Having given up meat as a teenager, Digital Managing Editor Erika Ehmsen keeps an eye out for her fellow pescatarian and vegetarian guests on "Turkey Day." Because while making a meal of veggie side dishes can be delicious, herbivore guests are always thankful for a main dish of their own—like this piquant soup with soft pretzels to soak up every drop.
Why these recipes?
I was looking for a tasty-sounding vegetarian main, and surely you noticed the word "butter" in both of these recipe titles. That caught my eye too, as butter is the keystone of my food pyramid (and the main reason I could never be a vegan).
What was it like to make them?
After hacking apart an extra-large kabocha squash into the size the recipe called for, the rest of the soup recipe was a breeze. Even peeling the roasted squash was easy. The only real challenge was predicting how many quarts were in what the cookbook authors considered a "medium" dutch oven—I used a 10-quart dutch oven when a 6-quart would have sufficed. The soup didn't suffer, but it was tricky to use an immersion blender on basically an inch of hot soup spread across a 10-quart pot.
But the pretzel had a decently steep learning curve. I'd never made soft pretzels before, and twisting the springy dough without overworking it was a challenge. The cookbook only had words to describe the twisting process, so my husband convinced me to looked online to find some step-by-step illustrations. (And if my husband and kids hadn't stepped in to try their hand at twisting the dough, I might still be at my kitchen counter, attempting to form perfect pretzel shapes.)
How did they turn out?
The soup was lovely, both the night I made it and the next night when I reheated it. It had both sweetness (from the Honeycrisp apple, the apple cider, and the maple syrup) and sharp notes (from the apple cider vinegar, onions, fennel, sage, and thyme). With the underlying rich brown butter flavor and a bit of salt, every corner of my mouth was delighted.
But don't look too closely at my pretzels. Out of 12, maybe 1/3 were discernibly pretzel-shaped. The rest looked more like dumplings—not something I'd be proud to serve to guests. Thankfully, my family isn't as judgmental, and they gobbled up the perfectly tender but misshapen dough balls.
Will I make them again?
Absolutely. The soup looked, smelled, and tasted like a bowlful of fall. With some pumpkin seeds on top and some crusty bread on the side, it's a delightful vegetarian main that's perfect for a Thanksgiving meal.
And even though our first batch of pretzels didn't all look like pretzels, it was still really cool to make them. When baseball season swings back into action, maybe I'll pack my own soft pretzels—instead of perpetually buying them at the ballpark.
But would I attempt to make pretzels for Thanksgiving, amid all the other dishes I'd be prepping? Probably not.
AUTUMN SQUASH SOUP with APPLE CIDER and BROWN BUTTERServes 4 to 6
"Autumn squash epitomizes the flavor of fall for me, especially when I'm cooking with heirloom squash varieties like kabocha," writes Adam Sappington, co-author of Heartlandia. "This soup combines the deep orange flesh of the green-skinned kabocha with nutty brown butter, fresh-pressed apple cider, and maple syrup to create a sweet-savory soup that's as beautiful as any fall scene. This soup is great served solo, but you can also garnish it with toasted pumpkin seeds, roasted mushrooms, thinly sliced apples, or brioche croutons, if you like."
1 (2 1/2-pound) kabocha squash, halved and seeded6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes2 cups unsweetened apple cider1 firm, crisp medium apple, such as Honeycrisp, peeled, cored, and quartered1/2 large yellow onion, thinly sliced1/2 medium fennel bulb, thinly sliced2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, plus more for seasoning2 garlic cloves, finely chopped1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme1 tablespoon pure maple syrupKosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and place the squash, cut-side down, on the pan. Roast for 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool slightly, then peel away and discard the skin and any other tough pieces. (You should have about 2 1/2 cups squash flesh.)
2. Meanwhile, in a medium dutch oven set over medium heat, melt the butter. Cook, whisking frequently until the butter solids are brown and start to smell nutty, about 5 minutes.
3. Add the apple cider, apple, onion, fennel, vinegar, garlic, sage, thyme, and maple syrup and bring the mixture to a simmer. Season with salt and pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook until the apples, fennel, and onion are soft and tender, about 30 minutes. Add the squash to the soup and cook for 10 minutes more to blend the flavors. Let the soup cool for 30 minutes.
4. Working in batches, in a blender or the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade, puree the soup until smooth. (It should coat, not cake, the back of a spoon.) Return the soup to the pot. (Alternatively, puree the soup directly in the pot using an immersion blender.) If the soup is too thick, add water until you've reached the desired consistency. Season with salt and pepper and additional vinegar, if desired.
5. Return the soup to the stove and reheat over medium heat until warm. Divide the soup among four to six bowls and dig in.
SOFT BUTTERY PRETZELSMakes 12 pretzels
"When it comes to bar bites, nothing goes better with a cold beer than my warm buttery pretzels and a ramekin of hot mustard for dipping," writes Jackie Sappington, co-author of Heartlandia. "I discovered the original recipe for the pretzels in Bernard Clayton's Complete Book of Breads many years ago and have since tweaked it to make it my own. Malt powder gives the dough a hint of complexity, while using baking soda in the boil lends the pretzels their golden color. Look for malt powder at a brewing supply store."
5 cups (25 ounces/713 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more as needed1/4 cup kosher salt, plus more for garnish3 tablespoons granulated sugar1 1/2 tablespoons malt powder3/4 teaspoon active dry yeastNonstick cooking spray2 tablespoons baking soda3 tablespoons unsalted butter, meltedHot mustard, for serving
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, 1 tablespoon of the salt, the sugar, malt powder, and yeast and mix on low speed to combine. With the motor running, add 2 cups hot water. (The temperature of the water should read 110° F on a digital thermometer.) Mix until combined and the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and is supple and smooth but not tight, abut 10 minutes. (The dough should not be overly wet, but will be slightly sticky. If the dough seems too wet, sprinkle a little additional flour into the bowl and mix for a few minutes longer.)
2. Grease a large bowl with nonstick cooking spray, turn the dough into the bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest in a warm place for 15 minutes.
3. Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured work surface and divide it into twelve equal portions. Cover the dough with a damp towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
4. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and grease the parchment paper with nonstick cooking spray. Working with one portion of the dough at a time, use both hands to roll the dough into an even rope about 12 inches long. Take the ends of the rope, bring them to the center, and twist to make an oblong pretzel with a twist in the middle. Press the tips together at the bottom of the pretzel, letting the ends flare out to the sides. Place the pretzel on the prepared baking sheet and repeat with the remaining dough.
5. Meanwhile, arrange a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 400° F. Fill a large stockpot with about 6 inches of water. Bring the water to a simmer, then add the remaining 3 tablespoons salt and the baking soda.
6. Place four pretzels in the simmering water and boil the pretzels until they rise to the surface. (If they don't rise immediately, you can nudge them with a wooden spoon to help them float.) Once the pretzels float, use a strainer to transfer them to the baking sheet. Repeat the process until all the pretzels are boiled. Transfer the pretzels to the oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown.
7. Remove the pretzels from the oven and immediately brush them with the butter and sprinkle with salt. Transfer the pretzels to a large plate and serve with a ramekin filled with mustard on the side for dipping.