Spicy Butternut Curry Soup

Chef Matt Adams of Lexington, Virginia’s Red Hen balances toasted spices with sweet squash in this comforting dish

Photo: Sarah Cramer Shields

Every detail at the Red Hen in Lexington, Virginia, pays homage to its vibrant community of growers and craftsmen. Thoughtful handmade touches from local artisans in neighboring storefronts fill the cozy twenty-six-seat space, including one-of-a-kind glazed ceramic dishes and gleaming crystal cocktail stirrers from Earth, Fire, & Spirit Pottery, cheeses from Cheese to You, and hen-emblazoned dark chocolate squares from Cocoa Mill Chocolatier. In the kitchen, head chef Matt Adams and his team seek out seasonal and hyperlocal fruits, grains, and veggies from nearby farms like Sunflower Flats, Paradox Farms, and Wade’s Mill Farm to craft a rotating array of recipes.

As hardy fall squashes took the place of summer produce in Adams’s grocery haul, he and his team began to brainstorm an adaptable dish that would work with varying veggies and landed on a flavorful butternut squash soup with warming spices. “My favorite thing about this recipe is that it’s so versatile, and it’ll work with what our local farmers have,” he says. “You can switch it out with sweet potatoes or acorn squash or pumpkins. You can take the curry out and add roasted garlic, making it more savory. It never gets boring.” Even time can alter the taste. In the later winter months, Adams says the squashes cellar well, sweetening with age as the starches convert to sugars. 

photo: Sarah Cramer Shields
Adams finishes the dish with house-made smoked chili oil.

Turmeric, cumin, curry powder, black pepper, and salt balance the sweetness of the butternut squash. “We want to toast the spices, bringing out their full flavor without burning them,” Adams says. His key to keeping them aromatic is to halt the toasting process by adding in the broth or water once the spices reach fragrant perfection. 

“I prefer to have my soup set overnight in the fridge to allow the flavors to really develop,” Adams says, “but sometimes I can’t wait and I serve it right away.” For Adams, a warmed, fresh baguette or crunchy croutons make the perfect partner for this bowl of soup.


  • Spicy Butternut Curry Soup with Chili Oil (Yield: 8–10 servings)

    • 1–2 medium-sized butternut squashes

    • 1 yellow onion

    • 3 cloves garlic

    • ½ tsp. turmeric

    • ¼ tsp. cumin

    • 1½ tsp. curry powder

    • ¼ tsp. black pepper

    • 1 tbsp. salt

    • 2 tbsp. olive oil

    • 4 cups vegetable broth or water

    • 1½ cups heavy cream

    • ½ tsp. Korean chili flakes (optional)

    • Drizzle of chili oil (recipe follows)

  • Chili Oil

    • 1 dried Calabrian chili, deseeded

    • 3 garlic cloves, smashed

    • ¼ yellow onion, chopped

    • 2 cups olive oil

    • 6 Japones peppers, deseeded

    • 2 tbsp. paprika

    • ½ tsp. smoked paprika

    • 2 tsp. Korean chili flakes

    • 2 tsp. Espelette chili flakes


  1. Peel, seed, and rough chop the butternut squash and onion. Crush the garlic and set aside. Combine turmeric, cumin, curry powder, black pepper, and salt together in a small dish. Set aside. 

  2. Set a high sided pot over medium high heat and add the olive oil. When the pot is hot and the olive oil moves quickly around the bottom, add the onion and stir constantly until lightly browned. Add the crushed garlic and sauté for an additional minute.

  3. Add the combined spices and turn the heat down to medium, continuing to stir for about 2 minutes. Once the spices are aromatic and before they stick to the bottom of the pot and scorch, add in broth or water. Add chopped butternut squash, allowing the squash to peek above the water/broth line. Cover the pot and bring the heat back up to medium high, allowing it to come to a boil. Once boiling, turn the heat down until it is at a simmer and allow to stew until the butternut squash is fork tender, about 20 minutes. Once the squash is cooked through, remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool for about 30 minutes.

  4. Once cool, carefully ladle soup into a blender. Begin at the lowest setting and puree until smooth. 

  5. Stir in heavy cream and optional chili flakes. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. 

  6. Serve hot and top with a few dashes of chili oil if desired.

  7. For the chili oil:  In a small pot over very low heat, lightly toast the dried chili. Add the garlic, onion, and oil and allow to infuse for 30 minutes. Add the Japones peppers, paprika, smoked paprika, Korean chili flakes, and Espelette chili flakes. Continue to infuse the hot oil on low heat for 10 minutes. Strain through a fine strainer.