Last weekend, I volunteered with an organization that is new to me, one that focuses on food insecurity. For three hours, an eclectic group of about 25 volunteers created human chains to move harvested butternut squashes nestled in the dirt in neat, lengthy rows to large packing bins. At some point, the bins are transferred to the organization’s warehouse for distribution to end users such as food pantries and meal programs. I have to say, it was a ton of fun. The people were great and it felt good to get dirty! It’s hard to estimate how many butternut squashes we packed up but let’s just say – a lot!
At the end of our time, we were allowed to take a squash that remained on the ground if we chose to do so. Many of them were what we called seconds, meaning they may not be fit for distribution but would be perfectly fine for eating. And believe me after handling so many squash throughout the day and talking recipes with one of my new friends, I was excited to make something with one of my favorite vegetables. So I did come home with two small squashes and my day inspired the recipe I am sharing with you today.
Here’s a photo that shows a fraction of one of the rows of squash. In the distance you can see the large white-gray boxes that we filled with the squash via human assembly line…
So, what to do with the squash. Well of course I thought of soup, but wanted to see if I could be inspired to make something a little different from the usual butternut-apple-curry combo. I began pouring through my cookbooks, only to land on another recipe in Melissa Clark’s Dinner where I also found the Vietnamese Caramel Salmon I posted a few weeks ago. Her recipe combined squash and red lentils with a few spices that read almost like a combo between a soup and a dahl, an Indian porridge type dish. Coincidentally, I had pulled one of my favorite recipes for red lentil dahl that my friend, Renee had given me years ago and had planned to make that for dinner this past week. Hmmm. I loved the flavors of that dahl recipe and wondered if I could use Melissa’s recipe as a guide, while fiddling around with the spices to make it a hybrid of both recipes.
I hope you enjoy what I came up with here. My recipe has a little more squash and a little less lentil than Melissa’s because I was trying to use up one of the squashes I brought home. I also added more spices namely turmeric and chili powder. I left the garlic whole, rather than minced so there was no risk of it burning. I opted to omit Melissa’s can of coconut milk and instead just used a splash of heavy cream. I thought this made the soup more vegetable centric and consistent with a dahl, but if you like your soups a little looser with more liquid, you could absolutely add a can of coconut milk (or cream or half and half) and that would be wonderfully decadent.
The spices here are warm with just a hint of heat and the combination just shouts Fall. Top your soup with some fresh cilantro, some unsweetened coconut as a nod to dahl, and a squeeze of lime juice or maybe just a dollop of yogurt would be nice. Add some naan bread on the side to soak up any leftovers in the bowl.
With my next squash, I may try a stir fry which a fellow volunteer was telling me she loved to make with particularly long necked squashes when she found them. I think it would lend itself well to Asian flavors! We shall see.
Until next time…
One Year Ago: Skinny Cheesesteak Skillet (just made this last night – yummy!)
photo courtesy of friend, Anne S.
Two Years Ago: Chipotle Chicken Enchilada Casserole
Three Years Ago: Our visit to Louisville, Kentucky
Four Years Ago: The Rail Trail Flatbread Company in Hudson, Massachusetts
Five Years Ago: Aunt Elizabeth’s Fresh Apple Cake
Six Years Ago: Chicken Paprikash
Seven Years Ago: Applesauce Spice Muffins
This soup is perfect for Fall. It is based on a recipe from Melissa Clark's cookbook, Dinner but leans more towards the flavor of a beloved recipe for red lentil dahl given to me by a friend. The combination of spices lend warmth and just a little bit of heat to the utterly flexible butternut squash and lentils. Melissa adds an entire can of coconut milk to her soup, but I wanted it to be more vegetable centric and reminiscent of the dahl so I only added a splash of cream. It's up to you! As with many soups, it may thicken as it sits so you may need to thin it out with a little stock or water if it sits in the fridge for a day or two. Enjoy!
- 6 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 2 Tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
- pinch of cayenne pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more if needed
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 1/4 pounds peeled butternut squash, diced (about 4 1/2 cups)
- 3/4 cup red lentils, rinsed
- 3 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 3 cups water
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Optional: Full fat coconut milk to thin and enrich, or a splash of cream
- Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat in a large pot. Add the onion and cook until they are soft, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic cloves and stir for just another minute or so.
- Add the tomato paste, cumin, turmeric, chili powder, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes until the paste has turned slightly darker and the spices are toasted.
- Add the squash and lentils to the pot, along with the broth and water. Bring the mixture to a boil and then simmer, partially covered until the squash and lentils have softened, about 30 minutes.
- Add the lime juice and if using, add a splash of coconut milk, dairy based cream or half-and-half to the soup and stir. Taste and correct seasoning.
- Puree the soup in batches using either an immersion or regular blender or a food processor. Return the soup to the pot and serve warm.
- Garnish with fresh cilantro, some unsweetened coconut, yogurt and another squeeze of lime juice. Serve with some naan bread alongside. Enjoy.
This looks great, Val. I’m going to make it this week when the kids are all home for dinner!