The new year has come. We’ve indulged plenty over the holidays, and now seek healthier dishes to go along with our workout routines. But you know, I’m not ready for it. I am still in winter mode. I crave butter, cheese, creamy pasta sauces, bread, and thick spoonfuls of squash soup. Eating mostly a vegan diet, I have found luxurious ways to make healthy versions of all things craveable, and this soup is a perfect example.
Sometimes I figure out a way to make something vegan by using a little creative sorcery. Cashews replace cream and butter, and miso lends a richer salty flavor to enhance the kabocha and butternut squash in this soup. I just made this recipe up in my kitchen the other night because I had half of a kabocha squash leftover in the fridge, and a lone butternut squash calling out in my produce basket. I used an entire red onion that I julienned using a mandoline (I love the thin slivers that melt into caramelized flavor) and sautéed it slowly in olive oil to begin the base of the soup.
I like to make soup every Sunday, and if I skip making it for whatever reason— we go out for the day and/or I don’t do my usual grocery shopping— I make soup on Monday. There are several variations of my signature soups depending on the season, mood, weather, or whim. Over the years, my squash soup variations have changed but the technique and basic ingredients tend to stay the same.
“…there is a paradox between the written recipe and the creation of a taste.” Jacques Pepin
When you are making this soup as I do in my own kitchen, be open to making your own changes. As someone who entirely improvises in cooking, I have never properly followed a recipe (with the exception of cooking classes in French classic cooking and pastry). Certain recipes must be followed, and French pastry does not hold up to improvisation unless you are a skilled pastry chef. Aside from formal and classic recipes, I think of cooking much like playing a musical instrument or painting. Trust your creative instincts. In your own style of cooking, you become more confident in adding ingredients or leaving out and replacing other ingredients as inspiration strikes. This came out so well that I decided to share it. Keep in mind, I am not an exacting person. If I say I used a heaping spoonful of white miso, my measurements may be made by a quick glance of the eye, not a measuring spoon. But I really think you will do just fine with this one, as the main ingredients are not intimidating or complicated in any way. I have a close friend who says my recipes are “daunting” and she’s afraid to try any of them in her kitchen. I hope she tries to make this soup and discovers that it is not such a complex task.
As with most puréed soups and velouté sauces, a good high speed blender is absolutely necessary. My Vitamix blender is going on 6 years old and I use it every single day. To make a soup like this, I highly recommend a powerful blender, since the cashews*, onion, squash and broth must blend into a velvety soup to make this recipe. Other than that, the squash, or rather pumpkin (kabocha means “pumpkin” in Japanese) shines with golden flavor, paired with white miso. Top your soup with toasted pumpkin seeds and a sprinkle of spices.
*Cashews are wonderful when replacing cream and butter for vegan dishes. Recently I came across cultured vegan butter from Miyoko’s Kitchen (I almost ate an entire butter stick!) which is made with cashews and coconut oil. It tasted so much like unsalted butter that I could not control myself and spread it on cracker after cracker after cracker.
Here is how you can make this delicious soup at home:
Miso Pumpkin Soup
- 1 large red onion, chopped or julienned
- generous pour of olive oil (about 4-5 tablespoons)
- 1/2 kabocha squash (pumpkin), peeled and chopped
- 1 large butternut squash (or two small ones), peeled and chopped
- splash of sherry
- 1 1/2 quarts vegetable broth
- 1 cup raw cashews, unsalted
- 1/3 cup raw sunflower seeds, unsalted
- pinch of sea salt, to season
- 2 heaping tablespoons white miso paste
- pinch of turmeric powder, to season
- pinch of cayenne or spice blend (optional), to season
- toasted pumpkin seeds, garnish (optional)
In a large pot, sauté the red onion in a generous amount of olive oil on low heat. Allow the onion to simmer in its juices until it turns translucent, about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally, until the onion has browned and sticks to the bottom of the pot.
Dash in a splash of cooking sherry (optional) and let it cook off. Pour in the vegetable broth.
Add the chopped squash to the broth and simmer on medium heat, about 20 minutes, until the squash is soft.
Once the squash is soft, turn off the flame and add in the cashews and sunflower seeds. Allow the cashews to soften in the hot broth for a few minutes until ready for blending.
Scoop out two heaping tablespoons of miso paste and put it in a Pyrex measuring cup. Ladle a little bit of the broth (without any cashews or squash pieces) and pour it into the measuring cup with the miso paste. Stir the miso paste until smooth.
Pour the miso paste mixture into the pot and stir.
Season and blend the soup. Blend in batches using a high speed blender. Pour the blended soup in a separate clean pot until all of the soup is blended.
Place the puréed soup back on the stove top and turn on the flame to low simmer. Do not boil this soup because the miso will lose its nutritious probiotics. Miso is a fermented food. Here we are treating it as a seasoning, however, what also makes this soup nourishing is the healing properties of miso.
Only bring the soup to a gentle simmer as you season it with turmeric, sea salt, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne if you’d like a little heat. Season and taste until you find the soup has a good flavor balance.
Serve with toasted pumpkin seeds as garnish and crusty bread or nutrient-dense crackers. Flax crackers with vegan butter spread make this soup quite a luscious meal on a cold night. To save the remaining soup, pour into a container and save in the fridge for 3-4 days. Reheat gently in a pot on the stove, bringing the heat just up to simmer.