Give Butternut Squash Soup a Boost With Mexican Ingredients Like Ancho Chili

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Ancho chilies add deep color and flavor to this butternut squash soup. [Photographs: Daniel Gritzer]

Like TV procedural dramas, Fab 5 Freddy's Change the Beat (the world's most sampled song), and ice-cream flavors, there's no such thing as too many versions of a good thing. So it is with butternut quash soup. Yes, it's practically de rigueur for recipe publications to unveil a few new ones each season, but that's just because it's so perfect.

Butternut squash has just enough personality to make it interesting in its own right, but is still enough of a blank slate to make it a good base for all sorts of flavor ideas. If butternut squash brought home an elementary school report card, the note from the teacher would say, Has a strong sense of self yet always cooperates well with others.

Which is all to say, here is one more butternut squash soup idea and, if I dare say so, it's pretty tasty. It's also unlike any I've made or eaten before, with a flavor that almost makes it taste like a mashup with chili. That's probably because it's made with quite a bit of chili—ancho chili, to be exact.

My first thought was to reach into the Mexican pantry for this soup, since squash is an indigenous food to the Americas anyway. I also wanted to keep it simple, because that's one of the appeals of a soup like this, at least to me.

To make it, I start out by tossing the diced squash with oil and roasting it in the oven. That may sound like an extra step that goes against the whole simple thing, but if you cook efficiently, it isn't: Just cut up the squash first and throw it in the oven, then prep all the other ingredients while it cooks. The benefit is that it gives you a chance to deepen the flavor and sweetness of the squash more than if you were to just simmer it.

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Then I take those ancho chilies and toast them in a dry skillet until fragrant before tearing them up and sautéing them in a pot with onion, carrot, and garlic. I used two anchos in my version, and they add quite a bit of chili flavor and even some heat. If you're worried that the soup will be too hot, you can either remove their seeds, or cut it back to a single ancho chili.

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Then I add chicken stock and simmer it all together until everything is tender. At about this point, the squash should be softened and browned, so I add that to the pot as well. If your baking sheet has caramelized bits of squash stuck to it, I recommend using a little water to scrape it off and then add that flavorful water to the pot as well (mine didn't, but it happens sometimes).

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I then blend the soup to a smooth puree, which is very easy to do right in the pot if you have a stick blender. The last step is to taste the soup and correct the flavor with a little sugar if it tastes unbalanced. This is going to depend a lot on the squash itself: Really ripe sweet ones may not need it, but the one I used for my batch just wasn't sweet enough and a spoonful of sugar was essential.

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I garnish it with some Mexican crema, though you can also substitute a dollop of sour cream, some fresh cilantro, and a sprinkling of pepitas. A few lime wedges on the side for everyone to squeeze into the soup as they see fit, and it's a done deal.

Feel free to come up with your own variation on this—there's enough room in the world for all of them.

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