Meatless Monday: Thai Butternut Squash and Corn Bisque

I have never really been interested in living a low-fat vegan lifestyle, but having a gallbladder that has decided to hate the world, or at least me, has caused me to eat more than my fair share of vegan entrees recently.

Pain is a great motivator. If I so much as -think- of eating more than an ounce or so of cheese, I pay for it later.

We won’t even discuss how most meat makes me feel.

And eggs. Ugh. Mayonnaise–i don’t even want to think about it. Cream? Oh, good lord, no!

Low-fat milk I can have once a day without too much drama. A bit of olive oil is fine, but no nuts. Nope, none.

So, I have some vegan recipes to sling at y’all that are really, really fine. I mean it. They’re good, and I’m not just saying it because they don’t make me hurt after I eat them! And besides being really fine-tasting, they are really nutritious and filled with great, delicious vegetables.

Take this soup, for example.

It all came about because I had bought some aseptically packaged vegetarian soups by Pacific Foods for quick lunches for myself. I had gotten two “cream” soups–a butternut squash and a “buttery corn.”

They were–in a word–hideous. Which is sad, because their plain tomato soup and their roasted red pepper and tomato soup are quite good, but these two were just–ick. I tried combining them together and adding curry spices in an attempt to make them taste better, but my efforts were all to no avail. The soups were just not good.

But they gave me an idea.

Why not make my own curried corn and butternut squash bisque?

So I figured I’d do that, but as I began planning out the soup in my head, I began to think about what I would put in it. Yogurt would be great–it would give it a nice North Indian touch, but with my tolerance for dairy products at an all-time low, I thought maybe I should use something else. Like maybe low-fat coconut milk, which normally I would shun, but for this purpose, I figured it would be fine. (Now, if your digestive system is fine with fats, by all means, use real, live full-fat coconut milk. And eat an extra spoonful for me, okay?)

But once I thought of the coconut milk, I decided on something else. Why use Indian spices? Why not go with Thai flavors?

The more I thought about it, the more I liked it, so I broke out the frozen galangal and lime leaves and picked up some fresh lemongrass at the Asian market here in town, and went up on my deck and picked some of my own ripe Thai chilies.

And then, I got down to work.

I cut two fifty-cent piece sized slices of galangal (about 1/2 inch thick) into halves and tossed them in the pot with one 14 ounce can of low-fat coconut milk and two cups of vegetable stock. Then, in went two stalks of lemongrass, cut into chunks and lightly crushed and two kaffir lime leaves. These I simmered for about a half an hour while I peeled and cut up the vegetables.

I peeled and scraped the seeds out of a two pound butternut squash, then cut the flesh up into large chunks. I also peeled and quartered a small onion, peeled and cubed a normal-sized sweet potato and a medium sized Yukon Gold potato. All of these went into the pot, along with a peeled and thinly sliced 1″ cube of fresh ginger and three peeled cloves of garlic. A bare teaspoon of Thai red curry paste also went into the gently simmering pot.

Once the vegetables are completely softened, the soup was very fragrant and well-seasoned with the Thai aromatic trinity of galanagal, lemongrass and lime leaves. I fished them out and discarded them, then took about a cup and a half of the liquid out of the soup and set it aside.

The rest I seasoned with Thai soy sauce (or, if you are not concerned with being a vegetarian, you can use fish sauce–which I truly would prefer) right before I broke out my immersion blender and pureed the whole lot into a lovely smooth, thick mango-colored soup. I added the liquid back to the pot and stirred it in to thin the soup to the desired thickness–i wanted it only to be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon easily–then I added a little bit more of the soy sauce.

At that point, I stirred in 1 cup of frozen corn kernels, though I really think that roasted fresh corn cut off the cob would be better. (In order to give the smoky taste that roasted corn would add to the bisque, I sprinkled in some Spanish smoked paprika. Sneaky of me, I know.)

Then, I brought the soup back to a simmer to heat the corn through, seasoned it to taste with lime juice and then garnished it with slivers of scallion tops, lots of cilantro leaves, a sprinkling of sliced ripe red Thai chilies and another dusting of smoked paprika.

It turned out fantastic! Even Zak loved it–and he doesn’t much care for soup, nor does he like butternut squash. It was so velvety smooth, he couldn’t believe it was low fat–though he suggested that if I was going to serve it in a restaurant setting, I should add a dollop of coconut cream on the top for a garnish. The flavors are amazing–it is somewhere between the tangy-spicy herbal flavor of Tom Kha Gai and the best butternut squash or sweet potato soup you have ever had with a little Thai curry mixed in for fun. It is spicy, sweet, tangy and rich all at the same time without being heavy or overly filling.

How did I get it to be velvety smooth without much in the way of rich coconut milk and absolutely no cream?

It was the addition of the potato that did it. This is a trick I learned when I was cooking for vegan clients back when I was a personal chef. A good creamy boiling potato like a Red Bliss or Yukon Gold will thicken soups and make them velvety smooth if they are pureed, all without adding fat or any dairy products at all.

Now, whenever I make any creamy vegetable soup, even if I plan on using full-fat dairy products in it for richness, I still add some potato, because it adds a really sinful texture and gives the soup amazing body without necessitating the use of as much cream as I would normally have to use.

This way you end up with a still delicious, rich soup that is much lighter than the usual cream soups, so you can use it as a first course without worrying that your guests will fill up.

As for this bisque, I used it as a main course for myself, alongside a good green salad. It would do equally well as a first course.

Thai Butternut Squash and Corn Bisque
Ingredients:

1 14 ounce can of regular or low-fat coconut milk
2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
2 stalks of lemongrass, lower third of stalks only, cut into two pieces each and lightly crushed with the back of your knife
2 1/2″ thick slices of fresh or frozen galangal, each cut in half
2 fresh or frozen kaffir lime leaves
1 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 2 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into medium-sized cubes
1 medium sized sweet potato, peeled and cut into similarly sized chunks to the butternut squash
1 medium Yukon Gold potato peeled and cut into the same size cubes and chunks as the sweet potato and squash
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
3 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 1″ cube of peeled fresh ginger cut into thin slices
2 cups frozen or fresh or roasted corn kernels
Thai soy sauce or fish sauce to taste
fresh lime juice to taste (you will probably need about 1 small lime’s worth!)
cilantro leaves, sliced fresh Thai chilies and sliced scallion tops for garnish
smoked Spanish paprika for garnish

Method:

Put the coconut milk and stock in a medium sized pot and add the lemongrass, galangal and lime leaves. Add the Thai red curry paste and paprika, then bring to a simmer over medium heat. Turn the heat down to low and cook for 1/2 hour while you prepare the other ingredients. After the half hour is up, add the vegetables, garlic and ginger (but not the corn kernels) and cook over low heat until the vegetables are fully cooked and soft, but not falling apart.

Remove about a cup to a cup and a half of the liquid and set aside. Remove the galangal, lemongrass and lime leaves and discard. Puree the rest of the ingredients right in the pot, and add back some or all of the liquid you set aside. Stir n the corn kernels and season to taste with soy sauce or fish sauce. Turn off heat and add lime juice to taste, then garnish with the cilantro leaves and sliced chilies and scallion tops.

Makes enough to feed four adults as a main dish with a salad and a bread, or enough for eight first course portions.

11 Comments

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  1. Oh my goodness – this looks heavenly! And I have a dozen bags of frozen corn in the freezer and a squash in the fridge. I think it’s going to be on the menu this week!

    Funny you mentioning the potato trick – just last night I was browsing through some old recipe cards and I found some notes I had jotted on how my grandmother made cream soups and was surprised to see “1 grated potato”. Now I know!

    Comment by Meg — October 5, 2009 #

  2. I had the exact same experience with the Pacific Foods soups. We eat the tomato ones on a regular basis but the butternut squash was quite traumatic. Ugh. I tried making something like this once, only no corn and with sweet potato. It’s a good place for canned curry paste. I’m going to give yours a try….

    Comment by Laura — October 5, 2009 #

  3. Oh meant to also say I am sorry about your health woes. Food restrictions suck. :(

    Comment by Laura — October 5, 2009 #

  4. I agree about the PF squash soup. I thought it was disappointing. Yours sounds delicious.

    I really liked this Peter Berley soup recipe I found in Fresh Food Fast last winter – pumpkin, pear and fennel soup.
    http://hungrywoolf.com/2008/11/01/november-1st/

    Comment by hungrywoolf — October 5, 2009 #

  5. Oh, Bethia–that soup sounds frakkin’ awesome! I must try it. MUST!

    Laura–thank you for the kind words about the gallbladder. I am lucky in that, yeah, it hurts, but it isn’t so bad that I think I am dying of a heart attack. Sometimes, for some people, it is that bad.

    I guess it is a universal experience that the PF butternut squash soup is a downer. Maybe the flavor of the squash cannot survive the heat of processing for the aseptic packaging. The tomato soups are killer, though–I had some of the roasted red pepper/tomato for lunch today and with minimal doctoring, it makes for a great soup.

    Comment by Barbara — October 5, 2009 #

  6. Hi Barbara, hope you are feeling well. I just wanted to let you know that coconut oil doesn’t require bile acid to break down therefore since your gall bladder is acting up you should be okay to eat full fat coconut products. also, have you ever tried Swedish bitters? they help in the digestion of fat and may be helpful in your transition.

    Comment by sarah — October 6, 2009 #

  7. I made this soup this weekend. My wife and I loved it. When you first see it, the flavor is not what you are expecting.

    Comment by John Rogers — October 11, 2009 #

  8. John–I do like to surprise people with flavors. It is fun. I am glad you liked it so much–not only are the Thai herbs and spices delicious, they are very good for you–some of them have antibiotic properties.

    Comment by Barbara — October 11, 2009 #

  9. How do you puree right in the pot???
    I’m thinking I will use the blender or just squish the vegetables against the side of the pot? I am right in the middle of making this. Vegetables are cooking now. Oh my!

    Comment by Laura Johnson — January 25, 2010 #

  10. Laura, you use what is called an immersion blender, or a stick blender. They don’t cost too much and they make the creation of cream soups and and various sauces much easier than using a regular blender.

    But if all you have is a regular blender, use it!

    Comment by Barbara — January 26, 2010 #

  11. I used the blender and the soup was amazing!!! Thank you so much for providing the recipe.

    Comment by Laura Johnson — January 26, 2010 #

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