I was thrilled to be invited to Mystery Lover's Kitchen, because it gives me a chance to talk about one of my favorite things: food! People don't associate my Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series with cooking, probably because I don't include recipes and my heroine is an Episcopal priest, not a food-related professional. However, as an ex-Army pilot, Clare's pick-up-and-move-in-a-minute hobby was cooking, and the series includes many scenes with Clare in the kitchen, usually teasing out some clues with Police Chief Russ Van Alstyne while whipping up something on her old stove.
Today I'm making one of my old standbys, Spicy Thai Butternut Squash soup. It's my own recreation of a dish I had once in a restaurant, so I make no claims as to it being authentically Thai. It's great for guests as it's easy, delicious and can be vegetarian (using vegetable stock for chicken) or vegan, if you substitute oil for butter. It makes an appearance in To Darkness and to Death when Russ arrives unexpectedly in the late afternoon to find Clare in her bathrobe.
“What kind of soup?” he asked. She could hear it in his voice, too, a deliberate attempt to be casual, as of the two of them hanging out in her house while she was practically undressed was a normal thing.
“Butternut Squash. I made it yesterday, It has squash, onions, chicken broth, peanut butter.” She pulled the Tupperware bowl from the bottom shelf and placed it on the counter.
“Uh...” he looked dubious. “I'll pass.”
Foolish Russ. Later on in the scene, he takes a taste and changes his mind. Here's what you'll need:
1 onion, diced
1 to 2 tsp ginger, to taste
2 tbs Butter or oil for sauteeing
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
2/3 cup coconut milk or cream of coconut (the first makes it strictly savory, the second a blend of sweet and hot)
3 heaping tbs natural peanut butter (never the processed kind!)
1 tsp cumin or to taste
several dashes hot pepper sauce or ground habenero pepper
In a large pan, heat the butter or oil.
Add vegetable stock to cover (this is usually the whole 4 cups for the amount I make.)
Boil until the squash is soft and easily pierced with a fork.
Remove from heat, shift the squash from the pot to a food processor. If you don't have one of these useful devices, you can also gently mash the squash for a chunkier soup.
Mix in the coconut milk or cream of coconut.
Stir in the peanut butter.
Julia Spencer-Fleming's New York Times bestselling books have won multiple awards, including the Anthony and Agatha, and have been Edgar and RT Reader's Choice nominees. The next Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne novel, Through the Evil Days, comes out on November 5th. You can find Julia at her website, her readerSpace, on Facebook and on Twitter as @jspencerfleming. She also blogs with the Jungle Red Writers.