Recipe: Winter Squash Soup, Spiced by the Middle East

It's time to look to Iraq, Tunisia and Libya for inspiration on what to do with this versatile fruit.

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Butternut squash sweet & sour soup with meatballs
Butternut squash sweet & sour soup with meatballsCredit: Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman
Vered Guttman

After weeks of consuming winter squash in every possible way before and during Thanksgiving, it’s time to look to the Middle East and learn what other cuisines do with this versatile fruit. The first recipe is inspired by the Iraqi sweet and sour pumpkin soup with stuffed kibbeh. The Iraqi cooked kibbeh, which are ground rice or farina dumplings stuffed with ground beef, are served in different stews depending on the season.

Okra and tomato stew in the summer, beet stew and pumpkin stew in the winter. The stews are always very simple, highlighting the taste of their main ingredient and setting the stage for the kibbeh. To make the dish easy enough for a weeknight dinner, I replaced the kibbeh with simple beef and ground rice balls. If you want to try the original, use the kibbeh recipe I posted here in February.

The second winter squash recipe comes from Tunisia and Libya. It’s a sour, spicy pumpkin dip made with caraway seeds and cumin and is wonderful on a slice of bread or as part of a meze table.

Both original recipes use the field pumpkin, but since those are hard to get in the U.S. once Halloween is over, you can use butternut squash or any other variety you prefer, such as acorn squash or carnival squash.

Tunisian/Libyan butternut squash dipCredit: Vered Guttman

Sweet & Sour Butternut Squash Soup with Meatballs

The original soup calls for kibbeh instead of the meatballs. You can substitute the meatballs with kibbeh, recipe found here.

Celeriac, or celery root, is available at most supermarkets

Serves 6

For the soup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 butternut squash, peeled and cut to 1½ inch cubes (about 20 oz.)
1 celeriac, peeled and cut to 1 inch cubes (optional)
5 cups chicken broth
¼ cup lemon juice
½ teaspoon turmeric
12 dried apricots

For the meatballs:
1 cup rice, soaked in water for ½ hour
½ lb. ground beef chuck
½ cup chopped mint leaves, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper

1. Put 2 tablespoons oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and sauté onion until transparent. Push onion to the sides of the pot, add tomato paste to the center and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring gently, until tomato paste is fragrant. Add butternut squash and celeriac ,mix and cook for 3 minutes longer. Add chicken broth, lemon juice, turmeric and dried apricots. Bring to boil, lower heat, cover pot and cook for 15 minutes.

2. In the meantime, make the meatballs. Drain the soaked rice and wash well in a colander until water are clear. Grind rice in food processor or blender and transfer to a bowl. Add the rest of the meatball ingredients to the ground rice and mix well. form 1 inch balls and arrange them on a baking sheet.

3. When the soup is ready season to taste. Remove lid and increase the heat to medium. Add meatballs, 10 at a time, and let cook for 3 minutes before adding the next batch. Shake pot to prevent sticking. Cook for 20 minutes. Serve in soup bowls sprinkled with chopped mint.

Tunisian/Libyan Butternut Squash dip (Tirshi)

This recipe is inspired by the tirsh salad at Doctor Shakshuka restaurant in Jaffa, that serves the best tirshi Israel.

Yields 2 cups
½ lb. (2 cups) butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 potato, peeled and cut into ½ inch cubes
oil spray
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, peeled
¼ cup olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons paprika
½-1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1. Oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange butternut squash and potato cubes on baking sheet. Spray with oil spray and bake for 30 minutes until soft.

2. In the meantime roast caraway seeds and cumin seeds in a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat until fragrant, 30-45 seconds. Transfer to mortar, add salt and garlic and crush with pestle. set aside.

3. When butternut squash and potato are tender transfer them to a large bowl and mash with potato masher. Add caraway and cumin mixture, olive oil, lemon juice, paprika and crushed red pepper. Mix well, adjust seasoning and serve at room temperature with thick slices of bread.

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