If You Can’t Cook, Cook This!

There is no more forgiving vegetable than squash, nor a food that more greatly flatters a mediocre cook.  It’s the food equivalent of the friend who doesn’t get annoyed when you leave her waiting on a street corner (or in the squash’s case, in the back of the fridge for a month); it’s the spouse who brags about you in front of others, even when it’s not true.

Squash soup (for recipe, scroll to link at the bottom) was one of the first soups I made, that made me think,”Wow, I can cook!”  Up to that point my greatest contribution to the culinary world had been Apple Brown Betty which I had perfected at the hands of my college roommates whose sunken standards had been set by the school’s institutional food service (aptly named Saga).

Cooking well is about confidence and practice. It’s not about being “correct”. Confidence trumps talent in the kitchen (in life too.)  If you can taste, you can cook.  Never let an ingredient intimidate.  Squash may have a threatening exterior, but grab a butcher’s knife and it will submit to your requests. As Dr Spock famously said about child rearing, “You know more than you think you do.” Same goes for cooking.

What I add to embellish the soup has changed over the years, but the point remains — you’re more likely to make a pretty good squash soup than a terrible one.

What kind of squash to use – for this recipe I used a trio of Delicata (quite sweet), Butternut (little less sweet) and Acorn (less still).  Mainly because that’s what I found at the market, but any will work.  And if you want to avoid a scrap heap, the skin of acorn and delicata is very tender so leave some on! (Butternut skin is a bit tougher).  The skin will soften when cooked and the only difference will be your soup will have a little more texture and a more rustic look, as it will be flecked with specks of skin.

Butternut and Delicata (above),

Sweet Dumpling (it’s sweet like Delicata) and Acorn.

Those are the staples, but here is the trick …

…ginger and …

cumin. I started adding ginger to “cool” the sweetness when I found that some squash can almost be too sweet, and the cumin just gives it a surprise kick.

Some squash trivia:

  • It’s technically a fruit (since it contains the plant’s seeds)
  • Cucumbers are also part of the squash family and are also a fruit
  • The name means “a green thing eaten raw”, from the Native American word askutasquash (which likely refers to zucchini which is also a squash)
  • It was one of the “Three Sisters” that the Native Americans planted along with beans and corn
  • Winter squash (the thick skinned kind) is high in beta-carotene (Vitamin A) like carrots (especially the deep orange-fleshed ones)

See the finished soup and get the recipe.

How do you like to cook squash?

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  • Lisa

    That is the most beautiful “still life” of squash scraps I have ever seen. Makes me want to peel squash just so I can recreate it at home!

    • http://www.defineum.com Carol Morley

      I agree – simply gorgeous!

  • Juliana

    Hah! That’s exactly the recipe I use for frying butternut on the stove – soften some onion, squash, cumin and sometimes ginger. Yum! We found a superb topping to your soup – grated coconut and pumpkin seeds lightly toasted. Going to the kitchen NOW!

  • http://prasadabeauty.com Lisa G

    I LOVE the first photo!!
    PS Don’t forget the BEST squash: Kabocha!

    • Michelle

      Yes! And it would have gone in the soup if I’d seen it at the market on shopping day!

  • Nicci Young Wiese

    This is exactly the kind of recipe I need, thank you! You have given me the push I needed to branch out of boring butternut squash and venture into the more exotic looking varieties- and I love both those spices.

  • Vicky

    Also, with winter squash, there is something empowering about peeling and chopping it that makes you feel strong, so this is the perfect “first” soup for anyone feeling a little apprehensive in the kitchen.

    • Michelle

      So true. There is something about wielding a sharp, thick, blade and having your way with a vegetable that gives one an extraordinary feeling of accomplishment – you don’t get that feeling with a paring knife …

  • Seema

    I really thought you were cooking the skin, but was totally disappointed.
    In Bengal we try to use as much of the plant that is edible. We do have receipes for veggie skins.Do branch out with these kinds of foods, waste is not good.

    • Michelle

      Thanks for pointing this out. I actually DO use the skin! I find with butternut it can be a bit fibrous even when cooked, but acorn, delicata I use most of the skin. I also highly encourage everyone to hold onto veg scraps and make vegetable stock. Simply toss them all into a huge pot, add water,onion, herbs etc, cook for an hour, strain through a sieve and you’re set!)

  • Seema

    Sorry, didn’t mean waste, just that we should use all the food we have paid for.
    It would also add new stuff to the blogging world. Food blogs rock!

  • Serra

    Thanks so much for your blog… After seeing this on my facebook newsfeed, I made this last night for my family and they loved it!

    • Michelle

      Oh I’m so glad! I hope there are leftovers because its even better day 2 when the ginger, cumin and squash blend and intensify.

      • Vicky

        my butternut squash soup is best on Day 3, I always make enough to have leftovers. Another great thing is you don’t need to add cream, people can’t believe I don’t thicken my soup with anything, but these hearty veggies do it all on their own. I love intelligent food!

  • http://karmacucina.wordpress.com alyssa

    Wow, Michelle – this sounds delicious! I will definitely give it a whirl… This is one of my personal favorite ways to make squash: Ina Garten’s maple roasted butternut squash http://www.barefootcontessa.com/recipes/btb-2.shtml

  • ctb

    Love! Winter (& Summer) squash = )
    This year I grew 3 vines that gave me oodles of blossoms & immature fruits all Summer & about a dozen mature fruits for Winter. & how neat to be reading this just as I was finishing a bowl of soup.

    Our fave here is a savoury 1 made w/ red lentils, celery, onion, garlic & chunks of sweet Winter squash – seasoned w/ lots of curry powder & some habanero.

    IMPE, a number of Asian Winter squash (buttercup, Kabocha) have soft, edible skins, but butternut & other hard-shelled squash rinds are more than ‘a bit’ fibrous – more like finding strands of rope in my food = P

    • ctb

      Almost forgot – don’t forget to roast the seeds – & all that rind makes great compost = )

  • http://www.perennialplate.com PerennialPlate

    Im a huge fan of Delicata squash. Like most squashes, most parts are edible, but the seeds and skin of the Delicata are especially delicious.

  • http://elleohblog.blogspot.com Leigha

    This is convenient for me…as I am a VERY mediocre cook (at best). Thanks for sharing!
    Leigha

  • http://coldcerealandtoast.com Lisa S

    I agree soup is a great way to use squash – I generally use butternut. I enjoy simply cutting up and roasting squash with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper.

  • http://www.kissesforbreakfast.com Emily Elizabeth – Kisses for Breakfast

    I love roasting squash. I just cut it in half, leaving the cut sides up and roast for an hour or two or three… That’s another thing that squash is great about. You can leave it in the oven until the skin turns black (I do this with pumpkin since you can then just easily peel away the skin) and it still tastes delicious!

  • http://monex.to/ Monex

    .I cant think of a more perfect soup than Butternut Squash Soup to serve while everyones waiting for the turkey to cook. Butternut squash is naturally just a little bit sweet reminiscent of pumpkin and in fact in most recipes you can swap one out for the other .

  • http://aplestoaples.blogspot.com Dani

    LOVE squash. I am always looking for good winter fare. It is COLD here is Cleveland. I also make my enchiladas with squash. http://aplestoaples.blogspot.com/2010/11/preparing-for-winter.html

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  • Bridget

    Soviet Attempt to Gag America….SAGA…..you must have gone to the same school I did : )

  • Nishani

    Delicious!! I was looking for variations on the house favourite pumpkin soup and boy has this delivered!