Photo: Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton © 2013
Despite the inclusion of red chile, this is not a hot and spicy soup, unless, of course, you use a lot of it. The sweetness of squash naturally tempers the heat of the chile, as do the cinnamon and mint. I prefer to puree this soup, but you can leave it chunky. Either way, it is not taxing to make and it can be prepared the day before you plan to serve it -- or even an hour before.
Be sure you use pure ground red chile (molido), not the compound chili powder that contains other seasonings. Most supermarkets have a a section of Mexican or Latin American herbs and spices that will stock ground chile. I suggest you use medium rather than hot, unless heat is what you want.
If you don't have a squash that's easy to peel and chop, bake or steam 2 pounds squash until soft, about 35 minutes at 375°F or slightly less time in a steamer. Scoop out the flesh and measure 2 cups, which should be plenty. This method allows you to use squash varieties that are too hard to peel and cube, such as the ungainly Hubbard or the kabocha or Marina di Chioggia.
- 2 pounds or more winter squash such as butternut, Rugosa, or Musquée de Provence
- 2 tablespoons light sesame or olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 tablespoons chopped basil
- 1 teaspoon dried mint, or 1 tablespoons fresh
- 1 (3-inch) cinnamon stick
- Sea salt
- 2 to 3 teaspoons ground red chile powder
- 4 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock made with squash trimmings, or water
- 12 coriander seeds, 12 peppercorns, and 4 whole cloves, tied in a cheesecloth sachet
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Thinly sliced mint leaves, to finish
Peel the squash and cut the flesh into cubes; you should have about 2 cups. If you plan to serve the soup without pureeing it, cut the squash fairly neatly into scant 1/2-inch cubes so they fit easily into a soup spoon (and cut onion neatly too).
Heat the oil in a soup pot over medium heat. Add the squash, onion, basil, and mint and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Add the cinnamon stick, 1 teaspoon salt, and chile to taste followed by the stock and the spice sachet. Bring to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook, partially covered, until the squash is tender, 20 to 25 minutes, depending on the size of the cubes.
At this point you can serve the squash chunky with the cream and slivered mint in each bowl. Or you can remove the cinnamon stick and sachet, puree the soup, then reheat it. Stir in the cream, leaving it streaky, and ladle the soup into bowls. Finish each serving with fresh mint and a pinch of chile powder.