What makes creamy soups served in fine dining restaurants so delicious? The garnishes! Of course, the flavors incorporated into the liquid component of the dish are important, but textures bring a humble bowl of soup to the next level. Choosing toppings of various textures—meaty, crunchy, chewy, soft—and flavors that complement the soup’s main ingredients make the dish not only more interesting but also more filling.
I used to go to a duck-focused restaurant in Quebec City just to enjoy the soup that came with the lunch. It was heavenly and velvety, and it came sprinkled with an addictive assemblage of toppings. Crunchy croutons rendered in duck fat, tiny bits of smoky duck breast, glistening drops of house-made herb oils, perfectly diced fresh fruit—I never got the same toppings twice. The bland set-menu soup I didn’t think twice about in other restaurants was suddenly setting the stage for an amazing meal by being amazing in and of itself.
Unfortunately, that restaurant is gone, so I have adopted the creative topping habit at home. Of course, when you’re pressed for time, a simple ladleful of soup will do, but any creamy soup can blossom into a dish worthy of serving to company if you carefully choose what you sprinkle over it. There are some basic principles to follow: The soup should be on the thick side so the toppings don’t sink to the bottom easily. The toppings should be small or tiny so they distribute throughout the soup, keeping mouthfuls manageable. The textures and flavors should always complement the main produce used in the soup (in other words, don’t just add bacon bits because, you know, bacon.)
In this soup, I went all in for seasonality, combining a trifecta of fall-harvested produce: squash, Brussels sprouts, and apple. This dish comes together quite quickly because you can prepare all the toppings while the soup simmers. You can also make everything in advance and assemble the dish right before serving it.
Curious about the use of miso? It adds depth and complexity to a soup that doesn’t rely on the richness of dairy products. If you don’t have miso on hand, you can omit it, but if you do, by all means give it a try. It’s very subtle, but it adds an addictive, somewhat meaty dimension, as umami ingredients do.
Creamy Miso Squash Soup with Seared Brussels Sprouts and Apple
For the soup
1 tbsp [15 ml] olive oil
1 shallot, diced
1 tbsp [15 ml] fresh ginger, finely grated
1 lb [454 g] butternut squash, peeled and cubed (kabocha is also great)
½ apple, peeled and cubed (the second half of the apple will be used as topping)
2 cups [500 ml] low-sodium vegetable stock
1 tbsp [15 ml] red miso paste
For the toppings
1 tbsp [15 ml] olive oil
12 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ apple, peeled
Lemon juice (optional)
Pumpkin seeds, toasted
In a pot set over medium-low heat, heat 1 tbsp [15 ml] olive oil, then add the shallot and fry gently until translucent but not brown, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and cook just until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the squash and apple cubes and the vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Cover and keep at a low simmer until the squash is very tender, about 20 minutes.
While the soup simmers, heat 1 tbsp [15 ml] olive in a skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the quartered Brussels sprouts and let them sear on one cut side without moving for about 2 minutes (peek under the sprouts from time to time to make sure they’re not burning). Shake the sprouts around so the other cut side gets to the heat (you can get fussy about it and turn them one by one if you want to make sure they’re all evenly seared, but I usually just shake the pan). Keep on cooking for 2 minutes, always watching over the sprouts so they don’t burn, lowering the heat if needed. Add 1/4 cup [60 ml] water, cover and steam for 2 minutes. Remove the cover and let the water evaporate. Season with salt and pepper, transfer to a bowl and reserve.
Dice the second half of the apple in very small cubes (1/4-in [0.5-cm] dice look great). Drizzle a bit of lemon juice over the cubes to prevent them from browning.
Once the squash is very soft, remove the soup from the heat. Dissolve the miso paste in a ladleful of broth before returning the mixture to the pot. Puree the soup in a blender until super smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
Ladle the soup in shallow serving bowl. Divide the seared Brussels sprouts and diced apple. Top with toasted pumpkin seeds and serve immediately.
Recipe Credit: Inspired by a recipe by chef Brian Leth. Modified ingredient list and full method by Marie Asselin.