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This is the fifty-fifth installment in Mucho Gusto, a recipe initiative by and for students to help connect us through food in times of isolation. If you’ve got a recipe you think would make a great addition, reach out to us!
Adorning cornucopia, dining tables, windowsills, and mantles, winter squash are fixtures of the fall and winter seasons, similar to auburn leaves and wool scarves. They introduce vibrant colors into the home, come in all shapes and sizes, and the best part—they’re delicious! Winter squash are found across the world, but it is easy to wonder how they became such a salient artifact of Western tradition.
The term winter squash encompasses a staggering amount of gourds, ranging from decorative pumpkins to sweet butternut squash, but what makes winter squash unique is the time of year they are grown, their maturity, and how long they can be stored. Winter squash are planted in late spring after all danger of frost has passed, since the seedlings are incredibly delicate. Most varieties are harvested during late summer and early fall. Unlike summer squash, which are eaten at a comparably juvenile stage of growth, winter squash are mature at the time of consumption. Their late harvest is what lends the winter squash’s hard rinds and drier interiors, both of which result in a longer shelf life. Winter squash were a Native American staple for this very reason: they could be harvested throughout the fall season and eaten throughout winter.
Additionally, winter squash are simply fantastic seasonal vegetables when considering both flavor and nutrition. They boast high levels of vitamins, particularly vitamins A and C, and are also high in fiber. This is not only beneficial for digestive health, but also means winter squash can be a hearty and filling addition to soups, stews, or when served as a side. Their versatility, whether boiled, baked, or steamed, provides countless options for anyone looking to add them to their diet for their health benefits, or just to enjoy a fresh vegetable in season.
In my household and many other Haitian homes, winter squash is most commonly found in the form of soup joumou, a hearty soup filled with vegetables, noodles, beef, and pureed squash. The soup is a slightly spicy dish, filled with the hallmark flavors of Haitian cuisine, and holds a deep cultural significance. It is often enjoyed on New Year’s day, during celebrations of Haitian independence, and at significant personal events such as weddings or funerals. To me, though, joumou represents the epitome of comfort food. As days get shorter, evenings get colder, and the holidays approach, soup joumou is always on the table, to warm us up and bring our family together. Below you will find an adaptation of my mother’s squash soup recipe. It is a vegetarian dish that provides the Haitian flavors of soup joumou without beef.
Diana’s Squash Soup
- 1 medium calabaza squash, peeled and gutted
- 1 small butternut squash, peeled and gutted
- 2 medium yellow onions
- 1 green bell pepper
- 2 scallions
- 2 to 3 ( approximately ½ pound) carrots, peeled
- 4-5 cloves garlic
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 4-5 sprigs parsley
- 1 scotch bonnet pepper (optional)
- ½ lbs peas, fresh or frozen
- 1 piece stale white bread
- ¼ cup heavy cream
- ¼ cup butter
Begin with the mise en place. Chop the calabaza and butternut squashes into approximately 1 inch cubes. Peel and chop the onions into roughly ½ inch pieces. Remove the stem and seeds from the bell pepper and chop into roughly ½ inch pieces. Cut the scallions and carrots into approximately 1 inch lengths. Peel and crush the cloves of garlic. The garlic does not have to be minced, just broken.
Next, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the garlic, scallions, onions, and bell pepper; sauté, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and the edges of the onion become translucent. At this point, add the squash, parsley, and carrots. If you want to make the dish spicy, add the scotch bonnet pepper as well. Cover the vegetables with 1 to 2 inches of water, and bring to a simmer. Continue cooking the vegetables until the squash and carrots are tender. Add the peas and cook until tender as well.
Next, if used, carefully remove and discard the scotch bonnet pepper. Transfer the vegetables to a blender, and add enough cooking liquid to cover, and carefully puree. Be cautious, as the mixture will be incredibly hot. Once the vegetables have been reduced to a smooth consistency, add the white bread in small pieces through the feed port of the running blender.
Transfer the pureed mixture into the pot with the remaining cooking liquid. Gently bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally until a desired thickness is achieved. A good measure is when it is able to coat the back of a spoon.
Finally, add the heavy cream and mix. While constantly stirring, slowly add the butter, approximately ½ tablespoon at a time. Make sure the butter is fully incorporated into the mixture before adding the next increment. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and enjoy! I hope this soup can bring you as much joy as it brings my family.
Cover photo courtesy of Love and Olive Oil