Decades ago, the people living in our apartment must have needed extra space. Maybe for a new baby or an ailing grandmother or a new-fangled television set? Whatever the reason, they built a room and slapped it on the back the apartment. Fast forward many years and that extra room is now my bedroom. It is the quietest room in our apartment. And, I love that it sits over the backyard and there’s one wall that is all windows. In the morning, I drop the blinds from the ceiling and look out on the foggy city rooftops and trees while I’m still warm under the sheets.
My bedroom also happens to be the coldest room. Ever. This is due to the fact that it sits on stilts with no insulation underneath or on top. I frequently fall asleep in full winter garb – thick sweatpants, long sleeve shirt, wool sweater – then wake up in the middle of the night in a sweat, my neck itchy from the wool but the tip of my nose still freezing cold. Indoor bedroom camping. Far from a hobby I would ever dream to cultivate and yet here I am. Indoor camping queen.
So, yes. I often sleep in ski gear. Why am I telling you this? It’s all for the love of food, my friends! Because what I haven’t yet mentioned is that when I woke up flushed and flummoxed in the wee hours the other night, I promptly pushed my comforter to the side and then I thought about this soup. It is everything that I wasn’t in that particular moment – soothing and bright and perfectly warm. Visions of this creamless creamy soup danced in my head for a solid minute and then I fell back into a deep sleep. Soothed.
The night before Thanksgiving, we went to my parents’ friends’ house for dinner. Meg, Mark and their son Cooper live outside of Bozeman in a cozy house with classic Montana features like a wood burning fireplace and a big truck in the driveway and fresh elk hanging in the garage.
When we arrived for dinner, Mark was slicing and vacuum-sealing a huge slab of elk meat to store in the freezer. Fortunately, he saved some for us to try.
Thinly sliced and sautéed in olive oil, garlic, fresh herbs, sea salt. It’s the snack of the cowboy gods.
Meg ladled her spicy squash soup from a big pot on the stove and we stood around the kitchen eating elk straight from the pan with our fingers, then picked up our bowls for spoonfuls of soup. It was the perfect winter meal. The soup had unexpected exotic undertones which turns out were from coconut milk and fish sauce. It was wholesome and spicy and supremely squashy. I loved it. When Meg kindly emailed me the recipe a few days later, she cited “Fabio’s Creamless Creamy Squash Soup” from Gourmet as her base, but it was clear that the recipe was merely a canvas upon which she could truly express her talent for making flavor friends of what many could consider to be flavor foes.
Meg cooks the same way I do, which is to say that she tosses things into a pot, tinkers, tastes, and repeats. For this recipe, I encourage you to do the same. I didn’t follow Meg’s directions exactly because I roasted the squash and yams instead of boiling them with the other soup ingredients. I like roasting because it avoids peeling and chopping, but you can do it either way. The soup is brilliantly orange with the yam and butternut squash combo. You can absolutely substitute potatoes if you don’t want to use yams, but just note that you’ll lose a bit of the glow.
Montana Meg’s Spicy Squash Soup
- 2 medium carrots, chopped
- 1-2 medium onions, chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large butternut squash, sliced in half lengthwise with seeds removed
- 2 large yams or sweet potatoes, sliced in half lengthwise
- About 4 cups boiling water plus additional for thinning
- Fish sauce, to taste
- Spice, to taste! Dried hot red pepper flakes, hot chili garlic sauce, or Sriracha
- 1 can of coconut milk (for bolder coconut flavor use pure and not lite)
- Topping options: toasted almonds, fresh basil, mint and/or cilantro
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Rub squash and sweet potatoes with a little olive oil and place cut side down on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake until soft, about 45 minutes.
Saute carrots, garlic and onion in olive oil in a heavy pot over low heat, stirring occasionally until tender but not browned, about 10 to 12 minutes.
Scoop the flesh from the roasted squash and sweet potatoes and add to the pot. Stir in 4 cups boiling water and coconut milk and mix well. Add spice (I used hot chili garlic sauce) and fish sauce, taste.
Simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes.
Purée soup in batches in a blender or with an immersion blender, adding more water to thin to desired consistency.
I think this soup would be extra delicious topped with toasted almonds and a shower of chopped fresh mint, basil or cilantro.