Thursday, November 8, 2007

Geeked About Soup

I dwell in an interesting food world. At the corner of health and hedonism, I read my copies of Vegetarian Times and Eating Well. I eat salads. I drink green tea. And then I hop on the Internet and start drooling over decadent chocolate chip cookies laced with espresso and dried apricots. Oh my. Half a pound of butter and half a pound of chocolate can ONLY mean that we’re feeling quite naughty in the kitchen. God, I love Orangette. I must make these cookies ASAP!

Chocolate chip cookie dreams aside, my equally strong interests in eating deliciously and healthfully led me down a path that I swore I was not going to take. Remember this soup? I had promised myself that I was not going to tinker with its cream-filled potatoey perfection, that I would just eat it and enjoy it in its full-fat glory. Well, I lied. Inspiration struck when I was perusing my copy of Passionate Vegetarian and read Crescent’s words about the voluptuousness of butternut squash puree in soups. Yes, I thought. Butternut squash puree IS voluptuous. It’s slightly sweet, can thicken broth, and like most vegetables, it’s naturally low in fat. Hot damn! Butternut squash puree would make a WONDERFUL substitute for cream in Garlic, Chickpea, and Kale Soup. Rather than replace all the cream with squash puree, I decided to replace most of it, leaving just a dab of cream for good measure. The resulting soup is just as delicious as its predecessor. I don’t even miss the extra cream. Was I surprised? Not really, because squash can be seductive too! Just look at all those curves!

Garlic, Chickpea, and Kale Soup in Butternut Squash Broth
Adapted from “Garlic, Chickpea, and Spinach Soup” in The Cook’s Encyclopedia of Vegetarian Cooking by Linda Fraser
Makes ~4-5 entrée-sized portions

Don’t forget to serve this soup with bread for dipping and munching!

1 c. butternut squash puree (instructions for making butternut squash puree are below)
2 tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. ground coriander
5 c. vegetable stock
4 medium-sized potatoes, chopped into bite-sized pieces (peeling the potatoes is optional—I wouldn’t unless the peel is gnarly and unappetizing)
1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, drained
1 tbsp. cornstarch
1/4 c. heavy cream
5/12 c. milk (about ½ a cup to bring total volume of cream and milk to ¾ of a cup)
2 tbsp. tahini
1 bunch of kale (or more to taste*), leaves stripped from the stems and torn into bite-sized pieces
Red crushed chile peppers to taste
Salt and pepper to taste

To make the butternut squash puree, you will need:
1 butternut squash**
~1-2 tbsp. light vegetable oil, such as canola oil
1) Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
2) Peel the butternut squash. You'll want a good, comfortable vegetable peeler for this job; I actually bought a brand-new vegetable peeler from Oxo specifically for peeling butternuts. That's how much I love this squash! Save the peelings to make soup stock if you like. Chop the ends off the squash and begin chopping the squash into pieces ~3/4-1 inch in size. While you are chopping the squash, you’ll find the seedy center. Cut out the seedy center of the squash, cutting out the squash flesh around the seedy area. As you are chopping the squash, place the pieces in a large mixing bowl.
3) Once all your squash is in the mixing bowl, pour a dab (1-2 tablespoons; I’m terribly imprecise here, but it doesn’t matter much) of oil into the bowl. Toss the squash with the oil to coat it.
4) Lightly spray a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with nonstick spray. Dump the squash into the pan and use your mixing spoon to spread the chunks evenly in the pan. It's okay if the pieces overlap.
5) Cover the pan with foil and bake for ~30 minutes. Check the tenderness of the squash by piercing it with a fork; if it pierces very easily, the squash is done. If it doesn’t pierce easily, put the squash back in the oven for a few more minutes and check it every few minutes until it is done.
6) Once the squash is tender, remove it from the oven and let it cool in its pan until it is cool enough to mash.
7) Put the cooked squash chunks back into a mixing bowl and “puree” the squash by mashing it with a potato masher. (I love my potato masher from Oxo!) Whew, you’re done making the squash puree! Set aside 1 cup of it for the soup below and refrigerate or freeze the rest. A trick my friend Nicole taught me is to measure out the squash in a measuring cup and then scoop it into little baggies to freeze for later use. That way your frozen squash puree is premeasured and easy to use in future cooking adventures. Nicole uses that trick when making her pumpkin puree. Thanks, Nicole!

**A note about yield: I started with a 2.5-lb butternut squash and ended up with almost 3 cups of squash puree, enough to make another batch of this delicious soup or to use in other recipes.

To make the soup:
1) Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a skillet or a large soup pot. Add the garlic and onion to the oil and cook for about 5 minutes or until the garlic and onions are softened and golden brown.
2) While the onions are cooking, use a blender to blend the butter squash puree into about 2 cups of the vegetable stock.
3) Back to the onions and garlic: stir in the cumin and coriander and cook for another minute.
4) If you are using a skillet to saute the onion, transfer the onion, garlic, and spices into a soup pot. Otherwise, pour all the vegetable stock (now infused with butternut squash!) into the pot with the onion and friends. Add the chopped potatoes and bring everything to a boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chickpeas and simmer for another 5 minutes. Check the tenderness of the potatoes by tasting one; if the potatoes are tender, you’re ready for the next step. If the potatoes are not quite tender enough for you, simmer for a few more minutes until they are perfect.
5) Measure out the cream by pouring it into a liquid measuring cup. Add enough milk to bring the total cream/milk volume to ¾ cup. Add the cornstarch and tahini to the cream and use a spoon to mash and blend them together. This mixture might still be a bit chunky after you’ve mixed for a few minutes, and that’s okay. When you add it to the hot soup, the heat will help it blend into the soup nicely.
6) Add the cream mixture to the soup and stir. Add the kale to the soup, stir, bring it to a boil, and simmer for about 2 minutes. Season the soup to taste with crushed red chile peppers, salt, and pepper.
7) Serve in big bowls, preferably accompanied by thick slices of bread to mop up the creamy broth.

*Every time I’ve made this soup, my cooking companions and I just piled several cups of torn kale into a bowl and then dumped it into the soup. Because the kale wilts into the hot soup, you don’t need to be very precise about how much you add.

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