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Writing Ruminations

Writing is such an internal process. Why not make those private ruminations public? This is how stories take shape and grow.

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Location: Happy Valley, Oregon, United States

I've been supporting myself as a writer for many years and am watching the changes in the publishing world with fascination. For me, sharing the craft, teaching, is as creatively satisfying as the writing process itself.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Eating Locally -- Winter Squash Soup

Well, the new year has begun and of course, it’s now the beginning of spring. Well, maybe it doesn’t seem like it if you’re buried under a foot of snow, but the days are getting longer and my garden year starts this month as I plant fava beans, peas, and start my spring cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, and the like. You know, local food is gaining attention and let me for one raise a cheer for anyone who buys locally at your farmers market. A few are open nearly all year ‘round, and those local small farmers are struggling, have always been struggling, and probably always will struggle. When you’re small and using labor in place of chemicals you are going to have a rough time producing food as cheaply as commercial growers with automated machinery who use sprays to reduce the need for expensive labor. (Weeding anyone?)

I think what stops a lot of folk from eating locally this time of year is that they’re not really sure what to do with the veggies that hang around all winter. Those include the hardy brassicas like cabbage, Brussels sprouts and the like, winter squash, root veggies, and so on. Since I religiously eat out of my garden year round, I’ve had to…surprise surprise…learn now to make a lot of less familiar veggies actually work as everyday dishes. So this year my new year’s resolution is to share a year of eating out of my garden. I’m going to offer at least one dish per month using something from my garden or ‘root cellar’. These are mostly going to be items you can find locally here in the Northwest or if you have room for a small garden or a couple of big containers, you can try growing them yourself. Along with that, I’ll tell you want I’m planting when. These are very ‘homestyle’ recipes, not something elegant to suit the pages of ‘Gourmet Magazine’ believe me!

Squash Soup Masala

I eat a lot of winter squash soup. I happen to love it, it satisfies my need for ‘orange’ in the winter, being full of vitamin A and assorted other nutritional goodies. Lots of fiber, too, and it’s very satisfying for the number of calories you consume. You can, of course, vary the flavorings a lot, but curry and winter squash seem made for each other. I use a Madras curry powder from an Asian grocery, so it has a bit more cinnamon in it than your supermarket yellow curry powder, but that works, too. Try a red or yellow Thai curry paste for a very different flavor. (If you do that, try squeezing a cut lime onto each bowl of soup). I add the tender greens for texture and to improve the nutritional quality – and because this time of year I am up to my tuckus in greens of all sorts, especially when we haven’t had a hard freeze.

Try varying ingredients to suit YOUR taste, adding more or less onion, garlic, curry, hot pepper. Experiment!

About 1 ½ - 2 pounds of cubed peeled yellow-flesh winter squash or pumpkin – any kind will do, from acorn to the huge banana squashes. More is fine. The soup is simply thicker if you add more.

One small onion, diced.

garlic to taste (1 clove or more) diced

minced fresh ginger – I use about ½ inch of root. Okay, powdered stuff will work, too. Try about ½ tsp.

chicken or veggie broth – about 2 quarts.

salt to taste (add at the end of cooking since that depends on the saltiness of the broth)

beet tops or other winter greens like kale or collard, sliced into fine ribbons and cut short so they don’t drip down your chin when you spoon them up.)

2 Tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry.

½ c cream or you can use soy milk.

Saute the onions in a very small amount of olive or other oil until soft and translucent, a few minutes.

Add the curry powder, ginger, and the garlic and sauté until fragrant. Don’t let the garlic brown or the spices burn.

Add the squash cubes and sauté very briefly to caramelize a bit of their sugars.

Add broth, bring to a boil, turn way down and allow the soup to barely simmer.

When squash is soft and cooked through, use a potato masher to mash the squash into the soup. If desired (I’m lazy, so I only do this for company) cool and puree in batches in a food processor or blender, or put it through a food mill or strainer. (I don’t mind bits of onion and some chunks of not-quite-mashed-fine squash). Then return it to the pot and bring it back to a simmer.

Add the finely cut green ribbons and cook only until the greens are tender --- this varies depending on what you use and how fresh they are.

Add the rice wine or sherry with the greens.

When the greens are tender and still green, not olive-drab, add the cream or soy milk. The cream makes it more velvety, but the soy milk thickens a bit and works, too, if you don’t want lactose. Bring the soup just back to a simmer and serve hot.

Because I love one pot meals, I usually make ‘main dish’ variations on this recipe. I will poach a few chunks of mild fish in the soup at the end, or poach eggs in it. I often add quinoa grain to the soup with the squash. The high protein grain cooks and disintegrates in the soup, adding protein and thickening it. You can add up to a cup of the grain with that two quarts of stock. As I said…experiment! For a different taste, add a half a chopped apple when you add the squash cubes. Apple, squash, and curry are a nice blend.

If desired, garnish it with croutons, a dollop of sour cream or crème fraiche if you’re feeling haut, toasted nuts, or use your imagination.

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Blogger David D. Levine said...

This sounds wonderful, and as we have a pumpkin and some kale from our CSA farm we will be making it this week!

9:14 AM  

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