Sunday, November 30, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar: Red Curry Butternut Squash Soup

The Thanksgiving Soup Bar idea started with the idea of doing a pumpkin soup, but I decided to do a butternut squash soup instead. I liked the idea of warming the soup flavors with curry. I could make a basic soup without a recipe, and I'd added curry powder to soups before. I flipped through cookbooks and web sites, though, to see if I could find a specific recipe. Curry and winter squash is a popular combination, and there were a lot of recipes to sift through. I settled on this one from Williams Sonoma. It appealed to me because it went beyond just adding yellow curry powder to a standard soup, but other than the squash, the ingredients were things I already had in the refrigerator and pantry.

I tweaked the recipe a bit, adding lemongrass to the already Thai-style flavor profile. Fresh lemongrass and ginger are wonderful, and I often have a knob of ginger on hand, but didn't last week. I keep tubes of Garden Gourmet pastes on hand as well, though, and using them here saved me a shopping trip. Because I was traveling for the holiday, I made the majority of the soup ahead. After the squash was cooked, I cooled the mixture and transferred it to a zipper bag for transport in an ice chest. Just before serving I pureed the squash mixture, added the remaining ingredients, and turned it over to my sister to man the strainer while I prepped the other soups. You can skip the straining step if you like - the little bit of remaining texture can give the soup a nice heft.

The soup was a little thin after straining; if I'd had more time I would have simmered it a bit to reduce as I prefer a little thicker soup. It was fine as it was, though. I could also see adding more coconut milk or even cream or half and half to make it a truly creamy soup; the amount of coconut milk here is enough to give it a little lightness, but not enough to make it creamy.

Next time I make this I'll add more than the designated 1 tsp of curry paste. I could barely tell

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thanksgiving Soup Bar

For the Thanksgiving gathering at my sister's house this year, I volunteered to provide the appetizers. I've done this for many of the family holiday gatherings, typically making any number of a variety of dips, crudites platters, cheese plates, and the like. This year I wanted to do something a little different, and was hit with the inspiration of soup. Providing a single soup morphed into two soups, then three, and it went on from there to include homemade crackers and various garnishes.

I got the idea from an episode of Alton Brown's Good Eats that I saw recently. He used a small cooking pumpkin to create a pumpkin soup. The pumpkin was hollowed out and seasonings, stock, cream, and goat cheese were added and the whole thing was baked. The cooked pumpkin and additions were then blended with a stick blender and the soup was served in the pumpkin shell.

The idea was appealing, but this time of year pumpkins aren't plentiful. I started thinking about butternut squash instead, but obviously cooking inside the vegetable wasn't going to be an option. I'd recently had a curried corn chowder, and thought about doing that instead. Once the Soup Switch had been turned on, I started thinking about other soups I like or have wanted to try.

I ended up with three: A plain corn and potato chowder that I created many years ago; a curried butternut squash soup, and a black bean soup. I settled on these three choices because the star ingredients in each were important New World foods, even if some of the flavors might be borrowed from other parts of the world. 

To accompany the soups I provided yogurt cream, minced jalapenos, chopped cilantro, and lime wedges. I also made two kinds of homemade crackers. I'll be posting the recipes for both crackers and all three soups in the coming week or so. 

One dilemma I was faced with was providing warm soup for leisurely noshing when a busy Thanksgiving kitchen would not have any stove space to spare. I indulged in a last-minute splurge and snapped up a triple slow cooker from Bella. Other manufacturers have triple slow cookers meant for dips, but the crocks in this device hold 1.5 quarts rather than the usual 0.5 quarts. I really only wanted a warmer -- I didn't need an actual slow cooker, but it was inexpensive (less than $30 at Target, although the MSRP is more than double that), and was also surprisingly well-designed and sturdy. I was a little hesitant to spend money on what could turn out to be a specialized, rarely-used device, but the quality for the price made me happy I got it. I can see using it at many future holiday gatherings and other occasions.