Butternut Squash-Wild Rice Soup

above: soup without half and half

If you’re a soup cookbook writer, you probably love soup. I love soup. I’m seldom happier than when I’m heating up a kettle while chopping a big pile of vegetables.  Perhaps I’m happier at the table with a hot bowl and a cold class of wine or driving home knowing there’s a big pot of soup in the fridge making me feel rich. I don’t know.  

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above: Vegetable soup was a puréed delight at a street cafe in Dubrovnik, Croatia last month

Coming up with a new soup happens in one of many different ways. Maybe there’s  something on sale I drag home or someone somewhere has a special dietary need. I might be watching my weight. Perhaps someone leaves garden bounty on my front porch.  Could be my sister’s in town and I’m cooking for her. More than once a freezer’s had to be cleaned out and some meat has to be cooked. Whatever happens, however it happens, a big pot of goodness somehow takes shape and comes to the bowl making us happy, healthy, and wondering where it came from. It’s a gift. That’s for sure.


above: my Guacamole Soup with Grilled Shrimp from the soup book–made for my sister’s visit

Come fall, I’m nuts about winter squash. I’m always looking for something to do with it. Something new. Or old again. I also have a heart for wild rice–which is not really rice, but a water-grown grass– having lived in Minnesota.  Somehow, last week, needing a big pot of vegetarian soup for a church meeting (someone else was making a soup with meat), I kept thinking of butternut squash and I kept thinking of wild rice. I wasn’t sure how the two would come together, but I knew somehow it would work.

While this soup is naturally vegetarian and gluten-free for Meatless Mondays, it’s easily vegan (see notes to the sides of ingredients in recipe) or made with meat (see cook’s notes.) Make it how you’d like. It’s good with or without half and half and, if you’d like a little smoother soup, purée a few cups and add them back into the broth at the end of the cooking time.


Wild Rice is actually an acquatic grass and is the official state grain of Minnesota. Please buy Native-American grown, hand-harvested rice to support this important mid-west and Canadian industry. If it’s not available in your grocery, drive to Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, or Canada and buy some! It’s worth the trip. Or ask your grocer to carry it. Why not?  Otherwise, order on line.  

What Native-American rice growers say…

“Manoomin, or wild rice is a gift given to the Anishinaabek from the Creator, and is a centerpiece of the nutrition and sustenance for our community. In the earliest of teachings of Anishinaabeg history, there is a reference to wild rice, known as the food which grows upon the water, the food, the ancestors were told to find, then we would know when to end our migration to the west. It is this profound and historic relationship which is remembered in the wild rice harvest on the White Earth and other reservations-a food which is uniquely ours, and a food, which is used in our daily lives, our ceremonies, and our thanksgiving feasts.”  From www.saveourwildrice.com.

Wild rice is a nutritional bonanza:

Wild rice is also a great source of folate, manganese, zinc, and iron, which is great for gluten-free eaters and grain-free eaters who don’t get those nutrients in typical grains like oats, rye, wheat, and other types of grains like brown rice.



above: soup with half and half


As is, this is an especially hearty vegetarian soup, though meat is easily added if you'd like that. (See notes.) For a vegan soup, there are just two simple changes–see italic notes in parentheses next to ingredients.  A food processor could certainly be used for the onions, carrots, celery, parsley and fennel, but if you're chopping by hand, sharpen your chef's knife first! To make the soup a day ahead, cook through step 2, let cool, and store in the refrigerator overnight. At serving time, bring to a boil, turn heat to low, and add the half and half after the soup has stopped bubbling. Taste and adjust seasonings one last time.
8 servings


  • 2 tablespoons salted butter and 2 tablespoons olive oil (or all olive oil)
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 3 carrots, trimmed and diced (scrub, but don't peel–no need)
  • 3 stalks celery stalks and leaves, diced
  • 1 fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme, divided
  • 1/2 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary
  • Handful chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup white wine– can sub water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste (freeze remainder of a can of paste in a small bag for another use)
  • 2 cups water–may need more
  • 8 cups vegetable broth
  • 2/3 cup native hand-harvested wild rice, washed well (flood and drain several times)
  • 3 cups peeled and diced butternut squash*
  • 1 cup half and half (or coconut, almond, or rice milk)–optional
  • Hot sauce–a few drops as needed
  • 1 cup toasted chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds for garnish


  • In an 8 or 10-quart soup pot with a lid, melt the butter with the olive oil over medium flame. Add the onions, carrots, celery, and fennel and cook 10 minutes or until softened, stirring often.  Season with the 1/2 teaspoon each: salt and pepper; the crushed red pepper, garlic, one teaspoon of the thyme, rubbed sage, ground rosemary, and parsley. Cook another minute.
  • Add wine wine, stir very well, and let cook down two minutes or until wine is nearly absorbed. Stir in tomato paste.  Pour in water and broth; bring to a boil and stir in wild rice. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook 35 – 45 minutes or until the rice is nearly, but not totally tender. Add liquid if needed to ensure all ingredients are freely moving in the broth. Add butternut squash along with the other teaspoon of thyme and cook another 10-12 minutes or until both rice and butternut squash are quite tender. Do not overcook; the squash pieces should remain intact.  Taste and adjust seasonings before adding half and half. You'll probably need more salt and pepper.
  • Stir in half and half or other milk, if using. Warm through, but do not boil. Taste and adjust seasonings again, adding a drop or two (or three) of hot sauce if needed.  Serve hot garnished with toasted pecans.
    Store in tightly fitted containers in the fridge for 3-4 days or (without the half and half) for 4-6 months in the freezer.


*This is about how much you’ll get from a 1 1/2 pound squash, peeled, trimmed, seeded, and cut. You can often buy butternut squash peeled and chopped in larger grocery produce departments. If you’re butchering that sucker all alone, do yourself a favor and, after poking holes into it all over with a paring knife, microwave it for 5 minutes in a casserole dish before doing anything else.  Let cool for 10 minutes,  cut in half, peel using a knife, cut, scoop out seeds, cut more–much easier!  If you like , you can save the seeds and toast them for a snack or a topping.
Options: A couple of cups of shredded kale or similar green, added with the squash, would add vitamins, color, fibre, and texture to this soup. Parsnip or turnip cut into small dice is another healthy and pretty addition. You could also add a can of drained, white beans (Northern or Cannellini–White Kidney) to increase the protein in the soup. Like a meat-flavored soup?  Sauté 4 thick strips of bacon in place of the fat at the start of making the soup. Remove them when they’re really crispy, chop, and reserve for a garnish; cook the onions, etc. in the bacon fat. Have some leftover chicken? Stir in a cup or two of chopped, cooked chicken along with the half and half. 

WINE:  Pinot Noir from Oregon




Sing a new song,


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