This week on Good Food, Evan talks to Deborah Madison about Vegetable Literacy, Deborah’s new cookbook, that details “twelve plant families, their names, their quirks and histories, their relationships to one another, and some 300 recipes for how to cook and use them—simply and often intuitively.”
This recipe for Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk, Miso, and Lime is a great staple to enjoy during butternut squash season. Deborah says that the white miso used in the recipe does not overpower the other ingredients; but rather, it gives it that “umami quality that makes food so satisfying.”
For 4 to 6
One butternut squash weighing about 2 pounds is what’s needed here. The straight, easy-to-peel neck of the squash is cubed; the seed end is steamed and used to thicken the soup. That way, you get both a creamy texture and distinct pieces. The addition of rice makes the soup chewy and more interesting to eat in larger portions.
The sweetness of winter squash is right with so many things: wintry sage, resinous rosemary, caramelized onions, sautéed radicchio, white beans, or the radicchio and beans together. But it’s also quite right with coconut milk, ginger, lime, cilantro, and, yes, miso. The addition of white miso at the end does not turn this into a miso soup. Instead, it contributes the subtle presence of something more mysterious and grounding, that umami quality that makes food so satisfying.
1 butternut squash (about 2 pounds)
2 tablespoons light sesame oil
1 large onion, diced
1 heaping tablespoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons crushed Aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 cup cilantro stems or leaves, chopped, plus cilantro sprigs to finish
1 (15-ounce) can light coconut milk
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup white or brown basmati rice
1 to 2 teaspoons coconut butter
2 tablespoons white miso
Cut the squash crosswise into 2 pieces just where the rounded (seed) end begins. Cut the rounded end in half lengthwise and start it steaming over simmering water while you go on to deal with the neck of the squash.
Peel the neck, slice it in half crosswise, then slice each half lengthwise into slabs about 3/8 inch thick. Cut the lengths into strips and then into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion, squash, and ginger, stir to coat, and cook, stirring occasionally, for a few minutes. Add the Aleppo pepper, turmeric, chopped cilantro, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the coconut milk and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook until the squash is tender, about 25 minutes.
Meanwhile, return to the seed end of the squash. As soon as it is tender, lift the pieces onto your counter, scrape out the seeds, and scoop out the flesh. Puree the flesh with 1 cup of the liquid from the soup, plus extra water (or coconut milk, if you have some on hand) if needed to achieve a good consistency. Stir the puree into the soup. Taste for salt and season with the lime juice, to taste.
To cook the rice, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Add the rice and 1/4 teaspoon salt and bring back to a boil. Turn down the heat to low, cover, and cook until done, about 15 minutes.
Toss the rice with the coconut butter to taste.
Just before serving, dilute the miso in little of the soup liquid, mashing it until smooth, then stir it into the soup. Heat the soup, keeping it just below a boil, then ladle it into bowls. Add a little rice to each bowl, and finish with cilantro sprigs.
With Toasted Sesame Oil: If you’re unable to leave well enough alone, consider adding a few drops of toasted sesame oil to each bowl to impart the rich and round fragrance of sesame to the soup. This is very satisfying and doesn’t conflict with the sweet flavor of the coconut, which has receded to the background by the time the soup is done.
With Other Grains: Consider using black rice (for its drama) or cooked spelt or farro.
With Smoke: After having accidentally scorched the bulb end of the squash by letting the water boil away, the soup had a slightly smoky flavor that, though subtle, added its presence in a rather pleasing way. That mistake has caused me to include a few grains of smoked salt added to each bowl just before serving.