There’s a little restaurant sandwiched in an artsy corner of Kelowna that, among other lunchtime savouries, serves the most marvy butternut squash soup this side of the pumpkin patch.
As comfort food goes, it’s Diazepam in a bowl. It’s coming home on a freezing January afternoon to find Mom standing over a bubbling pot. Except Mom never made soup like this.
In fact, if Mom had known soup could be like this, she would have thrown in her ladle decades ago.
With a subtle curry heat that comes from a sensitive blending of spices, and just the right emulsion of butternut purée and coconut milk to smoothly escort the flavours to the tongue, it’s the kind of soup you’d order as your last meal. And I want the recipe like I have never before wanted any other recipe in my life.
But, as in all stories worth their endings, desire was at first thwarted.
Having tried the direct route, as well as the damsel-in-distress gambit, it was obvious that this was not going to be a repeat of the time I talked my way into a forbidden photocopy of a certain restaurant’s proprietary white chocolate brownie recipe. Or when, according to urban legend, an heirloom tomato enthusiast chucked an entire salad into her purse, dressing and all, just for the seeds. No, I’m afraid there was only one way I was going to get what I wanted. Backwards engineering.
Because, although the clever restaurateurs cheerfully agreed to share any one recipe of my choosing from their menu, the soup, they said, was off the table.
It’s that good.
However, equipped with the ingredient label from a frozen take-out tub, my hope for a homemade facsimile that didn’t infringe on intellectual property laws still had some kindling under it.
With butternut squash, coconut milk, onions, spinach, garlic, turmeric and sundry other spices in hand, it was time to enter the kitchen for a little experiment in the soup pot.
After an hour or so of gently encouraging the flavours, fudging a few ingredients and sipping spoonfuls in the manner of a wine enthusiast (except no spitting), there it was.
A subtly spicy pot of Indonesian knockoff soup that, while surely not exactly the same, was close enough to the original to fool some highly cynical taste buds.
I think the word for it is chuffed.
Indonesian Butternut “Knockoff” Soup
3 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded
1 tbs curry paste
2 medium onions, chopped
2 tbs canola oil
1 tsp whole coriander
1 tsp whole chilli flakes
2 tsp whole fenugreek
1 whole anise pod
1 tsp whole fennel seeds
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tbs ground ginger
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1 clove garlic, pressed
3 tbs brown sugar, or to taste
3 cups water
3 cups V-8 juice
2 (400 ml) cans coconut milk
1/2 bunch spinach, washed and chopped
Peel and remove seeds from squash. Cut flesh into large cubes. Combine curry paste with 1 tbs oil. Toss together with squash. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Place on a baking sheet. Roast at 375F for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, grind whole spices. Thoroughly combine with pre-ground spices. Heat 1 tbs oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook until they become translucent. Add spices and cook for about 1 minute more, stirring constantly.
Place roasted squash in pot with onions. Cover with 3 cups water and V-8 juice; bring to a simmer. Let simmer for 30 minutes. Stir in coconut milk. Using a hand blender, puree soup until smooth. Return to temperature. Stir in brown sugar and chopped spinach. Season with salt and pepper.
When spinach is soft, serve soup over basmati rice or with slices of artisan bread.
Notes: Grind whole spices in a blade-model coffee grinder, but be sure it gets designated for spices only. Adjust amount of brown sugar depending on how sweet the squash is.
Story and photo by Darcie Hossack