Curried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Move over berries, tomatoes & fresh summer produce and make way for the root vegetables and vines. I love to cook and I’ve said that before, but to date I have bought just one cookbook and I have never followed a recipe(unless am baking) to the tee. I can’t follow recipes to the tee, because I am either out of some ingredient that is required or I don’t like the taste or fancy an ingredient. I like my own twists and turns, cookbooks and recipes are just guidelines for me, guidelines for proportions, baking times etc. Besides if you have noticed, bulk of these darn books make things in batches that serve 6-8 and we are just two people at home here. It is almost like condemning us to stale baloney sandwiches because we aren’t entertaining or have a family big enough!! In my case let me throw in another spoke into that wheel – my husband is a vegetarian – yeah you heard me right – vegetarian. For the record there is nothing wrong with it, it is probably healthier in some ways but sometimes that means I have to make two different meals which is rather off putting. Can you imagine double chopping, double cooking and worst of all double washing ( you know that kind of load isn’t going to fit in a dishwasher). Oh joy! the things we do for our loved ones! Let’s come back to not following recipes…so here I am inspired by Ina’s butternut squash soup, but I don’t want to sprinkle on toasted coconuts and curry powder as a garnish. I come from a land that uses those ingredients generously and am not fond of eating either as a garnish! Why waste fantastic flavor like that? Butternut squash soup embraces the concept of successfully marrying something innately sweet with a spice that sits squarely and firmly on the opposite side of sweet. As a tamilian (from the state of Tamil Nadu in South India), we are genetically predisposed to hating such flavors, we are purveyors of spice and heat, so for me it is a recently acquired taste and one that I genuinely can’t get enough of.  So I picked up Ina’s recipe and tweaked it to roasting the squash with curry powder, cut out the coconut and added a tinge of maple syrup to help with the caramelization of the squash. Well, I’ll just furnish the recipe below.

But lets not forget that this blog is aimed at photography. The best thing about food photography is that much of it is done under natural light – something that is free and plentiful. The only issue is, as we close in on fall and winter, there are lesser hours of sunlight and more dark and dreary days. Also, in the interest of not losing much of that beautiful light, it will mean cooking dishes earlier during the day. Planning is key during such days, winging it just wont cut it! Visualizing the shots and getting a story board together, helps. It helps to keep the props ready to go, and have everything at hand when you suddenly realize pouring the soup into the bowl is just not a smart idea, ladling it in – is. So does that mean end of shoot , just because you have splashed soup all over the bowl and there are specks of soup that make the bowl look like a dog’s breakfast??? Nope, that’s why there are little things called swabs and tissues. I have learnt to appreciate the usefulness of the “quicker picker upper” more, since I started shooting soups.  Today, I stuck to my kit lens of 18-55mm, compensated for the dreary rainy day through my exposure compensation and by adhering to a slower shutter speed. I will post the EXIF details along with the picture,one will have to click on the picture to see the exif. There were no reflectors used, I liked the natural shadows that were falling around the plates and the food itself was lit well enough and I wanted the details of the swirls to show through a little bit. I got about 5 slightly different compositions with the same variants and am posting each one of them. So if you are here  just for the photography, skip the next part and go to the picture, if not read on for the recipe.

Roasted Butternut Squash Recipe

2 pounds butternut squash soup

1tbsp curry powder

1tbsp maple syrup

1 cup diced red onions

4 cups of vegetable broth(low sodium only)

1tbsp butter or olive oil to saute

salt to taste

Olive oil to coat

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the butternut squash into 1.5 inch cubes, toss with olive oil, maple syrup and curry powder. On a baking tray, lay out the squash and bake for 40-45 minutes, until its golden and beginning to char. In a stock pot, saute the onions until translucent, add in the squash and the broth and simmer for 15-20 mins. The stock should have reduced from 4 cups to about 2-2.5 cups (depending on how thick you want the soup). Blend in a food processor and serve warm with croutons.

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Curried Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Playing with food is not a bad thing!

Fall is inching ever so closely, that when I look out my window I can see some orange and red leaves peeking back at me. Soon it will be cold, and everyone will talk about layering and jackets and bundling up by the fire – and before you know it, the holidays will be upon us! Its almost that time of year when one tends  to think about comfort food. But I am clutching on to summer’s coat tails and wringing it of its very last bounty. Oh, don’t get me wrong – I prefer the cold over the heat but summer gives me one thing in plenty that I adore the most – fresh strawberries! Like carrots, I hate cooking strawberries. The sweet but tart red stippled fruit doused with a generous dip of my version of fromage blanc with mascarpone, is the simplest manna one can construct within a matter of minutes. It almost gives me the feeling of enjoying a day of tennis on the lawns of wimbledon. A version of Strawberries & Cream, so wrong for you and just so right. Its like that seductively attractive guy you know is bad for you but you just can’t seem to keep your hands  to yourself.

So here is the “recipe” ( a rather unusual thing for a blog focused more on photography) –

1 pint of strawberries hulled

1  8oz container of mascarpone

zest of one lemon

2-3 tbsp of heavy cream/whole milk (whichever you prefer)

2 tbsps of honey or 1 tbsp of confectioner’s sugar ( add more if you want it sweeter)

1 tsp vanilla extract ( not essence)

Mix ingredient 2-5 in a bowl to a consistency where you can dip a strawberry into ( add more milk if required). Tastes better if the dip is a little colder than room temperature, Dip strawberries & enjoy.

But coming back to comfort food and the upcoming change in season, I foresee a lot of experimentation with soup. One of the few things I will list as comfort food is a no-nonsense chicken soup that my mother used to make for us. Nothing like the sometimes insipid to taste, chicken noodle soup. Heck no! This was a spicy concoction that could clear a sinus. It was spicy and warmed up every thing it touched and even our dog used to love it and drink it piping hot. She always used the giblets, some of our Indian spices, a good heap of garlic and chopped up coriander and that was all the flavor that this clear broth required along with salt & pepper. From the smell to the taste, this rather uncomplicated soup was a giant hug that relieved us of congestion and cold.

Speaking of spices, I was wondering about photographing some Indian spices that we use often and was doing some research online to see what compositions had already been done. Symmetrical compositions with wooden spoons or bowls, all whole spices in a row, powders in a heap at a market were all that I could find. Also in all my previous food photos, I saw an element of symmetry and pattern and I wanted to break the mold. Spices are a cook’s palette and that sentence got me thinking. There is some symmetry in this too, but just as a subtle reference. Let me know what you think.

 

I will also be writing a piece on food photography for a magazine I edit so I needed a cliched but fun shot that was simple and could take some text on it, so I shot this…

 

 

All of these photos were shot using natural light, near an open window on a slightly overcast day. I used a diffuser to even out the light hitting the food and to get softer shadows.  The only post processing done on these pictures are for contrast and a slight amount of color saturation.

As usual all photos and material on this blog are copyright of the author. Please DO NOT reuse anything from this blog without the author’s explicit permission. If you are interested in working with me or want to buy a print, please leave me a message.

Playing with food is not a bad thing!