I’m not a vegan myself. Or a vegetarian. But, sometimes all these things align themselves anyway. Especially when cooking Mediterranean food. When you cook the “cucina povera”, Italian for poor or peasant food, that means cutting out meat and dairy at the very minimum. People didn’t have the money for extravagances like meat and sometimes cheese was just hard to come by. They still wanted the food to taste great, though. That’s why these original recipes from those times of poverty remain. They just taste great. Vegan Butternut Squash soup with toasted barley is one of those types of dishes.
When some people think of these types of diets, they assume all the food is bland or taste off. I think so, too, sometimes. When I see a vegan recipe that is trying to replace the meat or dairy with a substitute, that just doesn’t work for me. However, when I think of a recipe like this butternut squash soup with toasted barley, I don’t even think of it as being vegan. Even though that is exactly what it is.
If I can only get one point across, even though there are loads of good reasons, it’s that the Mediterranean Diet is perfect for anybody who follows a particular way of eating. It’s all there and it tastes unbelievable.
Eating soup makes me so happy. This butternut squash soup is absolutely luxurious and does not miss the meat or dairy. The texture is silky and the flavors bright. It will stick to your ribs, but leave you wanting more when you finish your bowl. And the best part is how easy it is. Though, I added a couple of steps to really jazz it up.
I fried some sliced garlic to make crispy chips for a garnish and then used the same oil to toast some barley with rosemary. 2 little extra steps give this recipe another dimension. One thing I don’t like too much about pureed soups is that they become monochromatic. I don’t want every bite to be the same. Adding these garnishes makes sure that some bites have some nutty barley and another has a sweet, crispy garlic chip. It makes it fun as well as delicious. And all of those flavors just scream “It’s fall!”
To get the silky and creamy texture, I boil a Yukon Gold potato with it. When it gets pureed, the potato thickens it up and add some much needed texture. A couple of whole garlic cloves boiled along with it adds some depth of flavor. And of course it needs some umami, that oh so addictive savory taste. That flavor can be given from some anchovies, dried mushrooms, cheese or cured meats. If you are making this vegan, however, just add a couple of tablespoons of soy and you will get that great intensity that is much needed in a soup or stew.
It’s the garlic oil that is what kept me from wanting to stop eating it. Just a drizzle over the top and then stirred in as you are about to tuck in, will add so much flavor that matches so well with the sweetness of the butternut squash. And toasting the barley in that garlic oil gives it a rich nutty flavor. Along with the earthiness of the rosemary and you have the ideal autumn soup.
There’s a glut of butternut squash recipes out there right now. And for good reason. They taste awesome! And, they are in season locally almost wherever you may live. The reason eating a soup like this in autumn as opposed to in the middle of July is our bodies telling us to eat with the seasons. So get your big Dutch oven out, have your stick blender or food processor ready and fill your house with the scent of autumn!
- 1 whole butternut squash, cut into cubes
- 1 Yukon Gold potato cut into cubes
- ½ white onion chopped
- 2 celery stalks roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves,2 peeled and left whole and 1 thinly sliced
- 1 cup cooked barley
- 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
- 2 tablespoons of rosemary finely chopped
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 bay leaves
- Water, enough to cover the squash
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a small pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil then add the barley. Let it cook about 40 minutes until tender. Drain and let cool.
- Heat a Dutch oven or large saucepan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.
- Add onion and celery and stir letting it cook for about 10 minutes until soft and slightly browned.
- Once they are browned add the squash, potato and 2 whole, peeled garlic cloves and bay leaves and cover with water or vegetable stock.
- Bring to a boil then turn down to low and let simmer until squash and potato are cooked through. About 20 minutes.
- In a small saucepan heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil with the clove of garlic that was thinly sliced.
- Fry until golden brown, about 3-4 minutes and drain the oil, putting the garlic on a paper towel.
- Add 1 tablespoon of the oil back to the saucepan and toast the barley, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper and the rosemary.
- When the squash is fully cooked, blend with a hand blender or add to a food processor and blend until smooth.
- Add the soy and nutmeg and stir.
- Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Serve with the barley, garlic chips and a drizzle of the garlic oil.