winter squash-coconut milk soup with garam masala

pumpkin soup with masala and coconut milkTHE RABBITS got the beans that year. The cold weather all that same “summer” got some of the tomatoes. But I got the winter squash, in spades–a bumper crop. Meaning: Let there be soup. Winter Squash-Coconut Milk Soup with Garam Masala, to be specific.

The house was full of squash, in fact, that year–from my desk, where they sit, expectant, beside my laptop (below) to the entire mudroom (bottom of page), where horse-collar-shaped oddities like ‘Tromboncino’ join the smaller ‘Butternut’ types.

desk full of butternutI made up this recipe at freezer-emptying time in early summer, when I found two containers of roasted, mashed winter squash in my deep-freeze, and needed the room for incoming garden-fresh goodies. It is based on a soup with a coconut undertone and Indian spices that I had eaten in a restaurant and wanted to try to emulate. My first pass went like this:

winter squash-coconut milk soup with garam masala


  • 4 cups fine-grained winter squash, such as ‘Butternut’ or ‘Blue Hubbard,’ roasted and mashed
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1½ cups diced onion
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • garam masala powder (start with 1 Tablespoon; I used 3 Tablespoons; see note below about this spice blend)
  • ¾ cup canned light, unsweetened organic coconut milk
  • 3 cups vegetable broth (or water)
  • cilantro for garnish, chopped


  • Roast and mash the squash ahead of time. (To roast: Simply halve the squash, scoop out seeds, and place halves, flesh side down, on a baking sheet in a 375F oven until soft. Then scoop and mash the cooked flesh, discarding the skin.)
  • Saute the diced onion and chopped garlic in olive oil until soft.
  • Add the garam masala and cook a little longer. (Enjoy the fragrance!)
  • Measure out the 4 cups of squash into a soup pot, and add spiced onion-garlic to it.
  • Add coconut milk and broth (or water). Note: I like a thick soup, but you may wish to dilute further. Also: Some squash are drier, some moister, so adjust for that as well to preferred consistency.
  • Bring to a boil and reduce heat to simmer for 45 minutes or longer.
  • Cooled to at least warm, then puree with an immersion blender right in the pot, or ladle into a blender in batches until all the soup is pureed.
  • Garnish with cilantro at serving time.

quash wait in mudroomabout garam masala

I USED this garam masala, from spicesandtease.com, but each brand will be a little (or a lot) different. I can tell you that this one is nothing like the supermarket bottled version, if your supermarket even sells garam masala.

“Garam masala is an essential ingredient in the cooking of the Punjab region of northern India,” the Spices and Tease online catalog explains. “Loosely defined, ‘masala’ is any blend of spices, and ‘garam’ means hot.”

Spices and Tease says their garam masala contains: Moroccan coriander; cardamom from Tamil Nadu, India; bay leaves; Tellicherry pepper; cinnamon; caraway; Zanzibar cloves; China #1 ginger, and nutmeg. A great place to order holiday gifts for friends who cook, whether squash soup or otherwise.

Don’t have garam masala? One batch I improvised with my own masala of flavors: In the cupboard I found powdered cumin, coriander and a little cardamon, plus ginger powder, and then I added some harissa from a jar in the fridge, too. Another time I used red curry paste I had in the fridge and improvised around that. Delicious.

  1. Laurie says:

    I agree this soup sounds wonderful, and definitely want to give it a try! I had hoped to let at least one tromboncino mature, so I could try it as a winter squash, but I ate the early ones and the borers got the late ones. Oh well, next year…

    1. Mike Hedin says:

      Say, Laurie: try Cushaw squash. Beautiful markings on thin skin, finely grained flesh that isn’t stringy, and squash vine borers don’t ruin the crop (I understand the vines themselves are resistant). Some were large (5 or 6 pounds) and some were little and pretty enough to give to grandchildren (who won’t cut into them because “they’re too cute”). The one drawback is that they won’t keep all winter unless you’re really careful with them. The smaller ones I hang, suspended, in leftover netted onion bags…

  2. Drew Tracy says:

    After being inspired by this recipe I went for it. Unfortunately the coconut milk I used was sweetened and I failed to notice!

    It’s still delicious, and my 1 year old loves it :D. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Catherine Hackert says:

    Penzey’s Spices has a nice collection of Indian Spices and Garam Masala. There’s a store in Crossgates Mall in Albany. Their stuff is amazing and the only reason that I ever go to that mall!

  4. Annie Foy says:


    I have Kashmiri Garam Masala and Indian Garam Masala. Any thoughts on which would be the best to use? I used the Kashmiri in zucchini bread recently and it was amazing! Just wondering what you think for the soup. Thanks!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Annie. Not sure what the ingredients are in yours. Maybe compare to the ones in the version I used (on the bottom of the story, the last section) and see what’s closest? I bet either will be good, but mine has a little “kick” so not all sweet flavors only.

      1. Saiisha says:

        Agree with Margaret – either should work just fine – they have very similar ingredients, for the most part. And if you’re missing some heat, you can always add some cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper flakes.

        I just made this myself last week – so it made me smile to see the dish in my inbox today :)

  5. Marjorie Wax says:

    Wondering why you suggest light coconut milk? I don’t exactly know why that designation makes sense; seems more important to find a brand that has no additives….

    Also, this soup is really delicious with roasted apples added as well…

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Marjorie. I mentioned organic and unsweetened, so hopefully if you get those you will avoid additives. As for light, here is why I prefer it: Besides its richer tastes, full-fat coconut milk has 445 calories and 48 grams of fat per cup (most of that, 43 grams, is from saturated fat). Light has about 180 calories and about 16 of fat (maybe 12 of sat fat). I have low cholesterol and low body weight, so I am not on a “diet” (other than vegetarian for nearly 40 years) but I usually try not to overdo anything, and just use enough to make things flavorful (and good for me!).

      You could use the full fat, of course.

      1. Barb B says:

        The soup sounds delicious and will make it soon. I only use full fat for all things. Fat doesn’t make us fat. It’s so much better for us and the taste is amazing.

  6. bet says:

    This squash soup recipe sounds wonderful!! I love the pic of the ‘nest’ of squash on the side chair! On a personal note I LOVE your white dishes!!! Could you tell me the maker? Thanks so much for the beautiful and charming letters from your home and garden! They always make me happy!

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Bet. The white dishes are Haviland and were my Grandmother’s. Have been eating holiday meals off them my whole life! :)

  7. EEJones says:

    I have never found a butternut squash soup recipe that I truly loved. I’ve tried flavoring it with sage, with cinnamon, with apple, with bacon, and none of those really pleased. I think this may be the one and I am going to try it! The squash is too nutritious, and its silky texture in soups is too sublime, to give up on it. Thank you Margaret.

    1. margaret says:

      You’re welcome, EEJones. As mentioned I tasted something like this (or at least I think this is approximately what was in the soup I had once in a restaurant) and just took a stab at it. I love winter squash most any way, but this is a new favorite.

  8. Linda hall says:

    We have an India store nearby and I buy all my Indian spices, i.e., turmeric , garam masala, etc., and curry pastes, here. Many are packaged in foil. The turmeric is amazing. Target carries garam masala…wonder how it would compare!

  9. Cheryl says:

    Try making bread with the roasted squash. Like a pumpkin bread. I used pumpkin pie spices and threw in a handful of chocolate chips

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Cheryl. I had some pumpkin pound cake that a friend baked this week, with cooked chunks of winter squash in it. Delicious!

  10. Rev Susu says:

    Hi there….I made the Squash Coconut Milk Soup and it is over the moon. Thank you so much.
    I did change it up a little, by adding my own blend of Garam Masala (I make it myself and have for years), which I’m sure is almost the same as what you are using. I also garnished with a dollop of sour cream and chives (also from my garden).
    Again thank you for the recipe.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Rev Susu. I am glad to hear you, too, have enjoyed this combination of flavors. I am about to make yet another batch!

  11. Jewels says:

    I love squash, and squash soup. I am going to make this with the bright orange squash on my countertop, and will probably add a few apples.

    One of us has high cholesterol, so I will halve the amount of lite coconut milk. Since we cook leanly most of the time, using full-fat tastes overly rich to us. Cream, fuggedaboutit.

    Your bbq lentils have become a go-to recipe in our home. I make it in a slow cooker.

  12. Vera says:

    I have several winter squash soups in my repertoire ( with apples and curry, with sage and tomatoes…) and I love them all, but this one sounds deliciously different. Our winter squash harvest here in the Netherlands has unfortunatelly not been as good as yours – only the Uchiki Kuri has done reasonably well this year. The butternut squash seems to need more warmth to set fruit and as the summer was not very warm, they started doing that too late in the season and the fruits rotted instead of ripening. I hope for a better season next year, it is so lovely to have home grown squashes stashed away for the winter!

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Vera, all the way from the Netherlands. We had a cool season, too, but I grew mine on a mulch of black plastic that heated up the soil enough, I guess. By the way, I reuse the plastic for many years — trying not to be wasteful!

  13. Sara B says:

    I can never have too many squash soup recipes. I definitely want to try this one.
    After I roast the squash, I usually simmer the skin and seeds along with other bits of vegetables I have to make a vegetable stock (lately squash and a lot of carrot tops).

  14. Nancy Warberg says:

    I enjoy reading your articles so much. Just made butternut squash soup for a group of gardeners who take care of the perennial border at the Greensboro, N.C. Arboretum. They loved my soup which had half and half milk and curry powder. Next time I will try the garam masala and coconut milk as a healthier change. Thanks for the idea.

  15. Laurie says:

    Margaret, this is delicious! I simmered with some lemongrass stalks I needed to use and added a dash of cayenne. It was devoured. Thanks!

  16. Polly says:

    Best butternut squash soup I’ve ever eaten. I adore the flavor, and how simple it is to make. For those interested, garam masala is also quite easy to make if you have a coffee or spice grinder. There should be some sweetness and a little kick. Check online for recipes.

    Thank you, Margaret, for this wonderful soup. It’s a keeper.

  17. Maureen Newman says:

    I thought I made up this recipe! :-) But I also add Curry powder and grated fresh ginnger along with the Garam Masala, and a teaspoon of red curry paste for a little kick. A dollop of yogurt and sprinkle of cilantro. YUM! (I used Honeynut squash)

  18. Laura West says:

    Hello, yes- I’ve been making some variation of butternut squash soup for years, and this one looks great! If you don’t mind, as a veteran cookbook reader, I’ve picked up tips from other pros I’d like to pass along to amp the flavors here:
    1. Spices lose their volatile oils very quickly, so the fresher the spice, the better,(Alton Brown has some great shows on Good Eats on this). Margaret, so glad you shared the individual spices that go into a Garam masala mix. I was introduced to this mix from a hippie cookbook recipe that advised buying whole spice, roasting and grinding. The flavors were a revelation to me!
    2. When I use recipes from East Indian cooks, they toast the spices separately in a bit of oil (usually ghee or butter-but any light oil is fine). Then add their spice mix at the end-often with the addition of a bit of acid, to counterbalance the sweet/spicey flavors,(usually lemon or lime) So now I always do this, and like toasting my nuts, it makes the spices “sing”.
    3. While I’m an omnivore, I have many friends who are vegan, and I wanted to make a great vegan broth. So I read Debra Madison’s Vegetarian cookbooks. After a while, I noticed a pattern with her broths, that she was saving the veggie scraps (the way I would save meat and bone scraps)
    To enhance each soup.
    So the last time I made a similar soup to this one,I saved all the seeds a skins from roasting the squash, the onion and apple skins (sometimes I roast those too) and boil them up for about half an hour. Makes a great veggie broth, in far less time than a meat based broth, with the same flavors I’m adding in later….

  19. Joan Miller says:

    I’ve enjoyed using Garam Masala for years and liked it a lot. I never bothered to investigate what goes into it. Appreciate having this info, Margaret. I will try your recipe soon.

  20. Ellen C. says:

    I wish I had gotten the bumper crop of butternut u got! Love butternut squash. Damn groundhog got every last one of mine, and all my beautiful blackberries, pumpkins, mini butternuts, everything! My garden is fenced, I even put wolf & hubby pee around my garden fence. Put aprons around my fence too, he dug under them. Rocks, boards, fences, barriers, nothing stopped him. I think he was even up in a tree watching me once! But next year, and I kno he will be back, he wont get anything…..bwahahaha.

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