Many of us hardly know what we’re making for dinner next week, let alone next month. Patti Spencer, however, is on the verge of beginning her annual preparations for a Passover menu that will provide breakfast, lunch and dinner to a large group of family and friends throughout the entire eight-day holiday in April.
By day, Patti is a local estate and tax lawyer, writer and expert witness. She has always loved to cook, but her passion grew when she became an observant Jew 20 years ago and had to reinvent many of her favorite recipes to conform to a newfound kosher diet.
Patti observed that a lot of American kosher food—think chicken soup, roast brisket, and potato kugel—is really European peasant food. While enjoying these classics, Patti discovered that there was so much more to kosher eating and that it could include cuisine from around the globe.
After years of cooking and experimenting, Patti amassed enough recipes to pen two volumes of a cookbook entitled Unorthodox Kosher Cooking. Many of the books’ recipes are family favorites that she modified to be kosher. Others came from magazines, cookbooks, and friends. The second volume focuses on international cuisine, but it’s everyday peasant and street food that Patti showcases. Both books lean toward healthy fare and include an abundance of fresh produce, whole grains, and quality meats.
Although I had met Patti previously, it wasn’t until I read a newspaper article several years ago describing her extensive Passover preparations that I fully understood her passion for creating in the kitchen. I contacted Patti afterwards and she graciously sent me a copy of each of her books.
One of the entries I have returned to many times is the following butternut squash soup. I’ve always been a fan this winter classic with its velvety texture and subtle sweetness, but what caught my attention in Patti’s version was her inclusion of red lentils.
As the sweetest and nuttiest of the lentil varieties, red lentils do more than just add a protein punch to this satisfying soup. They complement the flavor of the squash and, because they break down when cooked, blend seamlessly into and add thickness to the final dish. Additionally, the pretty pinkish-orange color bolsters the soup’s already vibrant hue rather than muddying it like a brown or green lentil would.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 (2-1/2 pound) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cubed (see notes*)
- 1 quart (4 cups) chicken broth (substitute vegetable stock for a vegetarian option)
- 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with juice
- 1 cup red lentils (pinkish/orange color, sometimes labeled as “split” lentils)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more or less to taste**)
- 2 tablespoons honey***
- Optional garnish: cilantro and/or toasted and lightly salted squash seeds
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the onion and sauté for about 5 minutes or until the onion is soft and translucent. Add the garlic, ginger and curry powder and cook for another minute, or until fragrant but not burning, stirring constantly.
Immediately add the squash, broth, tomatoes in juice, lentils, salt and cayenne. Bring to a boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat and simmer for 25 minutes, plus or minus 5 minutes, or until the squash is very tender.
Puree with an immersion blender, or carefully transfer the mixture to a blender and blend, in batches if necessary, until smooth. Stir in the honey, and top with the optional garnishes. Leftovers become even more flavorful as the flavors meld (making this a perfect make-ahead meal) and freeze well.
- *If you prefer to use precut butternut squash, use 2 pounds of peeled pieces.
- **If uncertain about the level of spiciness, start with 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. This will provide a hint of flavor without burning one’s tongue. Alternatively, red pepper flakes may be used; 1/4 teaspoon is a good starting point when using red pepper flakes. Sriracha sauce or harissa would also be delicious options to add flavor and spiciness.
- ***I have ever so slightly adapted the original recipe, which did not contain honey. This small amount does not add significant sweetness but does round out the flavors nicely.
If you don’t have an immersion blender, a regular blender may be used to blend this protein-rich soup into velvety perfection.
When roasted, the seeds from the butternut squash make a fun, crunchy garnish. As an option, a drizzle of Sriracha and/or a swirl of Greek yogurt may also be used.
For those who like to see the nutritional data on recipes, this is a screen shot of the data provided for this soup when using the link provided here. Any recipe can be copied and pasted into this tool. Just make sure to enter the number of serving sizes and modify according to any ingredients you may add or subtract.
For anyone who may be interested, Patti mentioned that she still has some cookbooks available and they can be purchased for $19.95 each. If interested, email Patti at Patti@spencerlawfirm.com. In keeping with her day job, Patti also wrote a book entitled Your Estate Matters, which is available on Amazon.