This is a very nice wintery starter. The recipe is from the book Persiana. I tweaked it a bit: simplified by not fry onions and made more complicated by cooking the chickpeas. I am posting the recipe as is, because I think it is really nice, with my tweaks, or without. Of course, I omitted coriander, because it is evil.
Serves 4 as a starter
butternut squash 750g peeled, deseeded and cut into 4cm chunks
onions 2 large or 3 small, diced; plus 1 cut in half and thinly sliced into half moons
garlic cloves 3 fat, crushed
leeks 3, trimmed, cleaned and finely chopped
potatoes 3, unpeeled, cut into 4cm rough chunks
ripe vine tomatoes 5, roughly chopped into chunks
ground cumin 4 heaped tsp
ground cinnamon 1 heaped tsp
smoked sweet paprika 2 tsp
chilli paste 3 tsp
black pepper freshly ground
chickpeas 2 x 400g cans (reserve the liquid, plus a couple of handfuls of chickpeas to garnish)
large courgette 1, finely diced
feta cheese 100g
For the herb oil
olive oil 6 tbsp
flat-leaf parsley good handful
dill good handful
coriander good handful, plus extra, chopped, to garnish
pistachio nuts, handful
lemon juice squeeze
Preheat a large saucepan over a medium heat and put in enough olive oil to generously coat the base of the pan. Add the butternut squash, diced onions, garlic, leeks and potatoes and sauté, without browning, until the vegetables soften slightly. Then add the tomatoes, spices and chilli paste and give it all a good stir to ensure the spices are evenly coating the vegetables. Cover the vegetables completely with freshly boiled water, add a generous amount of sea salt (I would suggest at least 4 heaped teaspoons, crushed) and a good amount of black pepper, stir once more and cook for 30 minutes on a gentle boil.
Insert a knife into the squash and, when it is soft, purée the mixture in a food processor or blender until you get a lovely even, smooth soup. Once smooth, add the chickpeas and their liquid and stir well. At this stage you can add some more water to achieve your desired soup consistency, and check the seasoning to see if more salt or pepper is needed. Cook for a further 20 minutes, then add the courgette and cook for a final 20 minutes before serving.
Meanwhile, drizzle some olive oil into a large frying pan set on a high heat and fry the sliced onion until brown and crispy. Add the reserved chickpeas and brown them with the onions. Using a slotted spoon, remove the onions and chickpeas from the pan and set aside.
To make the herb oil, put the olive oil, parsley, dill and coriander in a bowl with the pistachios, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper. Blitz with a hand blender until finely chopped and with the consistency of pesto. If you need to slacken the mixture, add a bit more oil.
Pour the soup into large bowls (preferably wide, shallow ones), then generously crumble in the feta. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of the herb oil into each bowl over the feta. Finally, add the reserved crispy fried onions and chickpeas. Finish with a little freshly chopped coriander (if using). Serve with some nice crusty bread.