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"Always Winter, Never Christmas"

When I was little, I loved the Narnia stories. My two favourites were 'The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe' and 'The Silver Chair'. There was adventure and magic in all the books but there was something about those two that just made me want to find my own portal to Narnia. I checked all my wardrobes and stared at all of my pictures. I only really gave up hope when I started to anticipate the owl arriving with my letter to Hogwarts. I'm still waiting, by the way.

But that line from The Beavers in the iconic Lewis novel always stuck with me. "Always winter, never Christmas". The curse of the White Witch. Growing up in Abu Dhabi, imagining not having Christmas seemed sad because it meant no presents and no big dinner. Moving to the U.K. gave it a completely different meaning. Winter in much of the world is cold. Very, very cold. And not having Christmas to look forward to, whether you're religious or not, is incredibly depressing. For some, quite literally.

That's how it feels sometimes in a British winter. We get excited about Christmas so early (thank you commercialism) and when it's over, we still have two months of deepest darkest winter to get through before we can look forward to spring and daffodils and warmer weather (and inevitable rain, might I add). I am determined not to get sucked into the gloom this year. There is always something to look forward to if you know where to look.

For example, pay day. That's always a good day for anyone. We are both in a play at the end of January... that's exciting. And we have a trip home planned in March which I'm very much looking forward to. But for the every day things, we might need to make a little bit more effort. That's why I want to make good, comforting things to eat while it's the season to do it. This doesn't necessarily mean unhealthy food. Vegetables, and well prepared vegetables at that, can be wonderfully comforting. Pasta, soup, stir fry..., all examples of good, hardy winter grub. Just like this Thai squash soup I've made a few times. It also works well with pumpkin if you want to make it in the autumn.

  • Thai Squash Soup

  • 3 large butternut squash

  • 1 bulb of garlic, peeled and minced

  • 5cm long knob of garlic, peeled and grated

  • 1 white onion, finely diced

  • 1 tbsp soy sauce

  • 1 large bunch of coriander, leaves and stems separated

  • 2 red chillies, finely diced

  • 1 tin of coconut milk

  • 2 sticks of lemongrass

  • 750ml vegetable or chicken stock

You don't have to do this step but I think the roasting of the squash brings out it's sweetness. Preheat your oven to 200 degrees C. Cut the squash into quarters, lay in an oven dish and drizzle with olive oil. Cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes or until relatively soft. When they're cool enough, peel them and remove the seeds. You can do it before the roasting but I find it easier post-roast.

Once the squash is roasted, heat a tablespoon or two of oil in a soup pot. I used sesame oil but if you're worried about allergies, olive oil works too. Fry off the onion, garlic and ginger until the onions are nice and soft. Chop the coriander stalks quite finely and add them to the pot along with the chillies. Fry everything off until you have a beautifully fragrant mush. Please don't burn anything.

Add the soy sauce and mix it in. Chop the squash into manageable chunks and add them to the pot. Stir everything until it's well mixed then add the coconut milk. Stir everything while the coconut milk is warming up and then add the stock. This makes quite a thick soup once it's blended. If you like a thinner soup, don't be afraid to add more stock.

Bang the tops of the lemongrass with the blunt end of your knife to release the flavour. Add them whole to the pot.

Bring to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes or until the veg is soft enough to puree completely. Before you do puree it, let it cool a bit. Whether you use a liquidiser or a stick blender, hot liquid is not easy to handle. It doesn't have to be stone cold, just not so hot it will burn. But before you do that, take out the lemongrass, it will not blend well.

Top your serving with the coriander leaves and a little drizzle of sesame oil or Sriracha.


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