A winter storm’s cooking: Red lentil soup with red kouri squash and coconut milk

“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!” William Shakespeare, King Lear, 3.2.1

It’s angry weather out there. The first real snowstorm of the winter finally hit, just when we were thinking we would sail through to spring with barely a freeze. With close to six inches on the ground by mid-afternoon and no sign of the storm slackening yet, the rest of the family headed out to shovel and play in the powder.

Me? I’m making soup.

My favorite winter meal is a hearty soup and fresh bread. A soup based on beans or lentils can usually be put together with pantry staples and, if you use canned or pre-cooked beans, you can have soup in under an hour. Red lentils are a particular favorite of mine as they take well to a variety of spices and cook in just 20 minutes. I happened to have a red kouri squash lying around, but I could have used butternut or buttercup. Or sweet potatoes.

Years ago, I learned the South Indian technique of  making onion-garlic paste or ginger-garlic paste for flavoring dishes and often use it when I don’t want chunks of those aromatics in my food. The mini-chopper attachment for my immersion blender was perfect for this task, but I burned out the motor a couple of months ago and haven’t yet replaced it. A full-size blender worked just fine in this case.

Ingredients
1 large onion
1-inch piece of gingerroot, peeled
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons safflower oil
1 cup celery, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
2 cups red kouri squash, peeled and cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup red lentils
5 cups water or vegetable stock
1 small (5.46 oz.) can coconut milk
1 teaspoon sriracha hot sauce, or to taste

Hack the onion into 8 pieces, the ginger in four, and smash the garlic to remove the peel. Heave the lot of them into a blender with 1/2 cup water and punch the button. Puree until smooth. Now that you’ve gotten that out of your system, you can be a little more gentle with the rest of the process.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot on med-high. Add the pureed aromatics and saute until translucent and mellowed, about 10 minutes. Add the celery, carrot, and squash, and cook, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, cumin, and turmeric, stir and cook for 1 minute. Add the lentils, stir, and cook for 1 minute. Add the water, stir, and simmer, partially covered, for 20 minutes, or until the lentils have broken down and the squash is soft. Add the coconut milk and sriracha. Simmer for another 15 minutes. Adjust seasonings and serve with toasted coconut or chopped cilantro.

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