Mexicali Squash Soup with a Cilantro Cream Swirl
I’ve been looking forward to this past weekend for a long time. It started as a basic off-site work retreat (yeah, you know how much fun those can be!) but then we incorporated spouses/partners/SOs (hmm…getting somewhat better) and I was instructed to plan it (cha-CHING). Which, if I don’t say so myself, does guarantee a somewhat good time because you know that I wouldn’t force my friends and colleagues to do anything on their weekend that I didn’t consider top drawer.
We were going to Niagara Falls/Niagara on the Lake and Mike and I were booked into our fabulously scenic falls-view suite a night early so we could have a jolly good date night to start the weekend off right. Saturday, the group day, was packed full of winery tours, a seminar in “true tastes”, wine and cheese pairings, followed by a wine makers dinner with (of course) wine pairings at one of NOTL’s highly lauded vineyard restaurants. If the “wine-wine-wine” wasn’t an indication that I had a bold hand in the itinerary, I don’t know what would be. After that we were free to roam one of the casinos, comedy clubs or whatever one’s heart desired to whoop it up for the rest of the night. Doesn’t that just sound grand? Wouldn’t you be excited for a weekend of wine and revelry as well?
And then I got struck down by the plague. I’m generally quite resilient, and a bug may hit me hard but I’m back on my feet within a day or two. This time? Not so much. Our romantic Niagara on the Lake weekend was destined to unfold as follows:
- Wednesday night the tickle in my throat turns into a frog. No, more of a toad. A big, warty, pustulent toad. I refuse to acknowledge that anything is wrong.
- Thursday night: the hacking cough and cold sweats would suggest to anyone else that perhaps a virus was wreaking havoc, but oh no – not me!! I’m fine, why do you ask *hack! cough! grrrrgle!*??!
- Mike gets home on Friday night to find me already at home and curled up all foetal-styles with a heating pad. There is a possibility that I morphed into Feverish Tina, who was sobbing hysterically and ranting about how she is an awful person who has ruined everything….and by the way, have you packed your bag for this weekend?
- Mike and Feverish Tina fight for an hour about how she shouldn’t go, no she HAS to go because she planned it, but if she can’t breathe or walk in a straight line it’s probably better if she just stays home, but if she doesn’t go then who will be the key contact and what if details get missed and things don’t go as planned and OH GOD DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY THINGS COULD GO WRONG AND WHY ARE YOU HARASSING ME IN MY TIME OF WEAKNESS?! Mike packs a bag.
- Mike and Feverish Tina head out to Niagara Falls during what has turned into a lightning storm. Awesome. Not that the weather was an ominous forecast of what was to come, or anything.
- Late Friday night Mike and Feverish Tina check into the hotel. Feverish Tina orders $60 worth of room service, eats 3 bites, and promptly passes out.
- Saturday morning: Feverish Tina has disappeared and been replaced with Sweaty Hacking-Cough Tina, who feels nauseous at the sight of black tea. YAAAAAAY wine tours!
- Sweaty Hacking-Cough Tina takes one sip out of every sample and surreptitiously pours the rest into Mike’s glass before going to purchase said bottle for “when she can taste again”. End of tour day and Mike is amazingly still standing while Sweaty Hacking-Cough Tina has stockpiled local wine for a brighter day.
- It’s FREE TIME! Sweaty Hacking-Cough Tina goes up to the room and Mike has the opportunity to say, for surprisingly only the second time in their relationship, “Yes, I DO still love you, even when I’m scrubbing your nasty-ass vomit out of carpet in our hotel room.”
- By Sunday, Sweaty Hacking-Cough Tina has been replaced by Cowed and Puffy Faced Tina who just wants to go home. Driving home, Mike and Cowed and Puffy Faced Tina stop by an outlet mall, based on the principle that if nothing else will perk her up, shopping will do it! Shopping doesn’t do it. Mike buys Cowed and Puffy Faced Tina some new socks. Purchasing socks was possibly the most romantic part of the weekend and won’t soon be forgotten.
So, if you were ever trying to plan the least romantic or utterly un-enjoyable weekend in Niagara Falls, hey – give me a call. I’ll show you the ropes. Apparently I’m the master.
Anyway, Ol’Sicko over here has been craving some soup lately. In particular, I had flu-cravings for a somewhat spicy but still gentle on the stomach soup with a bit of Mexican flair to it, and it had to be low fat but not brothy and I really wanted to use the butternut squash that I bought the previous weekend. Yes, my cravings really ARE that specific. I opted for a pureed squash soup that I’ve made many times in the past. However, rather than giving it the knock-yer-boots-off heat that I normally would with canned chipotles in adobo sauce, I went for a milder, gentler and more flavorful pseudo-heat (it’s really not spicy, I promise!) by using some of the Guajillo peppers that Kristie (the Spiteful Chef) so kindly sent me in the best care package ever.
Butternut squash soup is full of vitamins and nutrients while also being lower in fat. This means that in times of viral distress, you’re getting a meal which is easier on your tummy but still flavorful enough to satisfy the kitchen crawlers in your midst. As far as I’m concerned, a low fat but full flavor soup (which is even better when your taste buds work again) is nothing to sniffle about.
Mexicali Squash Soup with a Cilantro Cream Swirl
- 1 red onion
- 4 large cloves garlic
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 Butternut squash (~ 3 lbs, or 6 cups cubed)
- 2 yellow flesh potatoes (~ 1/2 lb, or 1.5 cups cubed)
- 3-4 dried guajillo peppers *
- 1.5 tbsp oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp fennel seed
- 6 cups chicken stock **
- salt and pepper to taste
Cilantro Cream Swirl
- 1/2 cup sour cream ***
- 1 lime (1 tsp zest + juice of whole)
- 3/4 cup loosely packed cilantro
- salt to taste
* If you don’t have dried guajillo peppers I think that a good substitute would probably be dried Ancho or pasilla peppers. However, I’m totally talking out my rear and basing that statement purely on things that I’ve read. Remember: I live in Canada. A vast array of delicious dried chili peppers is NOT what my country is known for.
** If you were making this dish vegetarian you could use a golden vegetable stock instead of the poultry base.
*** Yes, Mexican crema or a nice creme fraiche would be a promising touch instead of sour cream, but you know what I almost never have in the fridge? Mexican crema (okay, that’s not an almost never, more like an in my dreams) and creme fraiche. But fat free sour cream? There’s at least a fleeting possibility that a half size container is tucked somewhere towards the back from the last time we had Taco Night.
Peel the onion and garlic cloves. Coarsely chop the onion but you can leave the garlic whole. Leaving the cloves whole will encourage it to cook slower and maintain a teensy bit of punchy garlic flair while also reducing the risk of browning too fast in the oil and becoming bitter.
Peel the squash and potatoes. Cut the squash vertically in half so that you can scoop out and discard the pulp and seed. I know you didn’t hear the plaintive way that I just said ‘discard’, but it was there. Mike and I have a constant battle over pumpkin and squash seeds, which I like to keep and roast for a healthy flavored snack. He thinks they smell like a trifecta of puke, wet dog and dirty sports socks. I am ceding only because sometimes you have to pick your battles, and I just bought another pound of firm tofu today.
Chop the squash and potatoes into fairly large chunks that are roughly the same size.
Heat the olive oil up in a large pot set over medium low heat. Add the chopped onions and garlic cloves and start to sweat and soften them until the onion is translucent. This should take about 3-5 minutes over a lower heat.
Add the cubed squash and potato and turn it around in the pot until it’s somewhat coated with oil. Put a tight fitting lid on the pot and let it cook for about 10 minutes, lifting the lid to stir only every 3-4 minutes and replacing it when you’re done. When you put the lid on the pot the vegetables will start to steam rather than saute, which will soften them up much faster.
When the squash and potatoes are almost fork tender and some of the pieces are starting to get a bit soft and crumbly around the edges, add the spices and bay leaf. Nip the stem end off of your chilis and add them (seeds and all!) to the pot as well. Give it a stir and let this cook together for a few minutes until the spices are warmed through and starting to release their fragrance.
Add the stock to the pot and cover it with a lid.
Turn the heat down to low and let the mixture simmer away for 45 minutes. At this point the guajillo chilis will be fatly re-hydrated and the squash/potatoes will be so meltingly tender that they’ve started to dissolve into the pot. Sift through the broth to remove the bay leaf and then puree the mixture in small batches in your blender or using a hand held immersion blender.
Season the mixture fairly liberally with salt and pepper and then let the pureed mixture simmer for a minute or two while you ready the cilantro cream.
I almost feel silly giving you instructions for the cilantro cream, but hey, that’s what I do. Dollop the sour cream into a small food processor (either a mini-food processor or a Magic Bullet will do the perfect job) and add in the cilantro, stems and all. Zest in about 1 tsp of green rind from your lime and then cut it in half to squeeze in the juice. Season the mixture lightly with salt before using your pulse/blend option until the cilantro is naught but flecks in a pale whitish-green cream.
Ladle the soup into your bowls and garnish with a swirl of the cilantro cream and an extra sprinkling of some fresh cilantro if you feel compelled.
The guajillo peppers aren’t super-hot, but they add a depth of chili-flavor to the dish. The oregano and fennel won’t be overwhelming, but they’ll add a sweet and savory herbal note to what is otherwise a rustic and simple squash soup. This is hearty peasant food, true, but if you haven’t noticed by now that’s kind of where my culinary heart planted a stake in the ground.
Sweet and not very spicy, this butternut squash soup is where my queasy stomach told me to go in case of an emergency, and I was glad to listen. Chicken soup for the soul? Perhaps, but I believe in hearty soups for the sickly in spirit if nothing else.
We have one (1) bowl left in the fridge that I’ve been carefully guarding for lunch tomorrow. Being as stubborn as the day is long, I’ve decided that by the time my soup is done, so too should my flu be. So….I’ll let you know tomorrow, and if you see another post of pureed vegetables in broth you’ll know whether my hypothesis was correct…..