I’d never really thought about it before, but I’ve realized something new about my family over the past six weeks:
We are CRUNCHY people! That’s right, if it snaps, crackles, and pops, it’s welcome at our table. Give us crispy apples, nuts, salads, pretzels, mueslix…..we crave crunch. Even our peanut butter is, you guessed it, crunchy.
And if we can’t have crunch, we’ll settle for chewy as in the crust of a perfect baguette or slice of pizza.
None of this, sadly, conducive to the soft diet a certain jaw of the fractured variety requires for healing. As I was scuttled out of the Emergency Room after our daughter’s accident, I was handed the Six Week Soft Diet plan: oatmeal, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, yogurt, etc.
It’s the “etc.” part that is giving me fits. Who can eat like this for six weeks without going stark raving mad, I ask you? It’s not that the food is bad, necessarily, it’s just not good. It’s missing all those key components that make your mouth water: a certain zest, tang, freshness or juiciness that is nonexistent in the pureed gruel that I’ve been serving the past six weeks. It’s the difference between a slice of Honeycrisp apple and applesauce. Between a tangy spinach salad with almonds and bacon and creamed spinach. Between carrot-fennel slaw with dried cranberries in vinaigrette and pureed carrot ala Gerber baby food.
It’s the difference between eating for pleasure or survival.
Desperately rummaging through my recipes to come up with yet one more dinner idea, I came across this one for a Thai Butternut Soup which I used to make regularly and somehow forgot about. I pounced on it immediately as something we could eat together. Part of the difficulty in enduring six weeks of gruel is seeing all the good stuff everybody else gets to have, so I tried to minimize that as much as possible. This soup is a winner, a savory blend of sweet, salt, and sour with just the right amount of heat.
Caveat: I am not a food blogger, food stylist, or come to think of it, a decent food photographer. But I can cook! Let’s proceed:
Butternut Squash Soup With Thai Gremolata
2 lbs. butternut squash
2 cups chicken broth
1 14-oz. can unsweetened coconut milk
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 T. packed brown sugar
1 T. fish sauce (soy can be substituted, if you must)
1 t. Asian chili sauce (Sriracha) (I use much more than this, but I like it HOT!)
2 T. lime juice
1 recipe Thai Gremolata, below
OK, you’ve got all your ingredients now. Here comes the hard part:
You must arm wrestle the butternut squash into submission. Butternuts do not go willingly to their demise; unlike the passive zucchini, they put up quite the fight. So use whatever WMD you have at your disposal, get the thing peeled and seeded, wipe the sweat from your brow and proceed:
Cut the squash into 1-inch pieces and steam until nice and soft.
Because I despise peeling the squash, I’ve altered the original recipe and roast the halved, seeded squash in its skin until done, and then scoop out the flesh. Whatever you prefer.
In a large soup pot, saute the onion until translucent in a bit of vegetable oil of your choice. Peanut or canola will do nicely; olive oil will be too fruity.
Add to the softened onion the steamed or roasted squash, broth, coconut milk, brown sugar, fish sauce, and Sriracha.
Simmer gently until flavors are nicely blended – about twenty minutes or so. Use an immersion blender, potato masher, or whatever method you prefer to puree soup until completely smooth.
Now taste to see if a bit more fish sauce, brown sugar, or Sriracha is needed. Also add a little chicken broth if you want to thin it down.
Stir in lime juice. Ladle into bowls and top with Thai Gremolata. Don’t skip this – it is much more than a mere garnish. The peanuts and cilantro tie all the flavors together beautifully.
In a bowl stir together 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or cilantro, 1/2 cup chopped peanuts, and 1 T. finely shredded lime peel. (I’ve never made with basil, but if you prefer….)
And the best part is it gives the soup a little crunch. You know we like that.
You may serve with lime wedges and a squiggle of bright red Sriracha on top.
I have never made this for guests that they haven’t raved and demanded the recipe.
As we say in our house, “Guten Appetit!”
And thanks for reading,
The Not-So Pampered Chef