Recipe for a Healthy Planet: Lisa Murray – Plant-based soups are great for building a meal

Vegan butternut squash soup.

Vegan butternut squash soup. PHOTO BY LISA MURRAY

Lisa Murray


Published: 02-23-2024 9:01 AM

I love butternut, acorn and delicata squashes for their natural sweetness and luscious textures. We still have butternuts that we grew in our garden this summer, and one of my favorite things to do with them is to turn them into soup. That said, I used to dread peeling them, but I’ve learned how to do it without too much trouble.

First, I cut the squash in half lengthwise and scoop out all the seeds. Then I cut each half into two pieces and use a vegetable peeler to take off the skin. I don’t worry about getting every last bit off, because the squash will ultimately go into a blender, and any remaining skin will essentially disappear. At any rate, it’s fine to eat the skin; when I roast squash, I just make sure it’s super-clean and don’t bother peeling it, because it becomes very soft in the oven and tastes great.

I have to give a shout-out to local Temple resident Jackie Davis for passing on a great tip for making vegan soups extra creamy, which I first experienced in her delicious potato leek soup; Jackie adds homemade cashew cream to her soups. She credits Dr. Joel Fuhrman, the "nutritarian" and author of “Eat to Live” for educating her about the culinary magic of cashew cream. Making “cream” from raw cashews is a terrific way to add protein to a dish without adding dairy, and adding cashew cream to any soup also makes it creamier and thicker, just as milk or cream would. The best part is, all it takes to make cashew cream are raw cashews and water!

Soaking the raw cashews in water for 30 minutes or more prior to using them enhances their creamy texture even more. In addition, soaking any type of nut also allows them to retain more of their nutrients and makes them easier to digest. So if you have the time, soak the nuts, then drain and rinse them before using. If you plan your meals ahead of time, you can even soak them overnight, but not for more than 12 hours or so, or they may get slimy. If you’re in a hurry, some cookbooks suggest a shortcut of pouring boiling water over raw cashews and simmering them for 15 minutes before blending.

That said, unsoaked cashews will still taste great and turn creamy when blended. You can’t go wrong; do what works best for you.

Vegan butternut squash soup

This recipe originally came from my mother’s kitchen, which I adapted a bit for a vegan diet. Sometimes I like to add a cup or so of cooked wild rice to the soup after it has been blended, just for a little added texture. Another twist is to add a teaspoon of curry powder to the soup while it’s cooking for an Indian flair.


-- 1 medium onion, sliced thin.

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-- 2 garlic cloves, minced.

-- 1 teaspoon paprika.

-- 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed.

-- 2 medium potatoes, cubed (skin on or off; skin is a good source of fiber).

-- 2 apples, peeled, cored, diced.

-- 2 cups water or vegetable broth.

-- ½ cup raw cashews.

-- ½ cup water.

-- Cooking sherry, optional.

-- Cinnamon, optional.


In a medium-sized pot, sauté onion, garlic and paprika in a little olive oil until onion is glossy. Add squash and potatoes and sauté an additional three to five minutes. Add two cups water or broth, and bring to a boil.

Lower heat cover pot, and simmer on low for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add apples and simmer 10 more minutes; then remove from heat. Cream the raw cashews with half-cup water in blender until mixture is a smooth, creamy consistency. (I use a Vitamix, and this takes less than a minute.)

Add soup to cashew cream a few spoonfuls at a time until everything is fully blended; soup will be thick and creamy. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Ladle soup into individual bowls, and top each with one tablespoon of cooking sherry and a sprinkle of cinnamon, if desired.

This recipe serves four. If you want to make a light meal around this soup, serve it with a mixed green salad and your favorite bread. The more colors in your meal, the better nutrition, because it generally means you are eating a good variety of vegetables and grains.

The EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, and Health brought 37 scientists together from around the world to establish a “global diet for healthy people on a sustainable planet” which is discussed on the website. One of the report’s key takeaways is: “A diet that includes more plant- based foods and fewer animal source foods is healthy, sustainable, and good for both people and planet. It is not a question of all or nothing, but rather small changes for a large and positive impact.”

Building a meal around a hearty, plant-based soup is a relatively easy way to incorporate a meatless meal into your week. One step at a time, one meal at a time, for better personal and planetary health.

For information about the impact of your food choices on the planet and your own health, visit “Recipe for a Healthy Planet” under the “Resources” tab of the website.

Lisa Murray has a passion for exploring the impact our food choices have on human and planetary health