Persian-Style Butternut Squash Soup


Swap out your basic butternut squash soup for this fragrant version that includes sweet potato and a medley of spices like cinnamon, cumin, coriander and saffron. A drizzle of maple syrup and a few drops of orange water brighten the flavors, while a sprinkle of sumac adds a pop of color and a tangy edge. This healthy butternut squash soup would be a wonderful starter for your Thanksgiving meal.

Prep Time:
25 mins
Additional Time:
35 mins
Total Time:
1 hr
6 cups

My Persian-Style Butternut Squash Soup Captures the Flavors of All the Lands I Call Home

The waning days of autumn simmer with a bittersweet wistfulness. We say goodbye to the dimming sun, cozy up, settle in for longer nights and set about planning our Thanksgiving menu. In our house, this undoubtedly includes a Persian-style butternut squash soup to brighten up our spirits and our holiday table.

Butternut squash soup is a stalwart of our fall meals. Over the years it has also become one of my contributions to our Thanksgiving celebration. It makes for a warming starter, but I also love to have it on hand on the big day to tide everyone over in those hours between a quick breakfast and the mighty feast.

The butternut squash soup recipe I've shared here was inspired by my trusted and loyal spice cabinet, and includes a few of the spices that are typically used in Persian stews, rice dishes and aash (hearty, thick soups). In Iranian cuisine, fragrance and color play just as important a role as taste. Cinnamon is used in savory dishes, rather than sweets, to add warmth and perfume to the dish. I use it in this soup along with earthy cumin and coriander. And of course, no other spice elevates a dish more than saffron—the golden flag-bearer of Iranian cuisine. I also like to combine the squash with a sweet potato for an extra boost of flavor to jazz up the milder butternut squash.

Just like my ever-expanding spice cabinet, my Thanksgiving celebrations have shifted and adapted as many times as I have. My family immigrated to Canada from Iran (with a brief stay in Rome), when I was 10 years old. Unlike American Thanksgiving, Canadian Thanksgiving is celebrated in early October. Canada is farther to the north and the harvest takes place sooner; hence an earlier harvest celebration. Although I did not celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday in Iran, all the elements of it—a celebration of family, friends, food, the harvest and being grateful—are ones that my family could easily relate to and embrace.

As a nod to my Canadian home, I like to finish this soup off with a drizzle of maple syrup to draw out the natural sweetness of the butternut squash. And if inspiration strikes, which I suggest it should for a holiday meal, I also like to add a few drops of heady orange blossom water. The sweetness from the syrup and the fragrance from the flower water should be a faint curiosity, a note you can't quite put your finger on. Just before serving, a sprinkling of crimson red sumac not only looks beautiful against the deep orange of the soup but also adds a tangy accent to balance the sugars and satisfy the Iranian palate for all things bright and sour.

When I moved to the United States, my Thanksgiving celebration shifted once again, this time to late November. These days, our Thanksgiving dinner table is a borderless map dotted with a colorful array of dishes; a feast where traditions gently bump into each other with grace and kindness. We're hungry for it all as we first whet our appetites with a soothing and silky butternut squash soup we call our own.


  • 4-5 saffron threads (see Tips)

  • 2 tablespoons hot water

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil

  • 1 medium red onion, chopped

  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped

  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 3/4 pounds), peeled, seeded and cubed (1/2-inch)

  • 1 large sweet potato (about 8 ounces), peeled and cubed (1/2-inch)

  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin

  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

  • ¼ teaspoon ground coriander

  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

  • 3 ½ cups water

  • 1-2 teaspoons pure maple syrup

  • A few drops orange blossom water (optional)

  • Ground sumac for serving (see Tips)


  1. Grind saffron threads with a mortar and pestle to get 1/4 teaspoon ground saffron. Place the ground saffron in a small glass bowl. Add 2 tablespoons very hot (but not boiling) water. Stir, cover and set aside to steep.

  2. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion; cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic; cook, stirring, for another 2 minutes. Add squash, sweet potato, cumin, salt, cinnamon, coriander and pepper. Stir to combine; cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 5 minutes.

  3. Add 3 1/2 cups water to the pot; increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and add the reserved saffron water. If there is saffron clinging to the side of the bowl, drizzle in a little more water, swish it around and add it to the pot (this is precious stuff!). Stir to combine; cover and simmer until the squash and sweet potato are soft and cooked through, about 25 minutes. Taste the broth for seasoning and adjust as desired.

  4. Transfer the soup to a blender and add maple syrup and orange blossom water, if using. (Start with 1 teaspoon maple syrup and just a drop or two of orange blossom water--and don't measure over the soup.) Puree until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Taste and add more syrup and orange blossom water, if desired, but keep in mind the maple syrup and orange blossom water should not overwhelm the soup. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with sumac, if desired.


Tips: Saffron adds flavor and golden color to a variety of Middle Eastern, African and European foods. Find it in the spice section of supermarkets, gourmet shops or at It will keep in an airtight container for several years.

The tart red berries of the Mediterranean sumac bush add fruity, sour flavor to many regional dishes. Find ground sumac in Middle Eastern markets, specialty-food shops and online.

To make ahead: Cover and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

175 Calories
7g Fat
29g Carbs
3g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 6
Serving Size 1 cup
Calories 175
% Daily Value *
Total Carbohydrate 29g 11%
Dietary Fiber 5g 17%
Total Sugars 6g
Added Sugars 1g 2%
Protein 3g 5%
Total Fat 7g 9%
Saturated Fat 1g 5%
Vitamin A 22431IU 449%
Vitamin C 39mg 44%
Folate 54mcg 13%
Sodium 188mg 8%
Calcium 109mg 8%
Iron 2mg 9%
Magnesium 72mg 17%
Potassium 750mg 16%

Nutrition information is calculated by a registered dietitian using an ingredient database but should be considered an estimate.

* Daily Values (DVs) are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume each day. Percent Daily Value (%DV) found on nutrition labels tells you how much a serving of a particular food or recipe contributes to each of those total recommended amounts. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value is based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your calorie needs or if you have a health condition, you may need more or less of particular nutrients. (For example, it’s recommended that people following a heart-healthy diet eat less sodium on a daily basis compared to those following a standard diet.)

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a special diet for medical reasons, be sure to consult with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian to better understand your personal nutrition needs.

Related Articles