Chicken, butternut squash and garbanzo bean soup is the perfect comfort food loaded with lean protein, delicately sweet butternut squash, nutty garbanzos and spinach for a healthy meal. This hearty main dish soup of my own creation is a complete meal with almost all pantry items with exception of the spinach. Blue potatoes and butternut squash are still a part of the larder from last year’s garden and I am finally making a dent into the supply of butternut squash from the fall harvest.
To save time you can buy cubed butternut squash in the produce section of most supermarkets. But if you choose to start with a whole squash, this is a method that works for me. I start by washing off the squash, any dirt left behind when you start cutting the squash will be transferred to your knife and subsequently, the squash flesh. Cut off a ½-inch piece at both ends so that they are flat, then I cut it where the neck and the bulb meet. I cut the bottom in half and scoop out the seeds and stringy fibers, a grapefruit spoon works well here. You can discard the seeds but I like roasting them for a snack or a salad topping. Use a vegetable peeler or chef’s knife to remove all of the skin and the green veins that are directly under the skin, your finished product should just be orange flesh. Now you can use a knife to cut the squash into pieces. I was aiming for 1½ inch pieces. The squash I used for this recipe weighed in 3.25 pounds and made about 8 cups of raw squash. In a large bowl, toss the squash with a little olive oil and salt and roast on a baking sheet until the cubes are caramelized but not at the point of disintegrating into the soup. The squash measured 4 ½ cups after roasting.
The soup would be good without it, but I added some chicken to up the protein quotient and really make it feel like a meal. Normally I would use chicken thighs, but I had boneless breasts in the fridge. I wanted to keep the chicken as moist as possible, (there is nothing worse than dried out chicken in your soup) so I turned to a method that I have used in the past, poaching. Poaching is a method that cooks chicken gently and slowly. Boneless breasts are arranged in a single layer and covered with the appropriate aromatics and liquid, water in this case, but a splash of wine is good too. The pot is brought to the boil, then reduced to a simmer. After about eight minutes, check the temperature of the chicken in the thickest part of the breast. Chicken is supposed to be cooked to 165°F but since I knew I would be adding it to my soup pot, I was aiming at 155-158°F so it wouldn’t overcook in that step. Remove from the poaching liquid and let cool, then shred into bite sized pieces. An easier approach? Use the meat from a rotisserie chicken.
Once you are finished these steps, the soup comes together very quickly. In a large Dutch oven, saute the onion, then add the garlic and herbs. The broth, tomatoes and garbanzos are next. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat. Add the squash, chicken and spinach and cook for about ten minutes, until the spinach is wilted.
Freshly cooked garbanzos are a favorite of mine and would be great in this recipe but would require some advanced planning. Puree a few cups of the soup before the last ingredients are added if you want to give the soup a more stew like consistency.
Chicken, Butternut Squash and Chick Pea Soup
- 1 butternut squash, about 3 lb
- Extra virgin olive oil-for baking the squash and making the soup
- Kosher salt
- ¾ to 1 lb chicken breasts 2-3 relatively the same size or already cooked and shredded chicken, breast or thigh meat
- 1 medium onion, diced small
- 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- 1 t ground cumin
- ½ t ground coriander
- 3-4 c low sodium chicken broth
- 1-10 oz can diced tomatoes and green chilies (mild or hot)
- 1-15.5 oz can chick peas, drained and rinsed
- 4-5 cups spinach leaves
Preparing the butternut squash
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel, seed and cut squash into 1½-in cubes. Alternately use 8 cups of pre-cut squash.
- Put the squash cubes in a large bowl, drizzle with olive oil and kosher salt. Toss to coat and place on a baking sheet, distributing the cubes evenly as possible.
- On the lower rack of the oven, bake squash for ten minutes. Gently flip the squash pieces so that the sides that aren’t caramelized are on the bottom, bake for another 5 minutes. Redistribute the squash pieces again and cook for another 5-7 minutes. Remove squash from baking sheet and transfer to a plate to cool.
Poaching the chicken
- Place the chicken breasts in a heavy bottomed pot, large enough to hold them without overlapping but relatively snug.
- Cover the breasts by an inch and a half with cool (not hot) water with a pinch of salt, or broth, garlic, a sprig of thyme or a bay leaf.
- Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Partially cover and at the eight minute mark insert an instant read thermometer at the thickest point of the breast to check the temperature. I like pulling mine off the heat around 158°F since they will continue to cook a little after they are removed from the cooking liquid and when added to the hot soup will cook a little more.
- Let the chicken cool then shred along the grain into bite sized pieces.
Assembling the soup
- In a large 5-quart Dutch oven cook the onion over medium high heat until translucent. Add the garlic and spices are cook for another minute.
- Add chicken broth, tomatoes and chick peas and bring to boil.
- Reduce heat to a simmer and add squash, chicken and spinach, heat through for about ten minutes or until spinach is wilted.
- Serve in warmed bowls.