I remember in high school when my family discovered butternut squash. Up until then, my knowledge of winter squash extended to carving Jack-O-Lanterns out of the biggest pumpkins I could find—which isn’t saying much. Who knew there were pumpkins and gourds you could actually eat? Then, all of a sudden, roasted bits of this bright orange vegetables started to appear at every family gathering. Tossed in Lipton onion soup mix and roasted along with a medley of other vegetables, butternut squash quickly became everyone’s favorite side dish. We couldn’t get enough of it, and we still eat it fairly often (sans Lipton). But why we decided to start eating squash or who thought it would be a good idea to season it with dried soup mix, I have no idea.
Over the years, many of these oddball dishes have joined kotleti and chakhokbili to become part of my family’s repertoire. Each dish was probably some recipe my mom or one of my aunts debuted at a family gathering with success. Next thing you know, every sister was following suit (not surprisingly, this trend doesn’t stop at cooking). Of course, some dishes stuck over time, others didn’t.
This curried butternut squash is one of those tried and true recipes. The soup must have stemmed from my family’s then obsession with squash. I myself could easily polish off a sheet pan’s worth of the roasted stuff, so it was only natural I turned it into a soup. I’ve tinkered with the recipe over the years—replacing funky leeks for onions, adding a Granny Smith for brightness, roasting the squash to bring out optimum flavor. I was making it when my acceptance letter from UVa arrived in the mail and I continued to make it all through college in Virginia. I even brought it with me to Vermont last weekend for a retreat with the women in my family. After we returned from a long hike hungry and a bit cranky, this curried golden soup was exactly the warm welcome hug we needed. We all agreed, the soup was a signal that fall arrived, a celebration of the season’s harvest and my family’s favorite adopted vegetable.
Curried Butternut Squash, Leek, and Apple Soup
I was never be a big fan of soup until I tried this one. It’s enticing golden color hints at its warming properties, and the fact that it’s so good for you is an extra bonus. Roasting the squash before adding it in really helps to bring out optimum flavor and sweetness. Make it the first thing you do and while it caramelizes and softens in the oven, prep the rest of your vegetables and get the soup going. It’s usually done roasting right when it’s time to stir it in to the soup. Talk about multi-tasking. For years though, I would stir it in right before I added broth and cooked it in the liquid that way. Feel free to do the same—the result is regardless delicious.
3 pounds butternut squash, cut into ½-inch pieces (about 8 cups)*
kosher salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 leeks, white and tender green parts, finely chopped (about 4 cups)
2-3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped (generous 1 cup)
3 medium carrots, peeled and coarsely chopped (generous 1 cup)
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1 ½ teaspoon curry powder, plus more to taste
a pinch of red pepper flakes, plus more to taste
5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth, or water
1/8 cup milk, half and half, or coconut milk, plus more to taste (optional)
roasted pumpkin seeds, to garnish
Preheat over to 375°F. Toss butternut squash with 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and a pinch or two of black pepper in a large mixing bowl. Spread out on a baking sheet (you don’t want to crowd the squash, so use two baking sheets if you need) and bake for 30 minutes or until fork tender.
Meanwhile, heat 3-4 tablespoons olive oil in a large heavy saucepan or dutch oven on medium low. Add leeks, celery, carrots, and 1 teaspoon salt, and cook, stirring often, until vegetables are soft and browned, about 12 minutes. Add garlic and apple and cook for another few minutes. Add curry powder and chili flakes and cook for a minute longer. Add roasted squash and stock and give the whole mixture a stir; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Even though all the vegetables are cooked at this point, you want their flavor, along with the spices, to infuse the broth.
Using an immersion blender (or in a blender, working in batches), puree the mixture until smooth. Taste the soup and season with salt, curry powder and chili flakes to taste. If using milk, stir it in (I often find that if my butternut squash is sweet and flavorful enough, it doesn’t need it). Garnish with pumpkin seeds and serve. Refrigerated, soup will last for 5 days.