Butternut Squash Soup and Chickpea Cassoulet

Autumn produce is all about comfort food, and butternut squash is the key ingredient for the season’s best recipes.

This month, I teamed up with Melissa’s Produce to come up with some recipes using their new fall line of produce. Melissa’s Pinterest page is positively captivating, and it was hard to narrow it down to a few different types of recipes. I decided to make a full dinner — soup and a hearty entrée — but first, I needed to get into that squash.

The best and easiest way to get the most out of your hard-skinned winter squashes — from pumpkins to butternut squash to red kuri — is to cut them into manageable pieces and roast or grill them. Once the pieces are cool, the rinds come off really easily and you can use the squash for anything.

roasted butternut squash

I usually roast one or two at the same time, then keep the chunks in the fridge to use in soups, salads, stir-frys, even desserts. Just check out all of the recipes that other local food bloggers came up with for this challenge, below!

roasted butternut squash

Using the box of produce from Melissa’s, I decided to make a full meal, including a hearty soup and a fast-cooking spin on a classic cassoulet.

Spicy Butternut Squash Soup

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash, roasted and cubed
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, diced
  • 2 tbsp ghee or butter
  • 2 shallots, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 quart vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp. red Thai curry paste (*or 1 small can of tomatillo salsa for milder flavor)
  • handful of fresh pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 2 tbsp sour cream for garnish

After the butternut squash is roasted and peeled, cook the pieces in a pot with butter or ghee as well as the garlic and apple. (Sautee the shallots in a separate pan and set aside when caramelized.) When the garlic/apple/squash mixture is heated thoroughly, add the curry paste and stock, and bring to a boil.

Spicy Butternut Squash and Apple soup
(*Note: Thai curry paste is very spicy. If you’re serving people who are sensitive to too much heat, substitute 1 can of green tomatillo salsa for the red curry paste. You’ll still get the peppery flavor without all the burn.)

Once the soup has been brought to a boil, cover the pot, turn the heat down, and let it simmer for about 20 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth, then add in the grated cheese and 1 tablespoon of sour cream. Mix thoroughly.

When serving, add a dollop of sour cream, and garnish with the caramelized shallots and toasted pine nuts.

spicy butternut squash soup recipe card

* * *

For the entrée, we have an awesome quick cassoulet. Traditionally a cassoulet is a French peasant dish made with pheasant, mutton, and frankly, whatever meat and beans were available. Traditionally, it’s also slow cooked for upwards of 4-6 hours, using dried beans and employing fancy French cooking pots. Mine uses a simple cast-iron skillet and is heavy on the hearty, fall vegetables and pre-steamed beans from Melissa’s. So, instead of taking 6 hours, my recipe takes less than two hours total – including all of the chopping. Perfect for a cold weeknight.

Fall Vegetable Cassoulet

  • 1/2 medium butternut squash, roasted and cubed
  • 1 package of pre-steamed chickpeas
  • 4-5 baby yellow Dutch potatoes
  • 1 package of your favorite breakfast sausage (I used one with sage and pork)
  • 1 boneless chicken breast, cubed
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3-4 carrots, diced
  • 3-4 shallots, diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 4 slices of bacon, chopped (I used my homemade bacon)
  • salt and pepper
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 2-3 chives, diced
  • 3-4 tbsp olive oil

Slice, dice and chop all of your vegetables. Add olive oil to your deep-dish cast-iron pan and start to caramelize the carrots, shallot, garlic and onion with the chicken breast, bacon and sausage. Sautee for about 5-10 minutes, until the meat is browned and the vegetables are cooked through, then mix in the chickpeas, butternut squash and potatoes.

cassoulet

Fill the pan with stock and bring to a boil, then cover, lower the heat, and let simmer for about 45 minutes. Try to not peek and let out all the steam — which will be hard to do when it starts to smell really good. When it’s ready, the liquid will have mostly cooked out, and what’s left will be a thick sauce. Serve with diced chive for garnish.

cassoulet recipe card

I’ve never really been a fan of pre-prepared produce before, but I am starting to change my mind. After taking a peek at the delicious pre-steamed blackeyed peas, chickpeas and fava beans, I had to take full advantage. The pre-steamed chickpeas turn allowed me to make a slow-cooked classic in less than a couple of hours, and this awesome, super-fast warm potato salad.

Quick Warm Potato Salad

  • 1 package of Melissa’s pre-steamed, peeled baby potatoes
  • 5 slices of bacon (try homemade bacon)
  • 2 shallots, diced
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp sour cream

Dice the bacon and cook in a cast-iron pan with a pat of butter. Once the bacon is browned (not fully cooked, but close), add the shallots, more butter and the pre-steamed potatoes. Brown the potatoes on all sides for about 2 minutes on each side and season with salt and pepper while cooking.

Remove from heat and put in a bowl with more butter, feta cheese and sour cream. Toss briskly and serve immediately.

Warm Potato Salad with Bacon and Shallot

Disclaimer: Melissa’s Produce graciously provided most of the produce I used in this post, but no other financial consideration was given for my opinions or ideas.

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October Unprocessed Made Easy: It’s the Little Things

How’s your October Unprocessed challenge going? This is my second year going clean for the month of October, and I see why this is really a lifestyle change instead of a simple diet or weight loss challenge. The more you employ small changes into your daily routines and everyday meals, the more an Unprocessed challenge won’t feel like such a challenge.

Obviously, living unprocessed is harder than it looks. It’s a great month-long challenge simply because it’s kind of hard to stick with. But making really small changes every day can help you eat clean the other 11 months of the year.

Here are a few small things that have worked for me, year-round:

Homemade condiments

Often, condiments and sauces are some of the first things people ask me about when I tell them about the Unprocessed challenge, but those sauces are some of the easiest things to make from scratch — and to leave out all of the mono-whatdjacallit sodium-hydrox-o-OMG. Seriously, read the label of the bottles in your fridge sometime. Most of them start with simple ingredients (salt, vinegar, tomatoes, etc.), and them all of a sudden, it goes off the rails with additives and stuff you can’t pronounce.

The solution is simple: Give up the labels and make your own. It’s very simple to make fresher, tastier, healthier versions of most of the condiments in your refrigerator right now. For the cost of a bottle of BBQ sauce laden with corn syrup, or mass-produced sriracha, or preservative- and dye-packed ketchup, or fake mustard, you can make a far better, healthier, tastier, cleaner version at home.

Here are my favorite condiments to make at home:

mustard

– salad dressings (usually I use a few tablespoons of homemade mustard or homemade jam, and put it in a mason jar with a bit of vinegar, some fresh herbs and olive oil, then shake it up)

sriracha (also kraut and kimchi)

curry ketchup and roasted corn relish

– roasted habanero salsa (and also a really awesome tomatillo salsa, but it’s not my recipe)

This week, I finished up a batch of homemade sriracha by draining the liquid from my fermented peppers …

fermented red peppers for hot sauce

then as I pureed the peppers for the sriracha,

homemade sriracha

… I used the liquid to soak a bunch of mustard seeds for a spicy homemade mustard.

spicy mustard

Awesome.

And have you ever tried store-bought sauerkraut? If you have, you probably hate kraut now, just on principle. Grab a jar or a nice chemical-free crock, and try making your own probiotics for a great project and a delicious and healthy nosh.

sauerkraut

Replace pasta with vegetables.

Lots of paleo recipe sites like this one have great ideas for replacing pasta with “zoodles,” or zucchini noodles. They’re easy to make and lots of fun, particularly if you have kids and need help getting them to eat properly.

Personally, I am a huge fan of spaghetti squash. It’s very simple to prepare; you can steam it my stabbing it with a few holes and either microwaving it (for about 2-3 minutes per pound) or slow-cooking it (4-6 hours on low setting, covered halfway with water), then using a fork to pull off all of the stringy bits, then mix it with your favorite sauce or pasta topping.

spaghetti squash

You can also cut it in half when it’s raw (you’ll need a wicked sharp knife) and roast it for the same effect. No matter how you prepare it, a medium-sized squash will give up enough stringy strands for at least 3-4 servings.

Replace meat with vegetables, or with better (aka cleaner) meat

Do you Portobello?

I love to replace hamburger patties with the big, hearty mushrooms, or just grill them with a little oil-and-vinegar salad dressing and serve as a side dish or vegetarian entrée option. No one will miss the meat when you grill up these babies. Eating Rules also has a great Portobello recipe this month.

cookout 019
Homemade bacon is beyond compare.

It’s stupid easy to make, and the homemade version is far better than any store-bought, nitrate-packed, pink slime. I take a nicely trimmed pork belly (my local Korean grocer does it perfectly and doesn’t look at you curiously when you request pork bellies), put it in a freezer bag with 2:1 ratio of kosher salt and brown sugar, then let it sit refrigerated for 3-4 days. When the meat is tough to the touch, it’s ready.

Rinse the meat, leave it in the fridge overnight without a cover, and smoke it for 3-6 hours, or until the internal temp is 160. That’s it. It’s unprocessed. It’s nitrate-free, it’s super-easy to make, and it’s f***ing delicious.

homemade bacon
Make your own cleaner version of everyday foods

Speaking of things that are easy to make, and the homemade versions far surpass the store-bought … my yogurt make is one of the best purchases I’ve made this year. You only need a bit of yogurt starter and some good milk, and the machine does the rest. I just make plain yogurt, then add organic honey or homemade jam. Bonus if you add some of this chow-chow from Friend in Cheeses Jam Company … it’s amazing! It’s all delicious and organic, and still unprocessed.

homemade yogurtAnd don’t forget, the idea is to control the ingredients. Think about other every day meals you can make from scratch instead of purchasing processed.

Fresh is best 

I have a subscription to a local farm network, so I get a weekly delivery of fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. (I use Farm Fresh to You and I love it, but there are literally thousands of services out there, depEnding on your location.)

Cooking seasonally and locally usually means you’re eating the best, and no matter what you get in your weekly delivery, a recipe for it is only a Google search away. And when in doubt … CURRY. This is my favorite recipe for pumpkin curry, but you can literally replace the vegetables with anything. I did the same recipe with cauliflower. Yum.
curry

Lastly, don’t forget to use all of your gadgets! If you’re concerned about added fats, oils, and greases, you can’t go wrong with the clean taste of outdoor cooking and smoking. I used my outdoor smoker to pretty quickly (less than an hour) smoke a couple of pieces of salmon, plus some yams, fingerling potatoes and sliced delicata squash. A little olive oil, a few herbs, and you have a delicious unprocessed dinner in no time.

0salmon

 

October Unprocessed: Kicked-up Oktoberfest Soup

I have found some truly amazing recipes for October Unprocessed (check out my Pinterest board for them all here), but there are a few that are fast becoming my favorites. I am particularly happy to work with other things I make from scratch (even before the OU challenge), like homemade, nitrate-free bacon, and sauerkraut I made in my own fermenting crock.

I found this excellent recipe by Sweet & Sauer for a bacon, potato and sauerkraut soup, and I had to try it … although I kicked it up a little. I like my soups to be nice and chunky, and I generally use vegetable stock or chicken stock, where this recipe calls for water.

Oktoberfest soup

I added some German favorites like dill and beer, so call my kicked-up version “Oktoberfest Soup.”

Kicked-up Oktoberfest Soup

  • 8 ounces bacon (my recipe for unprocessed, nitrate-free bacon is here)
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 large carrots, cubed
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4-5 new potatoes (about 1 pound)
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 2 cups sauerkraut (my homemade recipe is here)
  • 1 tablespoon dried dill
  • dash of hot sauce or sriracha (my homemade recipe is here)
  • lots of black pepper
  • half a bottle of good beer
  • just a little bit of salt*

I rendered the chopped bacon with the onions and garlic, then added the hot sauce, the chopped carrots and potatoes, and the dried dill and pepper.

050

Then I added the beer (be sure to scrape up all the good bits stuck to the bottom of the pot) and the water. Bring it to a boil and then let it simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the sauerkraut at the end — *and salt to taste, ONLY if you need it. There is a lot of salt in the bacon and in the kraut, so taste it first and make sure — you don’t want to overdo it.

The hot sauce, the dried dill, the good beer and the bit of sweet earthiness from the sweet potato make a huge difference in the flavor of the stock. Make sure you use a tasty beer, as the flavor of it will concentrate as the soup cooks.

Kicked-up Oktoberfest soup

A quick note about adding the sauerkraut at the end: I found the best result when I put cold sauerkraut on the bottom of my soup bowl, and then ladled the hot soup on top. If you heat the kraut over 110 degrees, the probiotic goodness of the sauerkraut might be compromised … although it will still taste very good. 🙂

After October Unprocessed is over, I think I will try a slightly processed, slightly spicier version … I want to get some good marinated pork belly (my local Korean grocery has the best stuff in their deli, but I am sure it’s processed on some level) and make a stew from it with noodles, then add my homemade kimchi at the end. I think it would be fantastic.

Stay tuned.

oktoberfest soup recipe card