Introducing the Butternut Squash! (Recipe Included)

Cynthia Bailey, MD|November 1, 2016

Fall is here! Which means that it's the best time to add hearty soups and healthy winter squash back into our diets. We are going to do both here with a recipe for butternut squash soup.

Butternut squash soup is wildly popular where I live in California, and for good reason. It has that perfect combination of filling deliciousness while still being low in calories. It is versatile and can carry the flavors from a wide variety of spices, herbs and aromatics.

However, in the mad rush toward plant-based cooking and eating, I must interrupt all of the butternut-soup-making to make an extremely important point about properly preparing this beautiful vegetable!

Not long ago, I tasted a butternut soup (at a cooking demo) that had pretty good flavor, but a pulpy, plumpy texture that was both unpleasantly thick and bitter. Since the recipe was provided, I brought it home and made it again. My soup turned out silky and smooth, and with the pure sweet taste of the butternut - no bitterness. This was my clue that the trick is in how you prepare the squash itself.  Big hint - it's how you peel the butternut that determines your end result!

butternut

Simply peeling a butternut (safely) is a worthy accomplishment.  But we need to go just a bit farther. Here’s the thing: peeling only the creamy colored outer skin is not enough - we also have to peel off the fine green lines. Take a look at my photo:

See these two similarly-sized butternuts bought at the same time, at the same market? The one on the left only has the outside peel removed. The one on the right was peeled 2-3 more times. Basically, keep peeling. Keep peeling until you can’t see the fine green lines, or any of the white-ish pulpy stuff - and then keep going some more until the outside is the same golden color as the inside.  Once you've peeled off all of the white-ish pulpy stuff then you can proceed with your recipe. You’ll thank me later, I promise!

Butternut Squash Has a Lot of Nutritional Goodies Packed Into its Compact Flesh

Even with the pulpy exterior removed it still has good fiber content (1 cup, cubed = 2.8 g fiber).  In addition to being an excellent source of fiber, this richly colored winter squash is an excellent source of beta-carotenes! 

When it comes to carotenes, the richer the color means the richer the concentration of carotenes. And the higher the concentration of carotenes, the more cancer-protective the vegetable is, and the more golden glow it gives your complexion. Beta-carotenes convert into Vitamin A in the body, which is particularly health-supportive for the eyes and lungs. Butternut squash also boasts Vitamin C, B1, B6, folic acid, pantothenic acid, potassium, and niacin!

For those of you who grow winter squash, the longer it remains on the vine, the sweeter the flesh becomes. The beta-carotene content actually increases while the squash is stored in the fall and winter months too, making it a brilliant gift from mother nature. If you are new to butternut squash, I’m glad you read this just in time to cook it deliciously. If you are a butternut squash veteran, now your dishes will be even more delicious than ever!

Simple and Silky Smooth Butternut Soup (Vegan, Gluten Free)

This is an extremely simple recipe that lends itself to additions and revisions if you like. For example, you could add finely chopped carrots and celery when you add the onions. You could make your own vegetable broth for even more nutrition and depth of flavor. I once made this simple version, but added 2 tsp Vietnamese Sweet Lemon Curry spice mix (from Savory Spice, located at 317 D Street, Santa Rosa, CA (707) 284-1310) and it was too good for words.

Ingredients:

  • 1 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, peeled and chopped
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and roughly cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 3-4 cups of water or vegetable broth
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Equipment Needed: 1) preferably enamel-coated cast iron pot or stainless steel pot*, and 2) stick blender or regular canister blender.

Instructions: On medium-high heat, let the pan warm up (empty) for 30 seconds. Add the oil, then wait another 30 seconds or so before you add the chopped onion and the bay leaves. Stir to coat and let cook for 5-8 minutes, until onions are wilted, transparent, and cooked through. Add the butternut and water/broth.

Depending on the size of your butternut squash and soup pot, you might need a bit less or a bit more liquid. You’ll want the majority of the butternut squash to be covered by the liquid. Add a bit of salt and pepper, and let the pot come to a boil. When it starts to boil, turn down the heat to low, put the lid on and set the timer for 25 minutes.

After the timer beeps, check the squash's done-ness by poking one of the bigger pieces with a knife or fork. It should feel very soft. Remove the bay leaves. If you are using a regular canister blender then let your soup cool slightly before blending. If you are using a stick blender then you can blend right away. Blend until it’s silky smooth. You might need a little more liquid to achieve the consistency you like best. Taste for desired salt and pepper levels, and serve.

Enjoy!

What are your favorite butternut squash soup variations? Share your ideas and experiences in the comments below! 


*Why do I specify which kind of pot to use? Glad you asked! Check out my blog post about cookware.

References: 

  • Balch, Phyllis A. Prescription for Dietary Wellness. New York: Avery, 2003.
  • Murray, Michael. The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. New York: Atria Books, 2005.

Chef Monica SalloutiThis article and recipe was authored by Certified Natural Chef Monica Sallouti. Monica’s lifelong passion for delicious and nutritious food comes from both her formal training and time spent in the kitchens of her two grandmothers as a young girl. She honed her culinary skills and nutritional education at the Holistic Nutrition and Culinary Arts program at Bauman College in Penngrove, CA. The nutrition specialty for Chef Sallouti was sparked after a health crisis some 19 years ago. In her late 20’s, she was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma. As part of her “treatment” she developed a keen awareness of the inextricable link between food, cooking and health. Now, 19+ years later, Sallouti brings her knowledge, culinary creativity and care to her clients.

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