I didn’t plan to write three posts in a row dedicated to spicy foods, really. But after two weeks of being sick I’m anxious to get back to regular life, and that means sharing recipes with you here on my blog. And I adore spicy dishes featuring global flavors so this was a great opportunity to reconnect about foods that I love.
Part 3 of my spicy trifecta takes me to Vietnam, where I bring you one of my all-time favorite soups. I first created this meal-in-a-bowl in 2012, and I hope you’ll read the story of its origins. So enamored am I with this dish that I also created a video. If you are a visual learner (or just like watching me cook), then please do check it out; I also talk about why my version here is more nutritious and better for the environment than its meaty third cousin. Yet the time was long past due to write out the full recipe for you.
And I’ve got to admit, with the additional tweaks I’ve made over the past several years this soup is even better now than it was then.
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- 1 large butternut squash (about 8 cups cubed)
- 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons olive or grapeseed oil (divided)
- Sea salt, black pepper, white pepper (to season squash)
- 1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/4 cup chopped red pepper
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemongrass, finely minced (about two 3-inch stalks)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped garlic (about 4 large cloves)
- 1 tablespoon grated ginger
- 1-2 Thai red chiles, finely minced (optional) (or 1 small habanero)
- 4 cups vegetable stock, homemade or low-sodium store-bought
- 2 cups coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice (about 1/2 lime)
- 1-2 tablespoons red curry paste
- 1-2 teaspoons chili paste (or to taste)
- 1 teaspoon sriracha
- 1-2 teaspoons tamarind concentrate, dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water
- 1-2 teaspoons fish sauce (omit for a vegan version)
- 3-4 Kaffir lime leaves, fresh or dried (omit if you can’t find)
- Brown rice noodles, about 4 ounces
- Salt, pepper, white pepper, lime juice (for reseasoning)
- Thai basil, for garnish (or cilantro, if unable to find Thai basil)
- Chopped peanuts, for garnish (optional)
Roast squash. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Peel and seed squash and cut in cubes. Place on a large baking sheet, drizzle with about 1-2 teaspoons oil and season liberally with sea salt, white pepper, and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat with your fingers. Roast in the oven approximately 20 minutes, or until soft, tossing halfway through.
Prepare soup base. In the meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large soup pot over medium heat and add onion, celery, red pepper, and lemongrass. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and ginger and stir until fragrant, about 45 seconds. Add squash and mix with vegetables and aromatics until coated, then add 4 cups vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 10 minutes. Taste; this is a basic but great stew as is, if you want to stop right here then use the leftovers to make the soup another day.
Blend soup. Use a hand blender to create a thick purée. Taste. This too is a fine dish on its own: roasted butternut squash soup with mild southeast Asian flavors, a very gentle introduction to the cuisine. But if you continue building, you’ll see this soup grow and develop in complexity.
Season to taste with remaining ingredients. Stir in 2 cups coconut milk and all seasonings and lime leaves and simmer on low heat for 15 minutes until hot. Taste. I often add the additional quantities of chili paste, curry paste, and tamarind for a bolder flavored, spicier soup. You should omit the chili paste and sriracha altogether or add sparingly if you are sensitive to heat. And by all means add additional chile peppers if you want, or cayenne, for extra kick. (You can add a bit of honey or palm sugar for balance if you need a little extra sweetness, though it’s usually not necessary with butternut squash. If you made this same recipe with pumpkin or other squashes, which also works well, you’ll need the sweetener.)
Add rice noodles and protein of choice. Soften rice noodles according to package directions until al dente. Once soup is seasoned to your liking, add noodles and stir to combine. Additional chopped and sautéed bell peppers add color and texture. I also often add garbanzo beans (chick peas), bay scallops, tofu, or shrimp to this soup to boost the flavor and nutrient content. (The version below shows peppers, shrimp, and scallops.)
Garnish the soup with chopped peanuts and/or fresh herbs. (It’s hard to find Thai basil, but definitely do if you can—it adds more authentic flavor than cilantro. As you can see, I did not have any the day I made this soup, alas.)
Makes approximately 10 cups of soup.
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One of my disappointments in leaving The Taste was that I didn’t get to show off much of my repertoire, which as my regular readers know spans the globe in a way different from the other cooks on the show. I definitely would have used this soup base in some dish or another to wow the judges. I’m quite certain Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson, and Marcus Samuelsson in particular would have devoured it given their fondness for curries. As importantly, this dish brings together so many of my passions, a spicy-sweet bowl of comforting goodness that stars plants, protects the planet—and it’s especially perfect in the cold winter months.
And, of course, it’s out-of-this-world delicious.
I send it to you with love.
This is the third in my three-part series dedicated to “Bring the Heat,” where I shared a few spicy favorites. Part I is a recipe for green curry paste and part 2 is harissa, spicy sauces that I’ll feature in upcoming dishes. Stay tuned! (And don’t worry, I promise to stop talking about The Taste once the season ends.)
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Dr. P. K. Newby is a nutrition scientist and educator with expertise in the prevention of obesity and chronic diseases through diet and the relations between agriculture, food production, and public health. She brings together her passions for food, cooking, science, and sustainability through writing and videos to help people eat their way towards better health, one delectable bite at a time. Her first book Foods for Health is onsale at local bookstores and here.
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