My beloved autumn has at last arrived, chasing away the bright sunshine and high temperatures – beloved by many – that make me, paradoxically, wilt. Along with the chilled air and cloudy skies has come a decided craving for traditional cold weather fare: hearty stews and soups. This seasonal craving never hit me when I lived in a hot climate, another data point that despite being chained to electronics, we are still creatures of the weather.
I decided to try a vegan butternut squash bisque recipe that I found recently. I’d been wanting to try butternut squash bisque for months, but I didn’t have the time. It has only been in the last several weeks that I’ve had the time to breathe, it seems like. The recipe seemed as though it would be a toasty backdrop to grey skies and cold winds.
Butternut squash is rich in vitamin C and vitamin A, and a good source of fiber, potassium, vitamin B-6, and magnesium. It’s not a bad source of iron and calcium, either. It is interesting that craving for this low-calorie fruit spikes during winter, because it contains next to no fat and no vitamin D – two things people typically crave during winter months. My theory is that the vitamin content of the squash compensates for the lack of fat and vitamin D, which explains its winter appeal. Here’s an interesting tidbit regarding vitamin D: Above 30° latitude, you cannot synthesize vitamin D from sunlight, because the angle of the sun is too oblique. That is when dietary sources of vitamin D become hugely important. Like I said, it is interesting that this squash becomes so popular during winter, even though it lacks vitamin D. It could simply be because it is harvested in the fall, and is thus available as seasonal produce, but I still don’t think that alone explains its popularity. I think its flavour and versatility are behind its beloved status as winter gourd.
Butternut squash lends itself to all kinds of dishes. You can prep it as I outlined in this post, and use the cubes in soup. You can slice the squash lengthwise, exposing the seeds, and roast it. Its flesh is used to add richness and depth to vegetarian dishes, and it is so sweet that it can even be used as an emergency substitute for sweet potatoes. You can also roast the seeds, as I detailed in the prep post. This Huffington Post article details some of the other things, both savory and sweet, that are possible with butternut squash.
This bisque comes together in around 30 minutes, assuming the squash is already cubed. (You can cube the squash in advance, and refrigerate the cubes in an airtight container to make prepping soup for later easier and faster.) The bisque has a nicely thick texture, and the sweet flavour of the squash is set off by curried spices and full fat coconut milk. It is warm, comforting, and satisfying. I would go so far as to say it is the best butternut squash bisque I’ve ever had, beating out even those with cream instead of full fat coconut milk.
The recipe is highly adaptable; you can adjust the seasonings and additions to suit your palate. We substituted an onion for 2 shallots, and would happily use an onion again. The recipe calls for 2 – 3 TBS of maple syrup, but you can reduce the amount or even omit it altogether. I used 2 TBS, but I thought even that was slightly too much; next time, I’ll use 1 TBS. 2 TBS yielded a flavour much like the butternut squash bisques you typically find in restaurants, so most people would probably prefer 2 TBS. I also added a dash of red chili powder for a spicy kick, and I think it balanced out the curry powder. The original recipe calls for vegetable broth, making the soup truly vegan, but I used chicken broth. I think the chicken broth works very well, giving the bisque a certain heartiness and boosting its protein. You can use either, and the soup will be wonderful. The end result is a soup that is not only a delicious accompaniment to autumn, but surprisingly filling: One liquid cup sufficed for lunch. The soup reheats well, and if anything, its flavour profile becomes deeper and richer by the second day.
I know bisques traditionally contain cream, but trust me: You can’t tell that the finished soup doesn’t have cream! Another point in this soup’s favour: No dairy means it works for those with dairy allergies. It’s also gluten free, giving it a place among the options for those with gluten sensitivity or Celiac disease. The best part is that it doesn’t taste like it is restrictive in any way: It’s creamy, packed with flavour, and hearty. My husband and I didn’t feel deprived at all eating this.
We served the bisque as a side to go along with a lovely marinated halibut. (I’ll be posting about the halibut soon!) Oddly, the two dishes went together very well. I am new to the world of fish, having thought for years that I hated it. We didn’t know when we served the meal that the combination of halibut and butternut squash is a Thing in the culinary world. Now I know, and I understand why.
Butternut Squash Bisque
Yield: About 5-6 cups of liquid
1 butternut squash
splash of olive oil, for cooking
1 onion, chopped finely
2 cloves garlic, minced
pinch of salt
pinch of pepper
1 1/2 TBS curry powder*
1/4 tsp cinnamon powder
1/8 tsp red chili powder, optional
14 oz. full fat coconut milk (the cans I had available contained 13.66 oz., which worked fine)
2 cups chicken broth or vegetable broth
1 – 3 TBS maple syrup (most people would probably prefer around 2 TBS of maple syrup; this tastes the most like the butternut squash bisque you would typically find in a restaurant)
Peel squash and cube flesh. See this post for how to do this.
Heat olive oil in 5 quart saucepan on medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook for 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add squash, salt, pepper, curry powder, cinnamon powder, and red chili powder to pot; stir to coat. Cover and cook on med-high heat for about 5 minutes, stirring around once per minute.
Add remaining ingredients (including the fat from the coconut milk). Bring to a simmer and then cover, reducing heat to low. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until the squash is very fork-tender. I simmered the broth for around 25 minutes, to the point the squash was beginning to mash against the sides of the pot when I stirred.
Transfer mixture to blender or food processor, or use an immersion blender. (I used our Ninja blender. It was the first time I used it for soup, and it definitely lived up to its name.) Process until completely smooth. Return to pot (unless using an immersion blender).
Adjust seasoning as needed. I wound up adding a pinch more red chili powder and perhaps 1/2 tsp more curry powder, as well as probably 1 TBS of kosher salt.
Cook for a few more minutes over medium heat; be sure to whisk the addition of seasonings vigorously so that they are evenly distributed throughout the bisque. Serve immediately. You can garnish this soup with additional coconut milk, toasted pumpkin seeds, even toasted butternut squash seeds. I didn’t bother garnishing it with anything; it was fan-bloody-tastic just the way it was.
Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to five days; alternatively, freeze.
*Note: Curry powder and other such spices are much cheaper at Indian supermarkets. We are fortunate enough to have one nearby, and were able to buy two cups of curry powder for a fraction of the cost that the mainstream grocery store would charge. Definitely take this option, if you have it! We got great deals on other curry spices, as well. A curry post is in the works!
Source: Adapted from Minimalist Baker