Today I want to talk about the simplest of dishes that highlights how a combination of just a few quality ingredients can deliver a beautiful result. Today is all about winter squash and curry powder.
Winter squash, cantaloupe melon and cucumber are all related to pumpkin – which comes from the Greek word “pepon” or “big melon” – and come from the gourd family. And while we’ve become accustomed to thinking about green leafy vegetables as an outstanding source of antioxidants, winter squash also plays an important role here, especially when it comes to carotenoid antioxidants – with squash’s tangerine hue a clear indicator of that. Carotenoids, the colorful plant pigments some of which the body can turn into vitamin A, are powerful antioxidants that help the body reduce the inflammatory action of free-radicals and act to enhance immune response to infections. And the bright-orange beta-carotene is the most important carotenoid for adequate vitamin A intake because it yields more vitamin A than other types of carotene.
But the unique carotenoid content of winter squashes is not their only claim to fame, however. While winter squash is not a high-fat food, it does contain fats, including the anti-inflammatory omega-3s. One cup of baked winter squash will provide you with approximately 340 milligrams of omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). While that amount is only about one-third as high as the concentration of ALA found in walnuts (the best of the best omega-3 plant foods), it is still a valuable amount being provided by such a low-fat food. There is also a very good amount of vitamin C in squash and it is rich in potassium, folic acid and magnesium.
Pumpkin seeds, also known as pepitas, are also a fantastic source of antioxidants. They not only contain antioxidant vitamin E, but contain it in a wide variety of forms with different levels of bioavailability, making them unique in their antioxidant support. Pumpkin seeds also contain minerals like zinc and manganese, are a good source of healthy fats (containing 35-40% oil) and a good source of protein.
Curry powder – a mixture of spices pounded together to release their aromas – is often associated with Indian dishes. However, the versatility of curry powder can be surprising – as we are about to discover, the tiniest amount of curry powder can lift a creamy pumpkin soup to a completely new level.
A basis of any curry powder is a combination of four groups of spices (with spices representing each group differing from region to region): sweet spices (such cinnamon), pungent spices that add depth of character (such as cumin), and hot spices (such as chilli, pepper, mustard powder, ginger) to give the mix a bite. And all these come together in harmony with the addition of turmeric and coriander seeds – amalgamating spices – which balance the sweet and pungent spices into a beautifully-rounded mix.
Of course you can make your own curry powder (the spices should be roasted before being ground to bring out their depth of flavour), but I buy mine already prepared from spice shops. When a little bit of curry powder is added to this soup, it offsets the sweetness of butternut squash and gives the soup distinct earthy aroma and lingering depth of flavour.
A small winter squash (if using a larger one, use half), peeled, seeded and diced
Medium yellow onion
3 fat cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon of curry powder
About 600ml of good quality chicken or vegetable stock
A drizzle of coconut milk
Spiced pepitas (recipe below)
Heat the coconut oil in a heavy bottom pan (Dutch oven) and on low heat sauté the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and let is cook for a minute or so, releasing its beautiful aroma, before adding the curry powder. Stir and cook for a few seconds, then add diced squash and the stock. Bring to boil, reduce the heat and gently simmer until the squash is very tender (the time required here will depend on the type of winter squash used and can vary from 15mins to over 30 mins). Take of the heat and blend with an immersion blender until you have a velvety tangerine-hued soup. You can add some hot water/stock if the soup looks too thick.
Serve with a drizzle of coconut milk and a generous sprinkling of spiced pepitas.
Ingredients for Spiced pepitas
A handful of pepitas
Half a teaspoon of coconut sugar
A grinding of pink Himalayan salt
A teaspoon of coriander seeds, lightly toasted and powdered
A teaspoon of cumin seeds, lightly toasted and powdered
Quarter teaspoon black pepper, roughly ground
A pinch of chipotle powder
A teaspoon of coconut oil
Mix all the spices together with pepitas. Heat the coconut oil in a frying pan and add the spice mix and pepitas. Toast, stirring often, until the seeds are slightly toasted and the coconut sugar has melted and helped the spice mix coat the seeds. Take off the heat and let cool before using.
The soup feels almost buttery and the addition of curry powder gives it beautiful depth and character. Pepitas provide not just a pleasant crunch, but also little bursts of flavour from all the spices they were toasted with.
Smooth, delicious and nutritious, this luxurious creamy soup is one of the ultimate comfort foods.