I was ten years old the first time I recognized that I hate Thanksgiving turkey. I was with the Greek and Italian side of the family, cast-off at the kids table with three of my cousins. We were sandwiched between a table of twenty-five adults and a wall, on which was painted a rural Italian landscape in shades of green and brown. I wasn’t going anywhere unless someone got up from the other table or I tunneled my way out. The meal was served two hours late, as usual, and I was starving.
Everyone had been raving about how great the bird looked, so I sawed into it right away. I forked a piece, popped it into my mouth, and chewed………..and chewed…………….and chewed. There wasn’t enough saliva in my mouth to get it down my throat. I spit it out and tried again with a new piece, this one spackled with gravy. I chased it with some water and gagged a little, but I’m pretty sure it traveled all the way to my stomach.
I stared down at the remaining thick hunk of grayish matter, uneven and ragged. I imagined myself choking to death in the far corner of the room, the little farmers in the mural staring down at me but no one coming to my rescue. I was pretty sure the five-year old to my left didn’t know how to perform the Heimlich, so I wasn’t going to take any chances. I abandoned the turkey altogether and dove into the sides, and I never looked back.
Twenty-five years later, turkey will still be the hallmark of this year’s feast, but my sister and I have vowed to make the rest of the meal so good that the turkey will be an after-thought. We’re going to keep it simple: one appetizer, a few sides, the bird and some pies. I like this approach, but it creates a lot of pressure. This appetizer had better be good if it’s the precursor to the biggest feast of the year. We can’t serve the old stand-by: My grandmother’s famous cream-cheese and green olive dip with a side of bugles served up on a paper plate. No, that just won’t do.
After much deliberation, we’ve settled on curried butternut squash soup. It looks like deep orange crushed velvet, a visual warm-up to the rest of the meal. It’s creamy, slightly spicy, and a tad tangy; a good pre-marathon work-out for the tongue. This soup is content to sit on the stove and wait patiently for guests to take off their coats and get comfortable. The flavor improves over time, so those who hold out the longest (or arrive last) will be handsomely rewarded.
It’s not the most traditional Thanksgiving appetizer, but then again, I’m not much of a traditionalist. If I’m ever in charge on Turkey Day, I’ll probably make a rack of lamb and call it a day. Oh, and I’ll start with this soup. And maybe a little of that cream cheese and olive dip, because what’s a holiday without any tradition at all…
- 5 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
- 3 medium onions, 1” dice
- 5 mcintosh or other baking apples, peeled, cored, and diced into 1” cubes
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 16 grinds of black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 cups vegetable stock, plus more to taste
- 1 ½ cups coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon mild curry powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons hot curry powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- Additional salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar to finish
- Roast the first six ingredients at 425 degrees for 35 minutes, stirring once or twice.
- Drop the roasted vegetables into a 5 to 6 quart pot, and add the chicken stock, curry powders, ginger, salt and pepper. Once combined, you can blend the soup in batches in a blender, or use an immersion blender right in the pot. If you want a vegetarian version, use vegetable stock in lieu of chicken stock.
- Once the soup is blended and smooth, bring it up to a simmer to let the flavors develop, about 10 minutes.
- Add the coconut milk and stir until combined.
- Turn off the heat and season to taste with salt, pepper, and between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon of cider vinegar to deepen the flavor a bit. Serve.
- The soup can also be cooled, refrigerated and reheated for up to three days. Freeze for up to three months.
- This soup is a great make-ahead meal. It tastes even better a day or two later once the flavors have deepened.