The leaves crunch under my feet on my morning walks these days. The sun, still bright, is starting to hold back its warmth. What color are the trees where you are? Is it sweater weather there, too?
On these cool, midautumn nights, I find myself making a lot of soup. With acorn squashes piled high at the market, I decided to put them to work in a simple soup with just five other ingredients. But each one is doing a lot of work here, adding flavor and texture to keep this dish interesting so you’ll want spoonful after spoonful.
Canned coconut milk adds incredible richness, which complements and lightens the squash’s dense orange flesh. A touch of maple syrup adds a slight sweetness, while shiro miso, or white miso, delivers salinity, depth and a pleasant nuttiness. Pureed together, a simple soup is born.
It’s just fine without any topping, or perhaps with a hunk of crusty bread for dipping or small side salad for some crunch. But I like it with a drizzle of smoky paprika oil on top. The mild heat and smoky scent enhance the squash’s flavors and add intrigue. Plus, if you’re into this spooky season, it looks like a healthy splatter of blood.
Acorn squash are tender, sweet and ideal for simple, hearty soups. They take less than 10 minutes to steam in the microwave, though you can also roast them. If you don’t have acorn squash, you can use butternut, honey nut, kuri or kabocha squash, though they may take longer to cook.
Acorn squash cook quickly and have a denser flesh and softer skin than other varieties. To lighten the soup, use light coconut milk, half coconut milk and half vegetable stock, or all stock. Shiro or white miso can be found in the refrigerated section of most supermarkets. There’s no simple substitute for it, though you could try using soy sauce and tahini, to taste.
If you don’t have maple syrup, use honey or brown sugar – or skip it. No paprika in the spice cabinet? How about a drizzle of Calabrian chiles? Or, top the soup with toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted pistachios or pecans, garlicky breadcrumbs or croutons, pesto or kale chips.
Miso-Maple Acorn Squash Soup
One (2- to 3-pound) acorn squash, halved and seeds removed
One (13 ½-ounce) can coconut milk, shaken (may substitute with light coconut milk or 1 ½ cups vegetable broth)
2 tablespoons shiro miso (white miso), plus more as needed
1 teaspoon maple syrup, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons coconut oil or olive oil
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
Start by steaming the squash in the microwave: Arrange the halves, cut side down, in a microwave-safe bowl or casserole. Add a splash of water, and cook on high for 7 to 10 minutes, or until very soft. Cool for 10 minutes.
You may also roast the squash: Position a rack in the middle of an oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Brush the cut sides of squash lightly with oil and arrange the halves cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until soft.
In a medium pot, combine the coconut milk or vegetable stock, miso and maple syrup. Using a soup spoon, scoop the squash out of its skin and add it to the pot. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth. Taste, and season with more miso and/or maple syrup, if desired. Set the pot over high heat and bring the soup to a low boil, then decrease the heat to low and keep warm.
You may also puree the soup in a standing blender. Remove the vent in the blender lid, and loosely cover it with a towel to allow the steam to escape. If the soup seems too thick, it may be thinned out with water. If, when scooping, some of the skin gets into the blender, that’s fine – acorn squash skin is soft and edible.
In a small skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil until it shimmers. Stir in the paprika, and immediately remove from the heat.
Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle with the smoked paprika oil before serving.
Yield: 2 to 4 servings (makes 3 ½ cups soup)
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