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Mexican butternut squash soup with dark chocolate drizzle

My father-in-law, Moe, has a great big organic garden that could feed the whole family if needed.  I visit a few times a week to forage for tomatoes, beets, chili peppers, and when I am lucky- fresh butternut squash.  This morning he offered me the two perfect peach colored squash that were ripe.  It is the first year he has planted it, so he wasn’t sure how to cook it.  After all the tending it took to produce those, I had to make something special for him.  I promised that I would return with some worthy soup.

I returned to the house to make a great big pot of soup.  Now, I have had a long frustrating relationship with butternut squash.  I adore the creamy texture of a well pureed soup, and the delicate base butternut squash absorbs spices and puts them on display.  A soup made from fresh, organic squash also needs a very small amount of fat to make a creamy, flavorful soup.  On the other hand, they are a killer to peel.  You would think I am boiling lobsters when I am trying to peel one of these bastards.  Often times there is yelling involved.  Alas, pre-packaged and cut squash simply won’t do.

That is why I must share with you the painless way to peel and cube a butternut squash without any tears or bloodshed in only 5 minutes.

It is quite simple: #1 With a very sharp kitchen knife cut 1/4-1/2 inch off the bottom of the squash to provide a stable base. #2 Set base on kitchen sink and firmly grasp the top stem to stabilize.  Use a sharp vegetable peeler to peel.  I use a kitchenaid peeler that I picked up at Macy’s.  #3 Cut off the top stem, set squash upright and halve lengthwise.  #4 Scoop out the seeds.  Don’t worry about the strings and loose meat of the squash, it will all cook down.  #5 Cut each half into 1″ strips, and then cut those into 1″ cubes.

Prepping the squash with a vegetable peeler

Now we can all go on with our lives, enjoying fresh butternut squash soup.  The delicious soup recipe below was inspired by the wonderful Catherine Walthers from her book Soups + Sides.  I modified the flavor palette, tested it as vegan and added broth instead of water to give it a slightly fuller base.  She paired a version of this amazing soup with chocolate biscotti.

Mexican butternut squash soup with dark chocolate drizzle

2 butternut squashes, peeled and cut into 1″ cubes

2 leeks, sliced using the entire trimmed leek

3 tbls Earth Balance (or 2 tbls olive oil)

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp nutmeg

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional to taste)

1/4 tsp sea salt

2 cloves garlic minced

4 cups (1 carton) organic low sodium vegetable stock

2 cups filtered water

2 oz high quality dark chocolate*

1/4 tsp oil (olive or vegetable will work)

In a large soup pot sauté squash and leeks in butter for 10 minutes, stirring often.  Add the cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne pepper and garlic.  Sauté for an additional minute just until they release their aromatics.  Feel free to play with the amounts of each spice.  Keep in mind that the squash in this soup picks up and maintains the flavors well so don’t overdo it, you can always add a touch up at the end.  Add the broth, 1 cup of the water and the salt.  The water level should be a few inches above the squash.

Bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook partially covered until the squash is easily pierced by a fork, about 20 minutes.  Puree with a hand blender for 2-3 minutes or in a blender, adding the remaining water if needed to get desired thickness.  Let the soup sit for about 5 minutes so that the flavors settle.  Salt to taste with a mild finishing salt.

Before serving the soup, break up the chocolate in a microwave safe bowl.  Microwave for 1-2 minutes.  Mix in the 1/4 tsp of oil slowly, adding a little at a time until the chocolate reaches pouring consistency.  Ladle up the soup into bowls and drizzle the chocolate on top.  I like to bring the remaining chocolate to the table for my husband or guests to finish off with their meal.

Tonight, I served this soup with locally made “Mi Abuelita Bonita Tortillas” brand blue corn tortillas warmed with a slice of queso fresco.  I dipped it in the left over chocolate, shhh don’t tell.

*My favorite chocolate for Mexican dishes is Dagoba organic chocolates with 74% cacao.  It always melts perfectly and retains its smooth taste.

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