Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup

You can keep your butternut and spaghetti squashes. Your acorns and calabasas. When I see a red kuri squash, I kind of melt a little. Actually, I do love the others, too, but there's something about the magnificent red orange coloring and slight teardrop shape that makes me feel I'm not just going to eat something special, but that until I do, I've got a beautiful piece of nature's art to admire in my kitchen.

Perhaps more importantly, though, is the flavor of this Japanese squash. If you love chestnuts, you'll fall for the red kuri squash's rich chestnutty flavor. You can bake with this squash, but you more than likely will enjoy it in a stew, casserole, or soup.

And soup is just what I made with the one I recently bought. A thick, rich soup with chicken stock and coconut milk, ginger and dried peppers, roasted carrots and both roasted and sautéed garlic.

Because winter squash soups can be a little one note--the squash can dominate even the freshest spices--my goal with this soup was to create the now clichéd but truly relevant "layers of flavor." So I roasted the squash with carrots and garlic. I added fresh ginger and fresh garlic--and shallots. I broke up dried serranos from my garden. In went garam masala and its fragrant spices. But I also added tomato paste. And lots of fresh lime juice from limes in my garden.

All these ingredients together were able to hold up and match the squash and together they created soup magic.

Roasting the squash, carrots, and garlic took about an hour and once it had cooled enough to handle and I removed the meat of the squash from its skin and sliced the carrots I had decided I had done enough cooking for the day. So I wrapped the squash meat and carrots in the  parchment paper it roasted on and bagged it, making it easy to remove the following day. I also wrapped up the garlic paste I had squeezed from the roasted head.

So, the next day making the soup was a breeze. In a four-quart Dutch oven I heated up a combination of vegetable oil and butter to sauté the fresh garlic, shallots, and ginger. Once they softened, I added the tomato paste, roasted garlic, and garam masala, and crumbled in the dried serranos and continued sautéing. Then, in went the squash meat and carrots. After about five minutes I souped it up, pouring in both the chicken broth and coconut milk. Once it was all stirred together well and come to just a simmer, I lowered the heat, covered the pot and let it cook for half an hour. At that point, I used my immersion blender to puree it into a smooth, creamy texture. Finally, I added salt and the lime juice.

I loved the kick the lime juice and serranos gave the soup. All that mellow chestnut flavor needed a little something to give the soup a little spark. And it was all built up by the many spices and aromatics that were its foundation.

You can serve the soup with toppings--perhaps those cool coconut chips or fried onions (or both) that Trader Joe's sells. Then you get a little crunch with your creamy soup. Or, you can do what I've been doing. Add a few dollops of chili oil with crunchy garlic. I found this made by S&B on Amazon by chance and it really appealed to me, being a garlic lover. It has a slight kick to it but it's not especially spicy hot. What it has is great flavor and texture. The perfect condiment for all sorts of dishes--roasted vegetables, dumplings, noodles--and this soup.

Roasted Red Kuri Squash Soup
Serves 6
(printable recipe)

3 to 4 pounds red Kuri squash
4 or 5 medium-size carrots, peeled and trimmed
1 large head of garlic
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or butter
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 large shallots, peeled and minced
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger, from a 3-inch long piece
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons garam masala (or curry powder)
2 dried red serrano chilis
1 (13.5-ounce) can coconut milk
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt or to taste
Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)

Pre-heat oven to 400°F. Cut the squash into quarters, remove the seeds and fibrous material, and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Add the carrots. Slice the top off of the garlic head, drizzle with a teaspoon of vegetable oil and wrap in foil. Place that on the sheet pan as well. Roast for 1 hour.

Let the squash cool for 15 minutes until it can be easily handled. Then peel the skin away from the squash flesh.

In a 4-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. When the oil is hot and the butter melted, add the garlic, shallots, and ginger. Sauté for about a minute. Add the tomato paste, roasted garlic, and the garam masala and crumble in the dried serranos. Sauté for another minute, then add the squash and carrots. Turn the heat back up to medium to cook the squash and carrots with the aromatics for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the coconut milk and chicken broth, stir well to mix, and bring to a light simmer. Lower the heat and cover the pot. Simmer for 30 minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree the soup with an immersion blender. Alternately you can puree it in a blender in batches, holding the top down with a towel. Add the salt a little at a time, tasting until it reaches the right balance with the soup, and stir in the lime juice. Serve immediately.

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