The stretch of time between Thanksgiving and Christmas inherently seems to kill my palate.
I am literally and figuratively stuffed from days of cooking the Thanksgiving feast. And after eating leftovers for days, I have little or no desire for food. Perhaps it’s that I overdid it a bit for my favorite holiday, as I tend to do. The joy of cooking fades into the early arriving sunset on these short winter days and I have little appetite.
But, being one who never gives up, as I was recently and appreciatively reminded by my college roommate, I continue to cook so there is something for us to eat. The truth is few things spark my interest and David is equally unmotivated. I made an amazing and authentic Mexican red pozole last week (featuring locally-grown New Mexican blue pozole, of course) and invited a bunch of friends over to join us for this traditional Mexican dish. Even though pozole is a meal, I also served guacamole, homemade salsa, pumpkin flan and copious copitas (cups) of Herradura Reposado tequila. We carefully ushered this bottle back with us from our trip to Mexico last month and we were happyto share the goodness. For the designated drivers, I made agua de jamaica.
While the meal was exquisite, it was a bit complicated–two days of work. As it was my first foray making pozole, I promise to appreciate it so much more when someone else makes it. Because I won’t be making it again.
Hoping to evoke a bit of the seasonal spirit, I made several kinds of cookies including these and a variation of these, which didn’t turn out as I had hoped. Instead of eating “meals,” David and I have been subsisting on yogurt and fruit for breakfast and nibbling on roasted vegetables and salad. We are leaning on simple foods that require neither effort nor planning, and that works well for me right now during this laissez faire culinary mode.
I even sat down with folders of recipes wishing something would knock me off my chair and get David’s blessing as well. Nothing I showed him sparked any interest, so we resumed our baked potatoes, roasted vegetables and salad situation.
Inspiration in Produce
Then a funny thing happened when I went to the grocery store. I got a bit of inspiration for a soup recipe I wanted to make that David gave thumbs down. But I decided to risk it and make it anyway because the signs were clear that I needed to.
Organic butternut squash was on special.
Organic red peppers were, too. I had homemade vegetable stock in the fridge and frozen corn in the freezer and cilantro and jalapenos in the fridge. The only other ingredient I needed was a can of black beans.
When It’s Meant to Be
Oddly enough, this recipe is one that has been in my folder for 10 years, since it was published in the December 2008 issue of Bon Appetit magazine. It hails from Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, a spa known for its exquisite culinary program centered on plant-based foods featuring vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options. They even have a six-acre farm where they grow their produce. This soup combines the three sisters–squash, beans and corn. After living in New Mexico for a year, it’s time I celebrate these Native American sisters by making a hearty and nourishing soup that I hope will reignite my desire for food and cooking.
The roasted butternut squash serves as the creamy base and gives the soup stock an incredible flavor. Once it’s pureed, it becomes silky. Then you add the remaining two sisters of corn and beans, along with red pepper, cilantro and a touch of jalapeno–all of which gives the soup some heft but doesn’t make it heavy. A dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream will elevate this soup to a new level of creaminess and a welcome hint of tang.
If you are searching for the ideal soup to serve your family or yourself–something that nourishes and pleases the palates–have faith in the three sisters. They will never let you down. The best part is that this soup costs significantly less than a week at Rancho La Puerta spa.
Azteca Squash Soup
Known as the three sisters, this soup incorporates squash, beans and corn to create a hearty but not heavy soup that is a cousin to tortilla soup. It's rich and flavorful and loaded with texture. It comes together easily and can be doubled for a big group. It's vegan and can remain that way if you don't add any yogurt or sour cream.
- 1 1/2-2 pound butternut squash halved and seeds removed
- 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion chopped
- 1 cup celery chopped
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 2 cloves garlic diced
- 6 cups vegetable broth homemade or low sodium , divided (1 cup/5 cups)
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
- 1 15-ounce can black beans drained and rinsed
- 1 cup corn kernels
- 1 red bell pepper chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro chopped
- 1 small jalapeno stem and seeds removed and minced
- 1 teaspoon thyme dried
- More salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste, when serving
- Toppings such as sour cream or plain yogurt, cilantro, crumbled tortilla chips
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Prepare a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
Sprinkle salt and pepper on each butternut squash half and place both cut-side down on the baking sheet. Roast squash until it's soft and tender, about 1 hour or a little longer.
Remove from the oven and turn the squash cut-side up and allow it to cool.
In a heavy soup pot, place over medium heat and add the tablespoon of olive oil. Once it's hot, add the chopped onion and saute until it begins to turn a bit golden, about 10 minutes. mix in the celery and garlic and stir well to combine.
Add 1 cup of the broth, cover and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Now scoop the squash from the shell and add to the pot. Also add the remaining 5 cups of broth and cumin. Stir well, cover and simmer for 20 minutes so the flavors marry.
Using either an immersion blender or a blender, puree the soup so it's all smooth. If using a blender, return the soup to the pot and, if needed, thin it out with a bit more broth.
Add black beans, corn, red pepper, cilantro, jalapeno and thyme and stir well to combine. Cover soup and simmer 10 minutes.
Taste soup and add more salt, if needed, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.
Ladle soup into bowl,s and garnish with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, crushed tortilla chips and cilantro.