Lent is upon us and the first day of spring is right around the corner, so it’s time to clean up our pantries and lighten up our meals. Stored winter squash can be the main ingredient in a luscious soup, welcome on chilly late winter days as we suffer the last of unsettled weather.
Soup can also fill the bill as a vegetarian dish for those observing meatless meals, simply by using vegetable broth or water in the base. A Thai-style soup with its complex flavor profile is satisfying, healthy and filling. The secret to all successful recipes is fresh, high-quality ingredients, which not only offer delicious flavor, but health benefits as well.
Around the world, many of the best soups, stews and sauces start out with a “mirepoix,” a French word meaning a lightly sautéed base of mixed vegetables. Most commonly, mirepoix consists of celery, onions, carrots and herbs, lightly coked in butter or oil only until the vegetables are soft but not browned. The mirepoix can also consist of only white vegetables, such as leeks, garlic and mushrooms.
In Cajun cooking, the mirepoix is replaced by the “holy trinity”: a sautéed mix of onions, bell peppers and celery. In Indian cuisine, the base almost always starts with onions and garlic, with ginger added for extra zing. In Latin dishes, “sofrito,” which contains onions, green and red peppers, garlic and cilantro, is cooked into a paste, then used as a flavor base.
Regardless of the title or the basic ingredients, good cooks know that laying a good flavor foundation is imperative for a flavorful final result.
In this recipe, the very last stored winter squash in our pantry is a beautiful, medium-sized butternut. The flavor base is a basic mirepoix, and the other flavor ingredients, peanut butter, ginger, coconut milk and lime, are those generally used in Thai cuisine.
This is a warming soup for chilly evenings, full of fresh ingredients and nutrients, satisfying to the pallet and lightly filling. This is a vegan version, but chicken or beef broth may be used instead of the vegetable broth if desired. Enjoy!
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 2 cups chopped celery
- 6 carrots, chopped
- 4 cloves garlic
- 8 cups vegetable broth
- 2 cans organic coconut milk, full fat
- 1/2 cup chunky, unsweetened peanut butter
- 1 medium butternut squash
- 1/2 pound fresh mushrooms
- 1 tsp ginger, ground or freshly grated
- 1/2 tsp red chili pepper flakes
- 6 green onions
- 1 cup coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
- Salt to taste
Cut squash into quarters, scrape out seeds and pith in place in an ovenproof dish, cut side down. Pour about 1/4 inch water around squash to help it steam.
Bake at 350 about 30 minutes, until soft. Remove from oven and cool.
Saute onion, celery, carrots and garlic in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until onions are translucent. Don’t allow vegetables to brown. Add vegetable broth and cook until vegetables are soft enough to puree with stick blender.
Add mushrooms, ginger and chili flakes and cook about 15 minutes until mushrooms are soft. Add ginger, peanut butter and coconut milk; simmer about 10 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Salt to taste.
Thinly sliver green onions on diagonally. Just before serving, add reserved squash cubes, green onions and cilantro.