This is a perfect cold-winter-day recipe: the soup is rich and savory and a little bit spicy, and the coolness of the cilantro yogurt and the crunch of the dhana dal balance out the intense flavors of the soup. The inspiration was Indian pumpkin curry, a dish you can find in the restaurants in legendary New York Indian neighborhoods like Jackson Heights, Queens. Patel Brothers, the jumpin’ Indian supermarket at the heart of the neighborhood, sells of all the ingredients—huge bags of dhana dal, fresh ginger root the size of my arm, and beautiful vibrant cilantro. But you can probably find most everything you need for this recipe at your local market. I like to garnish this soup with dhana dal: that’s the inside part of the coriander seed, roasted in ghee (clarified butter) and salted. It’s got this great crunchy-salty thing going: it’s perfect as a topping for all kinds of soups and vegetables. If you can’t fi nd it near you and you want that crunch, you can garnish the soup with toasted almonds, but the taste will defi nitely be different. A lot of supermarkets and groceries carry fresh lemongrass in the herb section these days, but if you can’t get your hands any, use the dried stuff.
Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer
FOR THE SOUP
2 small butternut squash (about 3 pounds,
6 cups when cut into chunks)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, rough-chopped (2 cups)
One 1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and rough-chopped (1/4 cup)
1/4 stalk lemongrass, sliced (1/4 cup), or 1/2 teaspoon
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon curry powder (preferably Madras)
2 small sweet apples (such as Gala or Macintosh),
peeled, cored, and rough-chopped (about 2 cups)
4 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
One 14-ounce can coconut milk (1 1/2 cups)
1 teaspoon salt
FOR THE CILANTRO YOGURT
1 cup thick yogurt (preferably the thick Greek kind)
1 loosely packed cup fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
FOR THE GARNISH
2 tablespoons dhana dal
TO MAKE THE SOUP
Cut the top and bottom off each butternut squash, using a large serrated knife. (For all root vegetables— celery root, rutabagas, large squash—a serrated knife makes things much easier.)
Cut the squash in two right where the round part meets the long part.
Peel the skin off the long part of the squash, using the serrated knife and shaving lengthwise.
Cut the round part in half. Use a spoon to scoop the seeds and guts out of the cavity of each half.
Shave the skin off the round parts of the squash, using the serrated knife: cut lengthwise, holding the squash section on top to save your fingers. Then place each piece on the cutting board, fl at side down, to cut off any leftover pieces of skin.
Chop the squash into big chunks.
Heat the olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium-high heat.
When the butter melts, add the onions, ginger, and lemongrass, and cook, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes, until the onions begin to soften but not color and the lemongrass aroma is released.
Add the garlic and curry powder, and mix so the onions and lemongrass are coated in the curry. Toast the curry for 30 seconds, stirring frequently, until you’ve brought out the aromas.
Add the butternut squash, apples, broth, and coconut milk to the pot and mix well; then increase the heat to high and stir in the salt.
Bring the soup up to a low boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, for about 20 to 30 minutes, until the apples and squash are soft.
Working in batches, spoon the soup into a blender, being careful to fi ll the blender only about halfway— otherwise, the top might blow off and hot liquid would splatter everywhere. (With my pretty standard blender, this soup took 3 batches.) I like to put a towel over the top of the blender and hold it down to make sure the hot stuff stays inside. Blend the soup until it’s completely smooth, starting at the lowest speed and slowly increasing as the soup breaks down.
Strain the blended soup through a fine-mesh strainer into another pot, pushing the soup through the strainer with the back of a spoon or ladle. If it’s cooled down, warm the soup again over medium heat.
TO MAKE THE CILANTRO YOGURT
Stir the yogurt, cilantro, salt, and olive oil together in a medium-sized bowl.
TO FINISH THE SOUP
Divide the soup into individual bowls. Top each one with a large dollop of the cilantro yogurt, and sprinkle the dhana dal over the top. Serve immediately.
From American Flavor, by Andrew Carmellini.