I learned to cook after I moved away from home. Because my dad stayed home when I was born so my mom could go back to work, he was the one who cooked in our household, and this was unusual in the 70s when I was born. Surprisingly, it seems to still not be that common–the more things change, the more they stay the same? But he embraced it. After his divorce, Dad learned to cook for himself, then he cooked for my mom and then for me and my brother, too.

However, Dad didn’t have the patience to teach us how to cook. I watched and retained some things–the basics of making gravy from pan drippings, the importance of summer savoury in our Thanksgiving meals, how to make your own stock–but never took in enough to full-on cook. One of the things that did stick was soups.

My dad was great at soups. He made chicken-noodle soup with noodles from scratch. I know! Noodles from scratch–so amazing. He made thick pea soup, beef and barley, and more, all from scratch, with leftovers even better than the first day. So, it is fitting now that soups are some of my favourite go-to meals. This lovely soup is in my regular rotation.

Butternut Squash and Shiitake Mushroom Soup

I learned the basics of this recipe from a chef in the kitchen where I worked while in university. It was delicious–smooth and hearty with a delightful kick. For months I asked the chef about the secret ingredient, receiving only an enigmatic smile. I didn’t give up, and eventually he told me: black pepper. Lots of black pepper. I’ve added an option for other spices if you’re interested, but I recommend just adding lots of black pepper.

Attributes: Vegan, gluten-free, can be oil-free

Difficulty level: Easy

Time: 30 minutes + 15 minutes active, and 1– 8 hours passive cooking, depending on method

Recommended serving: The soup is light, so serve with bread or with salad greens topped with chickpeas for a lunch, or with a sandwich or wrap for a heartier meal.

Accordingly, makes roughly 6 to 8 servings

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, or ¼-cup vegetable broth
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes
  • 1 to 2 cups shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, and cut in half (let your budget and your taste buds be your guide to quantity–you can also use white mushrooms, cremini, portobello or any mushroom you desire–but remove the black gills from portobellos or they will darken the lovely orange of the soup)
  • 4 cups vegetable broth, or more broth or water to cover butternut squash if it’s very large
  • Salt, to taste (may not be necessary if you’re using store-bought broth)
  • Fresh ground black pepper, lots, or to taste
  • Optional: coconut milk, ½ cup to 1 cup
  • Optional spices such as cumin, chili powder, or paprika
  • Optional toppings as below

(This recipe can be adapted for a slow cooker or Instant Pot. See instructions in parentheses.)

Sauté onions in a large pot on the stovetop (or Instant Pot) in oil or broth over medium heat, until soft and translucent. If using broth, have some extra on hand to ensure it doesn’t evaporate and burn the onion. When onions are ready, add butternut squash, mushroom, salt and stock. (Or add onions to slow cooker, then add squash, mushrooms, salt and stock.)  Grind ¼ to ½ teaspoon black pepper on top. Add optional spices as desired. Turn heat to high to boil, then lower to low-medium and simmer 45 min to 1 hour. (Or set a slow cooker to 8 hours on low or as directed by manufacturer; or set pressure cooker to 45 minutes.) After an hour, checking for softness of the squash: a fork will easily pierce the squash when it’s done. You can’t really over-cook this soup, so don’t stress–if you’d like to keep it cooking so you can finish something else or watch the end of the last episode of whatever you’re streaming, just make sure there is enough broth to keep the squash and mushrooms covered.

When the squash is done, blend everything with a stick blender, or carefully add in batches to blend in a countertop blender. Use your judgement on how much to blend, if you prefer a little mushroom texture or would rather it be smooth. I think the soup is lovely as-is, but those who prefer a creamier soup can stir in coconut milk: start with a half-cup and taste before adding more. (Don’t simmer after adding coconut milk or the soup will ‘split.’)

For fancier presentation or if you just think soups deserve to be treated like the 4-star dishes they are, add a topping: caramelized onions, croutons or a slice of crusty bread, a swirl of plain coconut yogurt or coconut milk, or toasted pumpkin seeds. A roasted potato wedge might be nice too.

Contributed by Kyla Winchester