A Weeknight Survival Tactic

Sometimes recipes are born out of necessity. Since I began the BU Culinary Arts program (and now work as the teaching assistant), I don't get home until 6:30 or 7—kind of late to be launching into a 2-hour cooking project. So to make sure dinner is on the table before the entire family falls apart, I need to be resourceful, organized, and fast. This means planning and shopping for meals on the weekends and prepping vegetables and other ingredients the night before. Things run smoothly when I can simply throw stuff in a pan when I get home (or even better, leave instructions for my husband to get things started).

It's this mentality that led me to a roasted butternut squash soup with curry and red lentils. The squash had been sitting in my fruit bowl for days, waiting for that window of time (the one I never have) to peel, chop, and roast it into something delicious. The vegetable was beginning to collect dust—it was stressing me out. So one night at 9 pm I cut it in half, put it in a covered baking dish, and roasted it in the oven while a did a million other things on my to-do list. With a cooked squash in the fridge, I was one step closer to a realistic weeknight meal. I had some red lentils and chicken stock on hand, so the following evening I was able to make a comforting fall soup in about 30 minutes. It was a necessity that ended up being a treat.

 

Recipe for curried butternut squash and red lentil soup
serves 6

Roasting the squash first accomplishes two things—it eliminates the need for peeling and chopping and it concentrates the sweet, earthy flavors of the vegetable. Tender red lentils practically melt when cooked, but the soup can be pureed for a smoother texture.

1 medium butternut squash (3 1/2 pounds)

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sweet curry powder

1 cup red lentils

6 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons lemon juice

sour cream or yogurt for serving

 

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, and brush cut sides with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Place cut side down in a baking dish and add 1/2 cup water. Cover with foil and bake for one hour. Once squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh with a large spoon and cut into bite-size pieces. This step can be done a day ahead.

2. In a 4-quart pot over medium heat, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. When the oil shimmers, add the chopped onion and salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder and continue to cook for 3-5 minutes. Add lentils and chicken stock, bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cover the pot. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

3. Add the cooked squash and lemon juice to the pot and gently stir to heat through. Add more salt if you like. Serve as is or puree in a blender. Garnish each serving with a spoonful of sour cream or yogurt.