Butternut Squash

Butternut Squash Soup With a Hint of My Caribbean Home

The fall favorite gets a Trinidadian upgrade, thanks to a lick of coconut milk, rum, and caramelized shrimp stock.

Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

In the fall, while the rest of the country reaches for pumpkin spice, I grasp for the emotionally stabilizing flavors of my Caribbean home of Trinidad and Tobago.

Dark rum and coconut always top the list, but it’s easy to end up empty handed. After all, the sun has set on summer’s bounty, and the foods that mirror the fare found in the tropics have lost both their appeal and availability. So to make the dissonance less jarring, I do what most immigrants do best: Adapt. I need the resplendence of my heritage to shine through in all of my meals, even if it’s by the smallest measure. Enter butternut squash—the perfect canvas for creativity.

The first time I tasted butternut squash bisque, I recall marveling at its smooth simplicity and nutty sweetness. The warm spices, simmering with aromatics, beckoned me toward the fruit-laced soup (yes, butternut squash is technically a fruit). I was hooked, but my emotional palate also craved more. I needed it to taste like home.

Unable to find an adaptation of the ubiquitous fall bisque I’d come to treasure, I created one for myself using some unsuspecting ingredients: dark rum, coconut milk, Old Bay Seasoning, and shrimp.

Butternut squash soup, but make it Trinidad and Tobago. Photo by Julia Gartland

Starting with the stock—arguably the most crucial element that gives any soup its depth—I peeled and deveined the shrimp, then roasted their shells in butter until they were fuchsia and fragrant. To that I added a heavy pour of dark rum, where notes of orange peel, vanilla and brown sugar immediately came out to play. Simmered with thyme, onion, and two quarts of water, the stock was poised to be the unsung hero of this bisque. I also amped up the shrimp’s delicate flavor by allowing them to marinate in nothing but lime zest and Old Bay.

It was only when large, fresh chunks of butternut were simmered in the smoky, sweet, rum-laced stock, that I realized the beauty of this bisque. In fusing some of the season’s most beloved offerings with the energetic flavors of my home country, I was fully engaged in a process that mirrored my own life.

Since I arrived in this country, I’ve been melding vital aspects of Trinidad and Tobago to what’s normative in my new home. Because I realized I could never forge for myself a strong, true self-identity in the United States by forgetting any one part of my formative years. And during the fall, when the produce bears little resemblance to the crops found in the Caribbean, something deep within me challenges me to be loyal to the flavors that will forever form the belly of my being.

This soup isn’t just an ode to the versatility found in butternut squash, but to something a bit more. It shines with perspective—a perspective that is uniquely my own.

Are you serving butternut squash soup at your Thanksgiving this year? Let us know in the comments below.
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Jjjjbw November 14, 2019
I was very impressed with the depth and balance of flavor! Very comforting dish and the stock couldn’t be easier!
M November 14, 2019
This looks great. Can't wait to try as an alternative to my usual butternut and garlic bisque go-to.