This soup will help you slide nicely into autumn, with its bright and light vegetable flavors, seasoned with warm, aromatic Indian spices, and made richer with a last-minute swirl of cream. This is a recipe that moves along a sliding scale in many ways—you can make it with anything from chicken bone broth to vegetable broth, or spicy to mild, or light to creamy (either with real cream or coconut milk).
When my husband, Les, noticed my description of this soup as “curried,” he seemed surprised, and noted that he didn’t remember enjoying curry before. Sound familiar? If you’ve tasted something called “curry” in the past and found it weird or unpleasant, let me fill you in on the probable cause—poor labeling. You see, curry isn’t a flavor or a spice on its own. Curry is a method of cooking, not just in India but throughout much of Asia, and it happens to involve use of many spices, some of which you’d find in a grocery store “curry powder.” But just as “chili powder” is ambiguous (or even sketchy), so is curry powder. Depending on what brand you buy, you may end up with varying ratios (and quality) of spices. Check out this spice tin Les and I found in his mom’s cabinet a few years ago:
The idea of adding this stuff to a can of chicken gumbo soup has literally squashed my appetite for the rest of the day. Breaking news: adding a non-descript (and probably stale) spice blend will not improve an already overly-processed canned food. It’s no mystery why nobody ever uses this stuff, including Les’s mom—this can was never opened.
But curry cooking shouldn’t take the punishment for poor packaging. These flavors can be fantastic, and in my estimation, it may be better to make your own blend to match the spices to your taste, and also to enhance what you’re cooking, which is hopefully more fresh and interesting than condensed canned soup. If I had an Indian grandmother, I’m quite certain I would have learned to cook with one of these close at hand. A “masala dabba” holds a collection of individual spices, and the cook knows which combination is best for the meal.
Mixing and matching spice ingredients makes a lot more sense than a one-spice-fits-all approach, and I’d love to have my own masala dabba one day. For now, I’ll make do with what I have in the pantry, and for this veg-heavy soup, I’ve chosen warm, pungent spices, most of which are in another common Indian blend—garam masala. I’m trying to use up all my “pre-made” blends to make more space in the cabinet, so I’m beginning with the garam masala, and embellishing with extra ginger, pepper and cardamom, and also a bit of turmeric, to punch up the bright color of the butternut squash.
Garam masala literally translates as “warm spice mixture,” implying that the spices make you feel warm inside, and that certainly is true with this creamy, autumn-embracing soup. It brings a whole lot of healthy to a weekend meal (or meatless Monday), and you may as well make a large batch of it, because the leftovers will warm up in a jiffy for weekday lunches or dinner. Serve it with a salad or sandwich for a satisfying, comforting meal.
This recipe makes approximately 8 servings. I cooked it on the stove top, but it’s easily adapted to a slow cooker.
3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
3 cups fresh cauliflower, cleaned, trimmed and chopped into florets
1 cup carrots, chopped
3 cups low sodium broth (I used vegetable, but chicken would work also)
1 tsp. kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil, drizzled over vegetables
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 medium sweet or yellow onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
5 cloves garlic, chopped (about 3 Tbsp.)
1 tsp. garam masala
1 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. turmeric
1/4 tsp. ground cardamom
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne (optional)
1/2 can coconut milk (regular or light)
Spiced crispy chickpeas (recipe follows) and chopped pistachios (optional), for serving
It takes time for these flavors to develop, but the steps are very simple. Here’s the visual, then spelled out instructions, and a downloadable PDF version at the end.
- Place a large stock pot over medium heat. Add squash, cauliflower and carrots, plus 3 cups broth. Drizzle with 3 Tbsp. olive oil. Simmer 1 hour (or in slow cooker on high for 2 hours).
- Sauté onions until softened, caramelized and browned on edges, add garlic and seasonings and sauté 5 more minutes. When soup pot vegetables are soft enough to mash with a fork, add the onion-spice mixture and simmer another hour (or in slow cooker on low for an additional 2 hours).
- Use immersion blender to puree soup to desired smoothness. Add more vegetable broth if needed for easy blending. Alternatively, allow mixture to cool somewhat, and transfer mix to a regular blender (in batches if necessary), then return soup to mixing pot. Taste and adjust seasonings as desired, simmer on low until ready to serve or refrigerate if cooking ahead.
- Just before serving, stir in coconut milk, stir until blended. This adds a wonderful, creamy richness to the soup and accents the warm spices.
A little extra somethin’
We gave this fragrant, flavorful soup a little decoration, with a sprinkling of roasted chopped pistachios and these seasoned crispy chickpeas:
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and patted dry with paper towels
1/4 tsp. garam masala, plus salt and pepper
Heat oil in small skillet over low heat, swirl chickpeas until coated, then add salt and spices. Stir and swirl frequently until the beans look smaller and feel firmer. Remove them from heat and allow them to cool completely before serving.
Want to print this recipe?
Now, ‘fess up in the comments below. How many unopened, outdated spices are in your cabinet right now? 😉