Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Garam Masala-Spiced Acorn Squash Soup

Sometimes you think you're putting lipstick on a pig when you're actually gilding the lily acorn squash.

See, the acorn squash is full of subtlety. It's not as in your face flavor-wise as a butternut or a pumpkin, as gimmicky as spaghetti squash (GET OVER YOURSELF, YOU AREN'T NOODLES), or as trendy-yet-annoying-to-find-in-Ohio as the kabocha. Its flesh is tender and sweet, it's a snap to prepare, and it's such a beautiful dark green with those big bold ridges that it looks great sitting in a bowl on your counter for multiple weeks before you decide to finally cook it.

Because the word acorn has now been rolling around in my brain like an acorn (WHOA) for the past half hour or so, here's the classic meme equivalent of this super cute-curbit:

Also shout-out to anyone who got my extremely hilarious cute-curbit joke.

 Just a bit garam masala is the perfect spice blend to turn it into the soup equivalent of that cozy oversize sweatshirt you slip into after being caught in the rain. And here I was roasting seeds and making quick pickles to try to add some texture, crunch and acid, when none of those nouns have any business being near your cozy oversize sweatshirt. So here are all the ingredients actually needed to make this soup (with a caveat that I'm going to recommend something else in a minute):

Uhh, wait a minute, Corrie. You didn't say nothin' about no tofu. Calm down, bruh. I'm just tryna get jacked on some clean protein while adding creaminess and body to this soup without adding a lot of extra fat and calories. Thought you were about that life! It's right there in the name: silken tofu. Now tell me "silken soup" isn't the right word combo to finally make soup sound like luh-zhuh-ree.

Silken tofu is actually a great trick for smoothing out and beefing up (in a vegetarian manner of speaking) a pureed soup without changing the flavor. It will, however, mute the color. Which is why if/when I remake this, I'll use equal parts shallot and diced carrot as the base (and will write the recipe to reflect that course correction). The soup doesn't need more sweetness, really, but it could use some help maintaining the lovely light orange of the squash in it's pre-tofu'd state.

And now for a word about garam masala, in case you're unfamiliar. It's a blend that can be made with different proportions of different spices, but in general it'll have savory notes of cumin, coriander and black pepper along with warming flavors like cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and clove. In fact, as Wikipedia tells me, "the word garam refers to heating the body in the Ayurvedic sense." If this sounds a bit too exotic for you, just think of it as a South-Asian Pumpkin Spice Latte minus the espresso, and you pretty much have it.

A word about the unnecessary accoutrements: I'm not saying they weren't good. In fact, I'm munching on some of these spicy, tangy radish and carrot pickles as I type. And I already finished off all the roasted seeds. Just because they weren't necessary in this bowl doesn't mean they weren't necessary in my mouth.

Pre-brine Pinteresty-pretty.

Honestly it would be a waste to not make these roasted acorn squash seeds, so don't you dare throw them in the trash. They just didn't quite hold their crunch long enough in the soup to be worth throwing on top.

After you scoop out the seeds, just rinse them to get rid of their clingy pulp, toss them with a bit of coconut oil (or whatever oil you like), sprinkle on some salt and garam masala and let them roast alongside the acorn squash for about 10-12 minutes or until they're just as crispy and brown as you like 'em, then get full on 'em while you're waiting for the squash to finish.


In conclusion: My friend Katie has a thing for squirrels. Not in a tacky way where there's a big sign on her door reading "I'm nuts about squirrels!", or a weird way where she wears taxidermy squirrel foot earrings, or even in a lonely way where her only hobby is watching through the window for a furryfluffycutie to come snack it up in a unicorn squirrel feeder (although I'm getting so many ideas for future gifts right now). She just has a few very tasteful, mostly monochromatic squirrel-themed items around her charming house -- and does a killer squirrel impression, of course. So when I was doing some post-Christmas shopping at Fountain Square Booksellers and ran into a muted gold frosted-glass acorn filled with a warm vanilla-scented candle on the holiday clearance table, I knew it had to be Katie's. That's the kind of friend I am: The kind who will totally buy you a used-to-be-$20 candle for $1.99 and then tell you the whole story. And the moral of the story is: Henceforth this is the only acceptable type of acorn to gild.

Garam Masala-Spiced Acorn Squash Soup (Vegan, btw!)

Serves 4

1 acorn squash
4 teaspoons coconut oil
Approx. 2 teaspoons garam masala
1 medium shallot, diced
1 medium carrot, diced
1 cup water
1 cup vegetable broth
6 oz. silken tofu (any firmness will do)

Heat oven to 350 F. Slice acorn squash in half and scoop out seeds, reserving to roast. Rub the flesh of each squash half with about a teaspoon of coconut oil, then sprinkle each with a generous pinch of salt and garam masala. Roast for 1 hour, then remove from oven and set aside until cool enough to handle.

Heat 2 teaspoons coconut oil in medium pot over medium heat. Add shallots and carrots and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened (8 minutes or so). Remove squash flesh from skins - you can do this by peeling the skin off, scooping out with a spoon, or even squeezing it out. Whatever floats your boat.

Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon garam masala (depending on your taste) to pot and cook, stirring, about 1 minute. Add broth, water, acorn squash and silken tofu, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat and blend with an immersion blender until completely smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Maybe you have better ideas for accompaniments - I'm sure some nice little croutons would be fun, and most likely just the right herb is out there. My chief concern with this soup is not getting in the way of that subtle squash flavor. Let me know if you think of the perfect topping!

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