When it comes to winter I have a very selective memory. I’ve lived in Canada my entire life, yet each time December rolls around I am aghast when I wake up in the morning to find a blanket of snow covering the front lawn. Oh, the nerve of Mother Nature! I even live in one of the warmer parts of the country (as confirmed by friends who spent their childhoods in Manitoba)…
While I find there to be few redeeming qualities about this time of year, the transition from a summer palette of overwhelmingly cool, light dishes to the hearty, warm foods of winter is definitely one of them. My favourite winter-appropriate dish is a piping hot bowl of soup. Sure, you can eat soup any time of the year, but it’s just not the same! Soup is an easy way to layer different flavors, textures, and use up vegetables nearing their expiry date in your fridge.
Today I am sharing a soup recipe I created that is an amalgamation of ramen and pureed vegetable soups. For me, ramen is a beloved staple during the colder months that has provided me with much comfort from the illnesses that winter often brings. Admittedly this version was a complete creative experiment which turned out relatively successfully. This particular soup is chalk full of warming, anti-inflammatory spices like fresh turmeric, fresh ginger, five-spice, garlic, and chili oil that will make you feel really good.
Spicy Butternut Squash Noodle Soup (Serves 2)
1 leek, white parts only (or 1/2 a yellow onion, diced)
1 inch piece, fresh ginger
1/2 inch piece, fresh turmeric
2 cloves, garlic
1 tsp five-spice powder
1 tsp fish sauce
1/2 tbsp cooking oil (I used toasted chili oil that I had made previously, but you can use butter, ghee, or olive oil)
1/2 butternut squash, cubed
1 tbsp miso paste
4-6 cups of vegetable broth (depending on your preference)
salt, to taste
OPTIONAL: Ramen noodles and preferred toppings (I used green onions, crispy pork, and quick pickled daikon, carrots, and radishes. As always, be creative!)
1. Separate green parts of leeks from the white stem, wash thoroughly (Leeks tend to be very dirty); roughly chop. If you are using an onion, cut it into small pieces.
2. Peel and finely dice garlic, turmeric, and ginger root; peel and dice butternut squash into medium cubes
3. Sweat leeks in a large pot over medium heat until translucent and tender
4. Add in a pinch of salt, garlic, turmeric, and ginger root; sweat until fragrant
5. Add in five spice and fish sauce; sweat until fragrant
6. Add in butternut squash cubes, stir around to mix with spices
7. Put the lid on the pot to cook butternut squash, stirring every 50 seconds or so until squash is tender (check periodically with a knife)
8. Add in vegetable broth and miso paste, bring up to a simmer
9. Simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off and blend until completely smooth; adjust with salt and more broth if needed
10. If you are using them, cook ramen noodles according to package directions; divide into two bowls
11. Spoon butternut squash soup over ramen noodles (or eat as is); top as desired.
Sweating the vegetables (before and after), adding the broth, and blending
I really liked this soup. It had a nourishing, well-balanced flavour palette and an aftertaste that delivered a big punch of spice. I loved the smooth texture. In hindsight, I would have omitted the leeks and used sweet onions in their place; leeks are very delicate under heat and began to char. Next time I make this, I would like to play around with the flavour profile by adding some tomato paste and a strip of kombu for acidity and umami flavour. I would also like to try out using dashi instead of vegetable broth.
For a second opinion, I had my partner Dan try the soup to see what he thought. His initial impression was that it was a bit too spicy for his bland, Irish palette (his words). However, he enjoyed the firm texture of the noodles, the overall balance of flavour, and creaminess.
I thought that I knew how to prepare soup, but attending culinary school tends to make you realize “I’ve been doing this wrong my entire life!” I’ve learned that the key to a great pureed soup is:
- Sweating the vegetables; almost like you’re operating some sort of a sauna in your soup pot. Putting a lid on your pot and occasionally stirring the vegetables reduces the moisture in them and helps to develop a deep, concentrated flavour. Cook your vegetables this way until they are tender, then add the broth and simmer for a short period of time. I’ve noticed that you get a much blander soup when you primarily cook your vegetables by boiling them.
- Use a flavourful broth or stock and don’t add the entire amount recommended to the pot initially; you can adjust the texture of the soup by adding more following the blending process. It is way easier to add something than to take it away.
I had a lot of fun experimenting in the kitchen and making this soup recipe from scratch. I really hope to strengthen my skills at recipe development and this was a fantastic start. I am learning to regard cooking as a creative art form far beyond the confines of enjoyment and survival. I hope to hold onto this to guide me through my future cooking endeavors.
Until next time,