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Thai Butternut Squash Soup

November 9, 2013

There is only one reason why this gorgeous bowl of Thai Butternut Squash Soup exists…

my father in law.

Back in June, he planted us a garden. For the third year in a row. It is such a simple but powerful gift to give, and I am taking notes for when our kids are grown. When I saw these cute, familiar shapes growing this summer, I was dreaming about what I would do with them.

I have made an abundance of butternut squash/apple/curry combos the past few years, like Ina Garten’s version. They are delicious but I was craving something different. So when I saw versions of butternut squash soup made with Thai flavors, I knew just what I was going to make come harvest day.

I went through a Thai food cooking phase a few years ago, devouring cookbooks from cover to cover. Did you know that the basis for all Thai dishes is to find the perfect balance between sour, sweet, salty and bitter and hot? Sometimes just two or three of these elements are used. These five elements are usually found by using these ingredients:

Sweet – sugar, sweet pineapple
Sour – lemon, lime, tamarind, rice wine vinegar
Salty – sea salt, soy sauce, fish sauce or sardine and other fish pastes
Bitter – bitter melon or raw leaves
Hot – chili peppers, fresh and dried, and peppercorns, fresh, pickled or dried, and ground peppers too

You will start to see these as you cook different Thai recipes (or if you are lucky enough to have a good restaurant near you, read menus), and it helps to ad lib your own Thai cooking.  Trying to make peanut satay sauce? Just mix peanut butter (sweet), rice wine vinegar (sour), soy sauce or fish sauce (salty), and shirachi (hot). Want to mix a dipping sauce or dressing for salad? Start with rice wine vinegar, sesame oil, fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, green onions, shirachi together and you are good to go.

Thai food chef and restauranteur David Thompson says, “Thai food ain’t about simplicity. It’s about the juggling of disparate elements to create a harmonious finish. Like a complex musical chord it’s got to have a smooth surface but it doesn’t matter what’s happening underneath. Simplicity isn’t the dictum here, at all. Some westerners think it’s a jumble of flavours, but to a Thai that’s important, it’s the complexity they delight in.”

I think this is what I love about Thai food – every bite sends your senses spinning, a flavor and taste bud explosion that is big yet simple, rich yet smooth. And this soup is no ecception.

The addition of lots of common Thai spices rounds out these flavors, similar to a curry. Coriander, garlic, turmeric, galangal, lemon grass, cardamon, basil, kaffir lime and pandanus leaves are popular fragrant spices. And you can blend the whole lot after it has simmered, or eat it “Thai Style” where you leave the butternut squash chunky. I loved it this way!

The coconut milk was such an interesting flavor to mix with butternut squash as well. And though you can’t see it in the pictures very well, I put a dollop of sour cream in the soup with the fresh cilantro, though you can also swirl in more coconut milk if you want.

I am actually so sad that I ate all this soup. I have to make some more stat. It also confirmed Michael Pollan’s thesis that we enjoy our food more when we know exactly where it came from, and that our enjoyment goes up by the degrees of it being close to home. Thinking about these squash all summer made the end product very special. I also used homemade chicken stock and every time I do I am amazed at how much better the food tastes. In our busy days I know how rare these homemade, home grown elements will come together, and that rarity, that specialness, made it even better.

But even if you can’t grow it, you can find it at your local farmer’s market or farm stand, so go on & get yourself some, then whip this together on your next chilly November afternoon. I promise you will thank me for it.

Thai Butternut Squash Soup (printer version click here.)

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed, equal to 4-5 cups

6 cups chicken stock (homemade makes a big difference)

1 can coconut milk

½  onion, finely chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped

3 bay leaves

1 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. ground coriander or ½ tsp. coriander seeds, crushed

½ tsp. tumeric

¼ tsp. ground cardamom

½ tsp. dried chili flakes (optional)

pinch of nutmeg

2 Tbsp. lime juice

½ tsp. sugar

2 ½ Tbsp. soy sauce

fresh cilantro, sour cream or coconut milk for garnish