October 5, 2015

Winter Squash Soup

October 5, 2015
Four months ago, when dahlias and asters were crowning the summer season, I inserted a mesh on the windows to bar insects from entering, and to hear the swish of an oak tree that quivers on the backyard like a parasol. Under the canopy you’ll find clusters of acorn – little nuts that look like heads wearing a cap or, as I like to imagine, bells that jingle in the evenings when the man-made world – far away – quiets down. Although woodland creatures – deer, squirrels and birds – gobble them like a starving tribe, I’m sure it is the humming of these wind-chimes that lulls us to sleep every night.
Like adulthood, summer induces the best of many. It stands for potential, and ushers us to wander and explore. Time expands to ripen everything that started earlier as a seed: red currants, wheat, families, and our hopes and needs. With more ease and comfort than in youth, our self-acceptance matures like a corncob in the field.

But, usually sooner than we’d like, shadows grow taller and the breeze hints at the change of mood. Blooms retreat and greens fade. Then, one morning, chirping becomes but a heavy sigh. That’s when you have to pull down the screens and install the windows back. Hey mosquitoes, bees and flies! Where are you now? Have you escaped to a warmer sphere because the autumn is here?
Leaves fall from a tree when they lose their grasp. They hover down and transform. Such falling has indicated autumn (in English) since the early 1600s. Before that, the season was called a harvest.

‘Harvest’ sounds so much more abundant than ‘fall’, doesn’t it?

Although labor-intensive, it reminds of togetherness, woolen socks, hot chocolate, and thanks-giving. It’s the time to reap our quota, gather crops, preserve energy, extract from the culture, wind down, retire to an inner space, and stack for the winter (or the old age). Falling, which is an urban term, signals that something or someone is becoming less, diminishing and sinking inward, failing to keep up or meet expectations, and descending or collapsing by a force, such as gravity. Many have fallen from grace. Which of us hasn’t fallen apart at times?
Autumn is one the scenes nature lays out to teach. As a constant, it walks us through a series of changes, year after year, to show decomposition and the end of all, and then, a renewal. Past the prime, at fifty, I can relate to this better than ever. The seasonal cycle offers a program for a slow-learner like me to reflect on the wheel of samsara, repeated birth and death, and the duties that come along with participating in such a pastime.
To undergo a change is rarely easy – especially when it defies my identity, relationships, abilities or means. When a challenge becomes too overbearing, I take shelter of routines or my personal invariables that anchor me to the favorable side of the situation. Sanguinity works as an inherent antidepressant and enables discernment that clears doubts. Such keenness of insight is an essential element of meditative outlook. It activates the brain’s reward center in a sustainable manner. A conscious effort to recognize positive and negative emotions by describing them in words boosts serotonin and dopamine, the feel good hormones that reduce stress. A constructive disposition of the mind – acquiring knowledge, and feeling grateful and humble – produces good impressions which, in turn, develop into a good habit that will gradually expand awareness. To solve problems by employing guilt, shame, anger and anxiety, on the other hand, gives a quick release, but will propel to destructive impulses again in the future.

Pumpkin soup is one on my autumnal balance points. This must be the third pumpkin soup recipe on the blog; not because I’m addicted to the gourd family fruits or consider them more noteworthy than other vegetables, but I jump at them on the market because they represent the bright face of autumn. Under their skin beats a soft, generous heart – the kind I’d like to cultivate, too.
In what ways is the autumn tutoring and empowering you?

Ingredients for the soup:
2 Tbsp ghee (or butter, or oil)
¼ tsp pure hing powder
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tsp grated fresh turmeric
2 medium size potatoes, diced
4 cups (1 liter) diced winter squash
¼ - ½ tsp cayenne powder
4 cups (1 liter) water
2 tsp dry roasted panch phoron powder
2 cups (500 ml) whey
2-3 tsp Himalayan salt
½ - 1 tsp garam masala powder

Ingredients for the garnish:
1 Tbsp ghee (or butter, or oil)
2 cups (500 ml) diced Hokkaido squash (red kuri)
2 pinches of Himalayan salt
1 pinch of cayenne powder
Roasted pumpkin seeds
1 -2 cups (250-500 ml) shalloew-fried paneer cubes

Cooking method:
Heat up the ghee (or butter, or oil) in a large pot. When it’s hot but not smoking; sprinkle in the hing powder, and grated ginger and turmeric. After about a minute, add the potato dices. Fry the potatoes over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Then toss in the winter squash dices and continue frying for another 5 minutes before pouring in the water. Cook (covered) until the vegetables are soft. Use a food processor, a stand blender or a hand blender to break the vegetables into a velvety soup. Whisk in the panch phoron powder, whey and salt. Bring the soup to a boil again, reduce the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes. Finally add the garam masala powder before serving.

While the soup is cooking, heat up a tablespoon of ghee (or butter, or oil) in a wok or a pan. Add the Hokkaido squash dices and sprinkle them with salt and cayenne. Fry them until they are cooked, stirring occasionally. Add the roasted seeds and fried paneer cubes. Combine the garnish with the soup.

A tip:
For panch phoron powder, take equal amount of each: mustard, fennel, jeera, kalonji and fenugreek seeds. Dry roast them on a pan over a moderately low heat until the seeds are a few shades darker and aromatic, for about 5 minutes. Let the spices cool down and grind them into powder.

The simplest garam masala powder consists of toasted cinnamon stick, cardamom seeds and cloves. You may add black peppercorns, jeera, fennel, coriander, tejpatta, nutmeg and other spices to make it more complex.

Thank you.


  1. Lovely. It is autumn here in New England as well. The light is magnificent and the leaves are changing. A sad and joyous time of year.

  2. Love the unique and delicious ingredients in this soup - it sounds delightful! And is absolutely perfect for fall.

  3. Lovely write-up. Beautiful Autumn. Delicious and comforting soup. A perfect post! :)

  4. Harvest. I like it. Might have to start saying that (though there may be some eye rolling by my husband).

    It's impossible not to feel all warm and cozy with a beautiful soup like this.

  5. A nourishing, insightful, sage post, plus a delicious sounding recipe. Today I bought to pale pumpkins to usher in Halloween. Might go back to get soup squash! Thank you, Lakshmi!

  6. Lovely narrative Lakshmi and beautiful pictures. I'm not a big fan of the word Fall either. As you said it denotes a 'past its prime' condition. Love everything about autumn except the reminder that winter is in the near horizon.

  7. Lovely write-up, beautiful autumn pictures. How do you make each and every post so nice ! :)

  8. What a beautiful post. The pictures and your writing always warm my heart. There is no autumn where I live but I lived it through this post of yours.

  9. You always amaze me with your perspective on things, Lakshmi. This was no exception. I usually do a quick read as soon as I see your post. Later in the day when I have more time in hand, I savour every word. Thank you.

    1. Ratna, I'm always amazed that someone reads my ramblings :-)

  10. i spent w-a-a-a-y too many years being beaten down by the blazing sun, so much so that i grew to dislike it on a level not worth repeating. it was a life of cracked vehicle dashboards, sweat beading through my shirts minutes after a shower, a steady thick visible haze of heat in the horizon, running from shade tree to shade tree, feet being fried like eggs in a pan if one were to venture onto the sand or pavement sans shoes, and where night sees just a few degrees drop in temperature. it is for this reason i have now decided to embrace that which i loved so passionately during my dreams and vacations... a life of seasons. i reside in a place where the summers are short and temperate, autumn is spread gloriously before us like paint on canvas, winter is sublime cozy delicious, and instead of having to source out the color, "spring green" in a box of crayola crayons, i simply wait for spring. this article touched me in many ways, lakshmi. that soup? yes, please :-) as always, thank you for sharing your love with us. until~

  11. One of the best pumpkin soups I've ever tried, thank You for the recipe!

  12. Wow, I really love the potato/pumpkin's seed. Also, your pictures are wonderful! Fall is my favorite season, there's not much to do except cooking and play outside with the kids... Just perfect for me! :D

  13. Thank you, can't wait to try it. Sounds lovely !