Let’s face it. When you were growing up, most Thanksgiving Day meals were pretty predictable. It was a mashup of potatoes, squash, carrots, green beans, and maybe sweet potatoes. Some dishes had decidedly more lumps – and flavor – than others. None were exactly steaming hot by the time they made it to the table.
These days, however, even the most traditional of cooks tries to add a little variety to the menu, and the best (and trendiest) way seems to be with some sort of harvest vegetable soup.
According to Epicurious.com, butternut squash soup was the most frequently searched item on its website in 46 out of 50 states last November. Bon Appetit’s special holiday edition this month features squash soup made with bacon and sour cream. Ina Garten (the Barefoot Contessa) and Giada De Laurentiis have both sung the praises of butternut squash soup on their Food Network shows.
Butternut squash does seem to be an ideal veggie to turn into a soup, although cutting the squash can be a scary undertaking (even if you watch a YouTube video on how to do it). The Barefoot Contessa gives squash soup an Indian flair with curry and apples. She also roasts the veggies and apples first before adding them to the stock. De Laurentiis gives her squash soup an Italian spin with olive oil, garlic and fresh sage.
Local food blogger Maeghan Lovejoy of Kennebunkport also has a butternut squash soup on her blog, “The Way to His Heart.” She makes it with brown sugar, fresh ginger and cinnamon. Lovejoy bakes the squash halves, cut side down, on an oiled cookie sheet for 50 minutes to soften them. After peeling, she combines the chopped-up squash with 5 cups of low-salt chicken broth and previously saute?ed onion, ginger, garlic and cinnamon. After boiling, the ingredients simmer for 10 minutes until ready to be pureed with a blender and served. The soup is rich and creamy, but without the cream or the guilt, Lovejoy says.
The great thing about substituting a soup for one of those mashable vegetables, Lovejoy says, is that you can make it a day or two before the holiday and be assured that it will taste just as good when you heat it up on Thanksgiving Day. Also, serving soup allows you to use your full set of china – not just the plates and serving bowls– adding to the de?cor of your Thanksgiving spread.
As for the best time to serve the soup, Lovejoy says it’s advantageous to pour the soup and garnish while the rest of the meal is finishing cooking. That will get your guests and family to the table and keep them from snacking too much on appetizers before the meal.
“Soup is a lovely way to warm your belly while you are waiting for the main event,” says Lovejoy, who has been blogging about food for five years. “It’s better for you and won’t fill you up as much as all of those little bites will.”
Soup is also a great addition to the menu if you have any vegans at the table. While a cup of soup may not be all that filling, a big, steamy bowl with some bread or rolls can make you feel like you’ve definitely taken part in the feast.
According to Lovejoy, whose original recipes have won awards and been featured on such shows as the “Today” show and on websites such as Buzzfeed, squash isn’t the only vegetable you can transform into a gourmet item on Thanksgiving Day. She also touts pumpkin, potato, leek, mushroom, celery, broccoli and spinach as great choices for Thanksgiving soups. She’s planning on posting the recipe for a creamy sweet potato soup in time for Thanksgiving. Wild rice barley soup also pairs nicely with the turkey dinner, Lovejoy says.
“Soups are also a great way to incorporate some seafood into a traditionally non-seafood affair,” she says. “Add some poached lobster to squash or pumpkin soup as a wonderful garnish, as well as a special treat.”
Lovejoy’s recipe for silky spinach soup sounds enticing, healthy and definitely different. Ingredients include a russet potato, 8 ounces of baby spinach leaves and vegetable stock. The soup is flavored with sherry, nutmeg and cayenne.
“A great, comforting way to be good,” Lovejoy says of this soup.
Then there’s the day (or two) after the big feast, when you still have turkey left, but the stuffing and gravy are long gone. Lovejoy sometimes freezes a leftover leg of the bird and thaws it out when she wants to make a hearty turkey chowder. She adds potato, carrots, celery, corn and thickens it with cheese – a turkey-day reprise, without the lumps.
2 butternut squash (about 4 ³/4 lbs total), halved lengthwise and seeded2 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus some for oiling baking sheet.2 cups thinly sliced onion1 tablespoon golden brown sugar2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped½ cinnamon stick5 cups (or more) low-salt chicken brothOptional garnishes: Chopped fresh parsley, pepitas, crystallized ginger or creme fraiche Pre-heat oven to 375 F.Oil a baking sheet and place the squash, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the squash until it is very soft, about 50 minutes. Using a paring knife, remove the peel from the squash and discard the peel. Cut the squash into 2-inch pieces.In a large, heavy pot over, heat oil on medium-low heat. Add onion, ginger, brown sugar, garlic, and cinnamon. Cover pot and cook until the onion is tender, about 15 minutes. Add squash and five cups of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove cinnamon.In batches, puree the soup in a blender. Return the soup to the pot and season with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer, thinning the soup with more broth if necessary. Ladle into bowls and garnish.Serves 6, 1½ cups per serving.5 cups water1 celery stalk, with top,sliced ¼-inch thick1 medium carrot, sliced ¼-inch thick1 frozen turkey leg, thawed(or leftover cooked turkey leg)1 teaspoon salt½ teaspoon pepper¼ tsp dried basil leaves½ cup diced yellow onion1 pound russet potatoes, ½-inch cubes1 10 ounce package frozen corn2½ tablespoons all-purpose flour1 cup milk½ cup grated cheddar cheeseChopped parsley for garnish In a large stock pot, add water, celery, carrot, turkey leg (if using frozen, if using leftover cooked wait), salt, pepper, and basil. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1½ hours or until the turkey is very tender. Remove the turkey leg and place on a cutting board to cool slightly.Add the onion, potatoes, and corn to the pot and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, when the turkey is cool enough to handle remove and discard the skin and bones. Cut the turkey meat into ½-inch pieces. Test the vegetables in the soup to see if they are tender. Add the meat (add previously cooked, leftover turkey meat here as well) and cook for a few minutes until the meat is hot.Place flour in a small bowl and gradually stir in milk, using a whisk to stir and remove all lumps. Pour the milk mixture into the soup, stirring constantly. Add the grated cheese and cook, stirring constantly, until the soup returns to a boil.Cook for several minutes longer, stirring constantly, until the cheese has melted and the soup has thickened slightly. Serve hot, filling soup bowls and garnishing with parsley.Serves 6, makes 64 ounces.Adapted from McCall’s Cooking School 1984