It’s Autumn. And while I’m really a summer gal at heart, fall foods spell only one word: comfort. On Wednesday evening we were invited to Susan’s (of Tamarango Bakery) house to celebrate the Autumnal Equinox with an Indian-inspired feast. It was a truly magical event, held in her enchanted forest of a backyard by the glow of what seemed a thousand candles. For my contribution, I whipped up my own gluten-free, vegan Curried Butternut Squash Soup.

I’ve spent several years trying out different recipes for just the right combination of sweet, savory and spicy in a butternut squash soup. I think I’ve hit it with this version, so I thought I’d share.

The key to this dish is preparation—having everything ready to roll as things start going into the pot. Then, before you know it, you’re on your way to the dinner table with steaming bowls of silky golden comfort. I’ve included some *tips below the recipe to make preparation easier.

What you will need:

  • Two teaspoons olive oil
  • *Two to three nice-size shallots (possible substitutions would be a large yellow onion or a couple of good-size leeks, which would be nice in the spring (white and light green part only)
  • One tablespoon Indian curry powder, a good quality that carries some heat such as Penzys Hot Curry Powder
  • A healthy dash of turmeric
  • **One teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • One tablespoon unsulfured blackstrap molasses (double check for gluten-free, if this is a concern for you. Wholesome Sweeteners makes a very nice gluten-free molasses.)
  • The following whole spices, dry toasted in a small cast-iron skillet, then crushed with a mortar and pestle: one tablespoon cumin seeds, one tablespoon coriander seeds, one half tablespoon black peppercorns (I would also suggest a teaspoon whole mustard seed in the mix might be nice.)
  • One teaspoon salt
  • One heaping teaspoon Harissa (It’s optional, unless you are eating at my house.)
  • Five garlic cloves, chopped (I suggest Persian Star or Armenian.)
  • ***Six cups chopped peeled butternut squash (about 3 pounds)
  • Six cups of vegetable stock (homemade or commercial, just make sure the commercial stock has low sodium and be very mindful of adding salt to this recipe. You probably won’t need as much if you use commercial stock. My favorite is Imagine “No-Chicken Broth.”
  • Four cups chopped peeled Granny Smith apples (About 1 pound is what you want, and note that there is no room for substitution here; other apples are not going to deliver the tart taste of a Granny Smith.)
  • One-half cup coconut milk (If you are not vegan, you can go with whole milk or even cream.)
  • Two-thirds of a cup minced fresh cilantro

Preparation

  1. Measure, toast and crush your spices. Grate your nutmeg.
  2. Chop your shallots, squash and apples. (If you find your apples oxidizing too quickly, toss with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, which will not impact the flavor of the soup.)
  3. Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the shallots, garlic and all your spices, including the salt. Cook two minutes, stirring frequently until the sauté becomes fragrant.
  4. hand blender in a pot of soup

    A hand blender saves time and effort at cleanup!

    Add the stock, squash and apples; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until tender, probably not longer than 45 minutes.

  5. To puree, remove the soup from the heat and let it calm down for a few minutes. You can place half of the soup in a blender at a time and process until smooth. But I prefer to use my hand blender, sometimes called an immersion wand/blender. Just secure your pot on a non-slip surface such as a folded kitchen towel and submerge the hand blender into the soup. Turn on and move the blender around the pot, being careful not to pull it up to the surface or you will be wearing a lot of your soup. This tool is handy, so consider the purchase if you puree frequently.
  6. Return the pureed soup to the pan; stir in the coconut milk. Cook one minute or until thoroughly heated. Sprinkle each serving with about a tablespoon of minced cilantro.
bowl of butternut squash soup

The apple peel is decorative but the cilantro will taste better.

Preparation Tips:

*I prefer shallots for this recipe because I want as rich a soup as possible, while not having to rely on butter or cow’s cream. And while a nice yellow onion or fresh spring leeks will do in a pinch, it won’t give you the deep buttery richness of shallots, in my opinion. This is how I think about the difference between shallots and onions: using onions is like using olive oil and using shallots is like using butter.

whole nutmeg with zester

Nutmeg is actually rather soft and grates beautifully.

**I definitely recommend splurging on whole nutmeg and grating it fresh for this dish or any other requiring this spice. You will never go back once you’ve tried whole nutmeg. And it is so easy! Just use your zester and grate over a bowl. I really like Penzys whole nutmeg—so fresh, flavorful and economical compared to ground.

***Some people think that peeling and chopping a butternut squash is hard, but it’s not. Technique and the right tools are all you need.

butternut squash with chef’s knife and peelerTo peel and chop a butternut squash, you’ll need a large solid cutting board, a sharp chef’s knife and a heavy-duty vegetable peeler, like an Oxo.

butternut squash with ends removedCut off the two ends of the squash with your chef’s knife so the squash won’t wobble if placed on its end.

Begin peeling from the center to the end of the long neck with your peeler. Next peel the “bowl” end. Takes a little effort, but not as much as you’d imagine.

Stand the squash on its larger end and slice vertically to create two halves.

seeds being removed from half a butternut squashScoop out the seeds with a large spoon, making sure to remove all the stringy membrane with the seeds.

Now with your chef’s knife, cut the squash into one-inch cubes.

What’s your favorite recipe for fall?