A sunny soup to chase away the blues – Thai-style squash soup

Thai-style Butternut squash soup

It’s nearly Christmas! Here in the orange kitchen household, we are preparing for our first American Christmas, and, for that matter, our first Christmas together, which happens also to be our first Christmas without either set of parents, siblings, aunts and uncles etc… This will be the first Christmas in four years together where Noel and I open our presents to each other on the day itself – normally, we open them together early before I jet off to see my parents or he makes the trip to see his family. It feels pretty… momentous. And slightly scarily grown up. Not so grown-up, though that we won’t be watching Muppet Christmas Carol on Christmas Eve – a Pantcheff tradition for as long as I can remember.

So in the midst of this Christmas-tide, I bring you… soup. Not a Christmas soup, but a delicious, warming, sunny soup. Sunny because it is a glorious gold colour, and is spiced so as to warm and brighten. It is also wonderfully easy to make, and a great standby to have in the fridge or freezer over the festive period.

Roasted squash

I love butternut squash, but it is a pain to prepare. I find the skin is usually so tough before cooking that I feel as if I’m a lumberjack attacking a tree if I try and peel, or even dice, it before cooking – and I find this boring and frustrating. So – almost every time I use butternut squash, I roast it, whole, before doing anything else. After even 20 minutes in the oven, it is so much easier to deal with – and if you can spare 30 minutes to roast it, it will reward you by yielding to your knife so easily. It also means that the cooking time in the soup itself is reduced, which can be handy. Of course, if you have more patience than me, you can prepare the squash when it’s raw, but if you happen to have the oven on (because, for instance, you’re making this incredible braised short ribs recipe…) then this is an easy way to cut down the effort involved.

Spice base

My recipe below uses a base of coriander, ginger, lemongrass and chili along with the more usual diced onion and garlic – I also use a small amount of shop-bought thai curry paste. If you don’t have the fresh ingredients readily available, feel free to increase the amount of curry paste – the soup will come to no harm as a result. When I made it, I chopped the ginger and lemongrass fairly roughly, as I knew I was going to blend the soup later – this meant that when I ate the finished product, I would come across small pieces of both which ‘popped’ in my mouth and were so delicious – however, if you don’t like the sound of this, you can chop everything more finely or use a food processor.

Thai-style butternut squash soup

Thai-style butternut squash soup

Serves 6 as a starter or light lunch

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Small bunch of coriander (leave and stalks), roughly chopped, plus leaves to garnish
  • 2-inch piece ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, tough outer leaves removed, and roughly chopped
  • 1 small chili, de-seeded and chopped
  • 1-2 tsp thai curry paste
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 1 pint / 500ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • Juice of 1/2 a lime

Heat the oven to 400F/200C and place the squash in the oven, directly on the racks. Roast for at least 20 minutes, preferably more like 30.

While the squash is roasting, heat a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook slowly until it is starting to soften – around 5 minutes. Add the coriander, ginger, lemongrass, garlic and chili, season well with salt and pepper, and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Stir in the thai curry paste, and allow the base to cook for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the heat until the squash is ready.

Once the squash has roasted, remove from the oven and once it is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and seeds. Dice into 1-inch pieces, and add to the spice mix in the pan – bring the pan back up to heat if you’d taken the spice mix off. Add the tin of coconut and the stock – bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently until the squash is tender. The time this takes will vary depending on how long you roasted it for – it will take at least 15 minutes, and could take up to 40 minutes if your squash was only roasted briefly.

Once the squash is cooked, turn off the heat and use a stick blender to blend the soup to your desired consistency – I like mine smooth, but you can leave chunks of squash, if you prefer. If the soup is very thick, add a little more stock or water. Check the soup for seasoning, and add lime juice to taste.

Serve garnished with coriander leaves.

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