Have you been outside lately? No? Good. Don’t do it.
I’m not sure where you live, but if you live in the Northeast like me, specifically in New York City, then you know that this winter has officially been the worst. I’m no stranger to cold weather, I lived in the Adirondack mountains for several years, but New York City isn’t used to this amount of snow, especially not when it sticks around and piles up instead of melting after a day or two. The infrastructure of this great city is not designed to deal with this kind of build up and, much like the city’s inhabitants, there’s nowhere for it to go but up. The narrow strip of sidewalk between the road and the walkway carved out of the snow is the only place to put it, and in some places its reaching several feet high at this point.
To make matters worse, the weather has been pivoting back and forth between two stages lately. One day you’ll have complete white out snow coming at you from angles you didn’t know existed. Then the next day will be just warm enough for the piles of snow to start to melt, while simultaneously blocking all the storm drains, creating giant slush ponds at every cross walk in the five boroughs. Then we go back to white out conditions, the slush ponds freeze over, and we start the process all over again. When you consider that this is a city where most people who live here depend on public transportation and their own feet to get around, I’m sure you can imagine how all this snow and slush is starting to wear at people.
A few days ago it was looking pretty outside so I tried to wear a pair of less-than-waterproof leather boots to work. Call it hubris. Call it naiveté. Call it idiocy. Whatever you call it, I was out the door less than three minutes before my left foot was completely soaked. By the time I made it to work both my feet were soaked through and remained so for the entire day. If you’ve never tried to wear leather boots and thick wet socks while working on your feet for an eight-hour shift, I wouldn’t recommend it. If you’re considering it, trust me, it’s not what you might think. It’s not nearly as thrilling or dangerous as, say, spelunking, nor is it as relaxing as sitting in the sand and dipping your toes in the ocean.
As you can imagine, these past few weeks have left me wanting warm, hearty, filling meals when I get home and wring out my socks. That’s what led me to this soup. I love a creamy traditional squash soup in cold weather, but the way things have been going I wanted to brighten that concept up with some summery, fresh flavors and a bit of citrus and spice. I thought that something about this combination of flavors might help me forget about the frozen hellscape outside, and boy was I right. There’s something so hearty, homey and comforting about a thick, creamy winter squash soup. Rather than flavoring it with traditional autumn or winter flavors though, the tropical flavors of coconut and lime take this to a totally different place. Since these traditionally Asian flavors are usually associated with thin brothy soups, I was a bit worried that the two concepts might clash, but they actually work really really well together. When you take your first spoonful, if you close your eyes and taste the chili, coconut and lime, you can almost imagine you’re somewhere warm and tropical. So, I cranked the heat in my apartment, put on some flannel pajamas and fuzzy slippers, and did my best not to dive into the bowl face first.
Because I have to be difficult, I couldn’t just find a recipe online and leave it at that, I had to make some changes to make it my own. The original recipe called for butternut squash, but I thought it would be fun to try a mix of different squashes for a depth of flavor. Along with butternut, I also used a pretty green kabocha squash. The flavors work really nicely together, but even with small squashes, twice the squash meant twice the soup. The recipe below feeds eight people so, unless you’re feeding a crowd, feel free to cut the recipe in half and choose one type of squash or the other. Both would be great on their own, so I’ll let you be the one to decide. The good news is that this soup freezes really well so, if you’re indecisive and want to make the full recipe, you can freeze your leftovers and pull a portion or two out on especially cold and crappy days.
Another small change I decided to make was to use strips of ginger instead of grating it. Not only does this mean you save yourself the steps of peeling and grating the ginger, but it also means the finished soup has a slightly subtler ginger flavor. I love ginger but it can sometimes be a bit intense, so this way the strips steep in the soup as it cooks, and you pluck out them before you puree everything. I’d recommend that you count how many strips go into the pot so that you know how many need to come out at the end. If one or two elude you though, and make their way into the blender, it’s not really anything to worry about.
You will want to have a strong blender or immersion blender to make sure you get your finished soup completely pureed. For this soup you want the squash to add a creaminess, but don’t really want to have any chunks left since they’ll be kind of mushy. Since the finished soup is so silky, smooth, and almost drinkable, I think a garnish of fresh cilantro and chopped roasted peanuts or cashews adds a bit of texture and interest. Garnish or not, this soup is seriously delicious.
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Okay, without further ado, the recipe…
Thai Coconut Curry Squash Soup
2 tbsp coconut oil (or olive oil in a pinch)
1 onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, crushed or minced
1 four or five-inch piece of ginger, thinly sliced length-wise
4 tbsp red curry paste
6 cups vegetable (or chicken) stock
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into rough cubes
1 small kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into rough cubes
2 (14-ounce) cans coconut milk
juice of 3 limes, about 1/2 cup
1 tsp sriracha (less if you’re scared, more if you’re feeling spicy)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
chopped cilantro, if desired
chopped roasted peanuts or cashews, if desired
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-low heat, add onions and season with salt and pepper. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add in the garlic, (counted) ginger slices and curry paste, stir until it is incorporated, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the stock and add the cubed squash. Cover pot and increase the heat to medium. Cook until the squash is soft, about 30 minutes.
Once the squash is fork tender, turn off the heat, cool slightly, and very carefully pour the entire mixture into a blender, in batches. Blend until the soup is smooth and pureed. You could also do this with an immersion blender but be careful not to miss any squash. Pour the soup back into the pot and turn the heat to medium low. Add the coconut milk, lime juice, and sriracha. Stir well and cover, and cook for 10 minutes until it’s completely warm. Taste and season with salt and pepper if desired. If you’re feeling fancy, Garnish of chopped cilantro and roasted peanuts.