On one of my first dates with my then-suitor, now-boyfriend, he asked me, “If you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?”
I can’t recall my answer—I’m thinking cheese or hummus, depending on what vibe I was trying to give off—but I’d like to formally change it to winter squash.
Despite the dismal thought that I could be restricted to one food for the rest of my life, in this moment, a lifetime of sweet winter squash doesn’t seem so terrible.
Every year, usually around the time that Starbucks holiday cups make their coveted comeback, I develop a one-track mind for winter gourd. To my fall-heightened taste buds, no food appeals in a more satiating way than the simultaneously sweet and salty winter squash.
First billed on my list of all-star gourds? Butternut squash. Even though its tough armor makes it a workout to prepare, its native fall flavor coupled with its textural versatility beckon me to roll up my sleeves any time my squash hankering hits.
Because butternut squash boasts a flavor worth appreciating in its simplicity, I often turn to roasting, baking or steaming it with just a few seasonings and spices.
This week’s recipe showcases butternut squash in its blended form. Helped along by a bit of salt and cayenne, this sweet, salty and slightly spicy soup covers all the flavor bases. And though entirely absent of dairy, the hearty squash blends into a thick and creamy “this has to be bad for me” consistency.
For an extra salty crunch, I turned to the trusty kale-chip to stand in as our crouton.
During this season of sugar abundance, this naturally sweet soup can help regulate and tame our over-stimulated sweets cravings. Need some extra nutritional incentive to blend up this week’s recipe?
Low in fat, high in fiber and packed with phytonutrients, butternut squash effortlessly lands on the heart-healthy nutrition A-list. Its orange glow signifies its abundance of carotenoids, shown to protect against heart disease and breast cancer.
Butternut squash also offers up plenty of potassium—important for bone health—along with vitamin B6, necessary for healthy nervous and immune systems (especially in vegan and vegetarian diets). Especially relevant during this everyone-around-me-is-sick season, one cup of our featured gourd packs more than half the recommended daily dose of vitamin C.
Meet kale – spinach’s prettier sister.
Remember your high school’s resident overachiever? Consider kale her equivalent in the nutrition world. Just when we — and by we, I mean Popeye — thought spinach was the one vegetable everybody should be eating, kale got popular. And for good reason: a one-cup serving packs more vitamin A & K than you’ll ever need and nearly 90 percent of the recommended daily value of vitamin C.
In the same vein as its partner in crime (salad), soup is an incredibly effective way to pack lots of nutrient-rich produce into one bowl. Starting your meal with a bowl of soup can also regulate your appetite. When our stomachs are quelled by a fiber-packed bowl of soup — like ours — our brains have a more accurate gauge of how hungry we are.
RECIPE: Butternut Squash Soup with Kale Chip “Croutons”
Serves 8-10 as an appetizer
INGREDIENTS for soup
1 extra large (3-4 pound) butternut squash, or two small
1 large onion, chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, more or less to taste
1 teaspoon sea salt, more or less to taste
8 cups vegetable stock
INGREDIENTS for kale
1 bunch kale
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt, less or more to taste
1. Peel and cut squash into 1-inch chunks.
2. In a large pot, heat olive oil and sauté onion until translucent. Add cayenne pepper and salt to taste, making sure to coat the onion. You’ll want to tailor the amount of salt to the type of vegetable broth, using less if your broth is full sodium. Let sit for one minute.
3. Add butternut squash and vegetable broth. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes, making sure squash is tender.
4. While soup is cooking, preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roughly rip kale, leaving behind the ribs, and coat with olive oil and salt. Arrange on an oil-sprayed baking sheet, making sure not to crowd the pan, and bake for 10-15 minutes.
5. Using an immersion blender, blend soup to desired consistency. If you don’t have a hand blender, use a slotted spoon to transfer squash chunks to a manual blender. And then return to pot once blended.
6. Top soup with crispy kale and serve immediately.
Sarah Levy is a New York City-based nutritionist and food writer. As a board-certified nutrition specialist and a self-certified foodie, Sarah believes in a bipartisan respect for our taste buds and our waistlines. While it is often assumed that sound nutrition and delicious food are mutually exclusive, Sarah is on a lifelong mission to teach others that nutritious can be delicious. When she's not consulting with clients of her private practice Health Should Taste Good, she's eating, cooking, "happy hour-ing" -- and blogging about it all at The Foodie Diaries.