By Dina Eliash Robinson
Serendipity is my best friend in the kitchen. Especially when a vegetable intentionally omitted from my shopping list seduces me and changes my plans for next week’s menus.
Which is exactly what happened recently, when a gorgeous butternut squash pushed itself into my peripheral view while I was bagging some red onions nearby. Normally, I would have ignored it, since it was too large for a two-person household with no imminent plans for hosting a dinner party, but I could not resist its perfect shape—a symmetrical gourd, shaped like a padded figure-8—-and the silky-smooth, unblemished, pale skin with a hint of its pulp’s golden amber color showing through. But what clinched the sale was its unexpectedly solid weight, which promised enough raw material for a variety of dishes.
Hefting the squash from hand to hand, I wondered, “What on earth am I going to make out of this beauty without wasting a drop of it?” I imagined seasoning and oven-roasting a cubed batch of it to mix into a garden-fresh salad; boiling, peeling and mashing another batch and serving it as a side-dish with chicken, fish or mushrooms; and turning the last portion into my famous ‘mystery chocolate pudding’ (see our recipe under “Desserts”).
In the end, however, as it happens with most proverbial ‘best laid plans,’ these daydreams gave way to an improvised (i.e. Jazz Cooking) recipe that turned out to be a one-course meal that is easier and faster to prepare, hearty, filling and more delicious than any squash dish I’ve ever cooked before.
So, I scrubbed my meaty gourd with a Dobie™ pad and Pure Castile soap (a liquid, plant- and eucalyptus-oil-based food cleanser), rinsed it well, wiped it dry and set to work (see recipe below).
Counting Virtues: While most squashes are among nature’s super-foods, the butternut squash is also an energizing powerhouse for both body and brain. Not only does it contain off-the-charts amounts of vitamins A and C, but it is also rich in molybdenum—a still somewhat mysterious mineral which, however, is known to play an important role in the metabolism of our nervous system’s messaging molecules (i.e. neurotransmitters). What’s more, butternut squash is a treasure-trove of manganese, potassium, vitamins E, B6 and B1, magnesium, copper, pantothenic acid and fiber.
Nothing but a soup could make the best of these benefits and not waste a drop of them. A thick, well-seasoned and nutrition-rich soup that tastes equally delicious whether eaten hot or cold and not only keeps fresh for 10 days or more, but deepens in flavor daily, as the herbs and spices seep into every molecule. When served cold, a big dollop of plain goat yogurt will enhance the soup’s creamy texture and add an interesting hint of tartness to it.
Gilding the Lilly: Pushing my ‘jazz cooking’ envelope, I decided this was my chance to use up some fresh-frozen greens that have been patiently waiting in the freezer for some time. So I pulped to a coarse consistency several stalks of leftover beet greens and kale leaves, part of a fennel bulb with a few stalks and dill herbs still attached, a small bunch of basil leaves and another of flat, Italian parsley and added to the bowl of already puréed butternut squash, painting its gold with a becoming light green hue. As a bonus, they fortified the mixture with more nutrients, flavor and fiber.
Nutritional & Economic Benefits of “Gilding the Lilly”: Since these frozen greens (about half of a gallon-size freezer bag) were my own ‘found foods,’ they are not mentioned in the recipe below, to leave such possibilities for your culinary imagination.
I’m happy to report, however, that combining the squash with these greens increased the amount of soup to 10 servings or more (depending on portion sizes). It also lent it a noticeably energizing ‘punch,’ as well as packing a huge bang for the buck—we estimated our cost at about $1.80 per average serving (including the prices of frozen greens and all the herbs and spices listed below).
Health Tips: In addition to our standard advice to use organic ingredients in all our recipes, if at all possible, we also highly recommend that only stainless steel pots, pans and other kitchen implements be used, since reliable scientific research has been, for some time now, showing that aluminum might be a possible cause or precipitator of Alzheimer’s disease.
Although scientists tend to be cautious and wary of absolute certainties when they report their findings in books and papers, all of us here at FreeRangeClub.com believe it is best not to ignore their warnings—even when they use words such as ‘might’ and ‘possible.’ We decided, therefore, since the earliest warnings appeared in scientific papers many years ago, to err on the side of caution—or as the old adage goes, ‘better safe than sorry’—and switched to stainless steel kitchen- and tableware.
The following basic, simplified recipe awaits your additions and imaginative improvisation. Enjoy!
- 1 large butternut squash
- 1/3 red onion
- 4-5 cloves of garlic (depending on clove sizes)
- ¼ cup of good quality, extra virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon of Worcestershire Sauce
- 4-5 fresh leaves of basil (finely chopped) or 1 tablespoon dry basil
- ¼ cup fresh parsley (finely chopped) or 1 tablespoon dry parsley
- ½ teaspoon turmeric
- 1-2 pinches of nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon powdered ginger
- ½ teaspoon (sweet) paprika
- pinch of cayenne pepper (to taste)
- ¼ cup of fresh-squeezed orange juice
- 1 tablespoon orange- or lemon peel zest
- ¼ teaspoon sea-salt or Himalayan pink salt (optional)
- Wash & scrub butternut squash.
- Cut squash in half (crosswise) & then into quarters; scrape out & eliminate seeds.
- Place squash quarters into pot large enough to leave room for plenty of bottled spring water to cover them completely; cover the pot with tight-fitting lid & cook until squash is soft & easy to peel.
- Save the water in which the squash was boiled & use it in the soup.
- Purée squash & keep it in a bowl.
- Pour olive oil into large soup pot.
- Chop onion & garlic — (1) add the onion to the olive oil & sauté until it turns glassy. (2) Add the chopped garlic & sauté for about 8 seconds or until it releases its aroma.
- Add squash & the saved water to the soup pot & turn up the heat but just a little; mix well, cover with tight-fitting lid & cook until it starts to bubble. To be safe, stir from time to time to prevent burning.
- In a soup bowl, mix all the herbs & spices & uncovering the pot, mix them well into the soup.
- Add orange juice & Worcestershire Sauce—mix well & continue stirring from time to time.
- If soup becomes too thick or difficult to stir, add a little spring water, ½ cup at a time so it does not get too diluted. (Choose the thickness you prefer.)
- Cook soup for 15-20 minutes; turn off burner, stir well from the bottom; cover & leave it on the burner to cool slowly (for about 10-15 minutes) & remove from heat.
- Soup is now ready to eat—on its own or with seasoned croutons.
- Note: If you have pulped and added raw greens (as mentioned in the column above), make sure they are also cooked before removing soup from burner.