Recipe: Spicy Summer Squash Soup
Twice a month, Berkshire County native Alana Chernila, mother of two, and author of the cookbook, The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying & Start Making (Clarkson Potter), contributes a thoughtful and heartfelt essay/recipe created exclusively for Rural Intelligence readers. Her first cookbook has achieved top-seller status, and Chernila has a new one in the works, titled “The Homemade Kitchen,” due out this year.
The fog arrived this morning, just in time for the first day of school. I swear it does this every year, and every year I send Joey and the girls off to a new unknown, and they swim through the pea soup fog to get to the van. They wave to me and I scoot them away, eager to get back to work and to my newly quiet house, but also because I don’t want to get lost in the fog myself. I don’t want to get stuck in the moment, think about the time that’s passed. At least, not while they’re trying to get out the door. Everyone’s a little tired and dragging — we lived summer to the fullest until the very last moment last night.
But this fog always brings in the season for me. I remember waiting for the bus on Lake Buel Road in Great Barrington in the very same pea soup, nervous for seventh grade (far more so than Sadie seems to be this year). I remember the feeling of the cold cloudiness burning off to the heat that characterizes this summer that is not quite summer. The routine and rituals of the fall have already started, but it’s hot enough to swim after school if life’s hectic schedule allows. The bugs are loud, the air is thick and bright, and we live in the world in between the seasons.
And oh the produce! This is the best time of year to eat. There is so much food, so many amazing vegetables. But unlike the still heat of August, this heat eases through the day, inspires sweaters by 7, so miraculously, wonderfully, it’s an excellent time to cook. Gone are the salads and grill-only meals. Now we make roast chicken and maybe even a celebratory first week of school lasagna. Now we make soup, the best food for transitions.
This is a great one for right now. It’s mostly an Alice Waters recipe, and I shift the spice and the thickness as my mood and ingredients dictate. Lately I’ve been using fresh turmeric, which I’m now finding in all the grocery stores. It adds a brightness that I just don’t get with dried.
Spicy Summer Squash Soup with Yogurt and Mint
(adapted from Alice Waters’ The Art of Simple Food)
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, sliced fine
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon dried turmeric, or 1 teaspoon fresh grated turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
5 to 6 medium green or yellow summer squash, cut into 1/2-inch slices
6 cups of stock, water, or some combination of the two
1/4 cup mint leaves, cut into ribbons
1 cup plain yogurt
Lime wedges, for serving
1. Heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil in a large, heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion and spices and cook, stirring often, until the onion is soft, about 10 minutes.
2. Add the garlic, summer squash, and a sprinkle of salt. Cook for another few minutes, then add the stock or water. Raise the heat to medium high, cover the pot, and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook, covered, until the squash is tender, 15 to 20 minutes.
3. While the soup cooks, make the yogurt. Pound the mint with a little salt in a mortar and pestle (or in a bowl with the back of a wooden spoon). Add the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, continuing to pound the mint into a paste. Then stir in the yogurt, taste, and add salt if necessary.
4. Let the soup cool for a few minutes — then blend in an upright blender (carefully) or with an immersion blender. Taste, and adjust salt if necessary. Serve with a dollop of yogurt, and lime wedges on the side.