Friday, November 12, 2010

Cozy lentil-squash soup

It's snuggle-up season in Portland. The time when leaves flutter down from deciduous trees like pieces of fire and rainclouds trundle in like down comforters. The near-constant rain has me dreaming of sweaters. Specifically, cashmere sweaters from J. Crew, knit with the wool of the most sincere cashmere goats of Mongolia. I want to live in a cocoon of J. Crew sweaters from now until May.

Please excuse me while I spend an entire paycheck on sweaters online....

Atticus, my proofreader

Whew. Thankfully that urge passed. However, I still love how fall and winter weather forces us to get cozy, to hunker down for the duration. We retreat inside for house parties, for movie nights, board games or celebration dinners. When it's dark and cold outside, we get cozy inside.

One of the first really cozy gatherings I remember took place in a bank. Yep, a bank bank. FDIC insured and everything.

My college poetry class was invited to see Tracy Grammer perform in Winfield's First National Bank building, a historic beauty built in 1872. At first, I wasn't thrilled to see a concert in the same place where I, you know, banked. But when our group walked through that rotating front door, we found an oasis from winter. Warm light danced on the marble floor. We saw pushpin stars in a black velvet sky through windows that ran to the ceiling. The setting was perfect, intimate. The acoustics were amazing.

There weren't more than 50 people in the audience. We sat close together in the lobby, semi-circled around Tracy as she sang and talked about writing the her musical stories. I must have been impressed with her imagery, because I filled a page in my poem notebook with quotes from the performance. Here are my favorites:

Where's that Xanax?

It's me against the cashew

Paprika chiffon

pothole for my soul

"At this point in the evening, I would like to point out that Mr. Johnny Colt is wearing a lovely suit."

Some of these are pieces of her songs, and some are quotes from the stories. I can't remember which is which, and I like that I can't tell from looking.

After the show, Seth, who worked for the bank, hosted a dinner at his home. Some of our class came along for the ride. I remember his house was cozy and cheerful, full of music and people. And I remember curried pumpkin soup in a large silver tureen. I'd never had pumpkin in a soup before, and this silky sister blew my mind. I found creamy nutmeg curried pumpkin wintry heaven, ladled in a bowl.

Last Sunday, I tried to recapture that taste and that memory in my kitchen. This time a fresh butternut squash from Sauvie Island captured the soup's starring role. To create the silky consistency of the original soup, I added cooked red lentils and coconut milk. (Everything is more luxurious with coconut milk.) I spiced until it tasted right. When I finished tinkering with the flavors, I had a soup that rivaled that first pumpkin curry in texture and effect. It's just as cozy as the original, and decadent served when garnished with olive oil.

Cozy lentil-squash soup
serves 1 billion

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 2-3 Tb. Sriracha hot chili sauce (or your favorite chili sauce)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3-4 fresh rosemary sprigs (optional)
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 15-oz. can light coconut milk
  • 2 Tb. yellow curry powder
  • 2 Tb. red chili powder (the hotter the better)
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp. clove
  • 1/2 tsp. cardamom
  • olive oil for drizzling
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and cut the butternut squash into small cubes. (Alli has an excellent post on how to efficiently cut and dice them here.) I use a large, sharp knife and little-to-no method. Alli's method does not put her fingers at risk for amputation. Mine requires no planning. Choose the method that's right for you.

Transfer the squash pieces to a baking dish, then drizzle them with olive oil and chili sauce. Stir until all the squash is evenly coated, and toss in a few sprigs of fresh rosemary. Roast the squash for 40-60 minutes, until the pieces are mealy throughout and beginning to crisp up on the outside.

While the squash is roasting, bring two cups of vegetable broth to a boil in a saucepan. Toss in the red lentils and lower the heat to a medium boil. The lentils will finish cooking in 5-10 minutes. Remove the pan from heat but do not drain the lentils.

Once the squash is finished, begin pureeing all the soup elements together. Place a cup of squash, a cup of broth, and a cup of lentil/broth a blender, puree until smooth, and then empty the blender into a large saucepan. Repeat the process, adding enough liquid in each batch to keep the squash from bogging down your blender.

When you've pureed everything to a smooth consistency, bring the saucepan back to your stove. Stir in the spices, the coconut milk and any remaining broth. You may need to add more broth or water to reach an ideal consistency. Bring the soup back to a simmer and serve warm, garnished with olive oil.

If you like this post, you might also enjoy:
Pesto presto with radish greens
Butternut squash soup
Kate's red chili


Preacher Mom said...

The soup does look very yummy. Also FNB Winfield has fabulous acoustics. In High School that was my favorite stop on our downtown caroling tour with Viking Voices. Something about the way "Carol of the Bells" sung A Cappella rang in that space was just awesome.

Miss Kate said...

That would be a treat to hear Christmas carols in the FNB building. I wish more small towns would rethink the use of their historic buildings--movie theaters as live theater spaces, bank buildings as after-hour concert venues, etc. A small town could have a lively music, art, and theater scene without building new venues!