One bite of this spicy butternut squash soup and suddenly you’re walking through a canopied trail in the mountains, soaking up vibrant red and gold foliage, breathing crisp, clean air — at peace with the fact that summer is over.
Dramatic? Maybe, but I promise this soup tastes just like autumn feels. Warm and comforting. Spicy and aromatic.
And through no fault of my own, it’s healthy. There is no cream in this recipe, despite the smooth, luxurious mouthfeel. On top of that, it’s easy to make. You might have to wash a few extra kitchen toys because of the pureeing procedure, but that is what dishwashers (or around here, husbands) are for.
I based this recipe on a butternut squash and chipotle soup in my first cookbook, The Great Ranch Cookbook, swapping out the canned chipotle for smoked hot paprika, and adding garam masala, a heady spice mixture.
Garam means “hot” although not every one I’ve tasted is what I consider hot. Masala just means “spice mixture.” Every garam masala is different. Indian home cooks mix their own blend, often a highly guarded family secret.
I’m using The Spice Hunter’s salt-free blend. It hits with cumin first, followed by black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, coriander and cardamom. Other blends add ginger, nutmeg, perhaps even caraway seed. Just find one that doesn’t contain salt.
Smoked paprika can be mild or hot, depending upon the brand. I found a high quality one at a farmers market produced by a small company in Idaho called Starlight Herb & Spice Company. And let me tell you, it is hot.
The most intimidating part of cooking with butternut squash is peeling and chopping the darn thing. It takes a sturdy, sharp knife and determination to plow through it.
Slice off about 1/2-inch off the top and bottom and use a vegetable peeler to remove the skin. If it’s tough to peel, it’s time to replace your peeler (seriously, when did you buy that thing, anyway?)
Once peeled, cut off the bulbous bottom part where the seeds are. Cut it in half and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. I’ve never bothered with washing and toasting the seeds, but it can be done.
Once all the ingredients are chopped, the soup comes together rather easily. Sauté the onion and celery in olive oil until soft.
Sprinkled with the spices and stir, just to heat them up to release their magic. Toss in the squash and apple (use any apple you like. I’ve used a Fuji here).
Stir to coat the squash with the spices and maybe pour in a little white wine if you like and let that cook down. It adds a bit of acid and a little flavor, but the soup will taste fine without wine, too.
Then add your stock and let it simmer until the squash is tender, about 25 minutes. Now it’s time to puree the soup.
The first thing I do is separate the solids and the liquid by ladling out the solids into a big strainer set over a bowl and then pouring the liquid over that. (Keep the stockpot. In fact, wipe out any stray bits of onion so that when you pour the pureed soup back into the pot to reheat and finish seasoning, you won’t ruin that fine texture you just created.)
It takes 3 batches to puree all of it (you can only fill a blender half full with hot liquids, otherwise the top will blow off and the husband will not want to clean that mess up, not to mention you can seriously burn yourself.)
Make sure you add enough liquid to the solids in the blender for the blender to do it’s thing. Otherwise you’re just spinning your blades.
Puree until the soup is extremely smooth. You could use a hand held stick blender right in the pot but the texture is smoother with a traditional blender. Plus, you might not use all the liquid, depending upon how thick or thin you want your soup.
Pour each batch of pureed soup back into the stockpot to finish seasoning and to reheat.
Now taste it. It’s not finished but I want you to taste it anyway. It will taste sweet and spicy but something is missing.
Add some salt and apple cider vinegar (secret weapon!) and taste again. Whoa! Right? Told you. I use about 2 teaspoons of cider vinegar, and about a scant teaspoon of salt. Now it’s ready to put up in the fridge or ready to gently reheat and serve.
After seasoning it, you may decide not to reheat and let it sit over night in the fridge. As with most soups, this one is even better (if that’s even possible) the next day.
One last thing, I garnish the soup with finely chopped toasted walnuts.
If you don’t chop them finely, the walnuts will sink to the bottom. Toasted walnuts and butternut squash go together like peanut butter and jelly, but you could garnish with herbed croutons instead.
There you have it. Autumn in a bowl.
Enjoy the soup, maybe share with friends. And then get outside to enjoy the fall colors.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped celery (~ 2-3 stalks)
- 1-1/2 cups chopped onion (~1 medium)
- 1 to 2 teaspoons hot smoked paprika*
- 1-1/2 teaspoons garam masala
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
- 2-1/2 to 3 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
- ¼ cup dry white wine (optional)
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- Salt to taste
- ½ cup finely chopped toasted walnuts for garnish
- Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Cook celery and onions until onion is almost translucent, about 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
- Stir in smoked paprika, garam masala and black pepper. Cook and stir another minute to distribute the spices.
- Stir in the apple and butternut squash. Cook another 2 to 3 minutes, just to coat the squash in the spices, stirring often.
- If using, stir in the white wine. Cook until it reduces by half, about 2 to 3 minutes. Pour in the stock and bring to a boil. (The liquid does not quite cover the vegetables.)
- Reduce heat to simmer (medium-low) and cook, uncovered until squash is knife tender, about 25 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Remove from heat. The next step is to puree the soup. You can use a hand (stick) blender but I’ve found a traditional blender or Vitamix makes a smoother soup).
- In 3 batches, puree the solids with just enough liquid to easily blend. (CAUTION: Do not fill the blender more than half full and cover the top with a towel and press down before turning the blender on as the hot liquid can shoot off the lid.)
- Pour the soup back into the soup pot and turn the heat on low to reheat and season. Stir in cider vinegar and salt. (I generally used 1 teaspoon of salt when using the store bought, salted vegetable stock.)
- Serve hot, garnished with finely chopped walnuts.