chickpeas and stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then let simmer until the squash is tender, fifteen to twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, clean the spinach and trim the stems (if using mature spinach – for baby spinach, just rinse out of the box). Heat coconut oil and chili flakes in a sauté pan. Wilt spinach and set aside.

Once the squash is tender, purée the soup until smooth. If too thick, add a little water. If too thin, bring to a boil and reduce for 5-10 minutes. Adjust for seasoning, then add the remaining chickpeas. Serve in warm bowls, topping each with a healthy dose of spinach and a sprinkling of toasted coconut chips.

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kabocha squash: soup two ways

pantry granola

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This is one of those few things I make mostly because I like having it around. The extra large glass jar filled with golden oats and slightly caramelized coconut chips sits atop the fridge. This was the first granola recipe I ever made, and will be the only one. Making it fills the apartment with a sweet and savory perfume and a double recipe rarely lasts more than a week. The combination of olive oil and maple syrup is the trick here — the nuts and seeds can be changed and adjusted.

pantry granola
adapted, liberally, from Early Bird Granola via lottieanddoof
3 cups rolled old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 1/2 cups coconut chips (shredded coconut will work in a pinch)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup olive oil
kosher salt (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 325°. Mix dry ingredients. Add brown sugar and salt (I use a decent sprinkling, but adjust to taste). Pour in olive oil and maple syrup. Stir it until everything looks evenly coated. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 35-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure even toasting.

Let cool completely before storing.

pantry granola

acorn squash and apple soup

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The cold snapped into place this week in New York. Long underwear and turtlenecks got pulled down from the upper shelves of closets and oversized circle scarves covered faces. The city begins to turn inward this time of year, a collective hunch against the wind.  Coming home late from a day of work, hands still icy, nothing has the same effect as a bowl of earthy soup.

Adapting recipes to what I have on hand rather than buying more ingredients has been a necessary challenge these past few months.  There is a certain gratification in cooking what is there rather than what has to be sought, and this soup comes through that process.  I had a morning to myself and a kitchen empty save a single squash, pantry items, and a batch of homemade chicken stock. Through a bit of improvisation and substitution, I arrived at this.

November Soup

(liberally adapted from a New York Times, Florence Fabricant, recipe for a squash soup published in the early nineties. )

serves four

1 acorn squash
1 red onion, diced
1 overripe apple, peeled and diced
a splash of brandy
2 cups chicken stock*
about 1 cup water
cumin
coriander
cinnamon
cayenne
coconut chips

*homemade stock will make a huge difference here.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Split the squash in half and roast skin side down on a foil lined baking sheet until tender. No need to oil the pan here. Pour a little water into the pan to create a more humid oven.

Saute the onion until soft in a soup pot. Add the apple chunks and a splash of water. Cover. The apple, especially if quite ripe, will disintegrate quickly, making a kind of onionapplesauce. Add a splash of brandy.

Let the squash cool before scooping out the flesh and adding to the pot. Add chicken stock and let simmer for a bit. Puree until smooth. Add kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and spices to taste.

Toast the coconut chips for garnish, filling the kitchen with warm aromas while they brown. They add crunch and sweetness to the soup (and a gentle reminder of warmer climes).

acorn squash and apple soup