Saturday, 24 August 2013

A bumpkin in the soup

Coriander, cumin “warm-hug” pumpkin soup

As the first spoonful of this delicious soup slid down into our guts, spreading a warm haze all over our inside and up to our souls, my first-born christened it as the warm-hug pumpkin soup.

We had saved a portion for the photo shoot, yes - all my food blogger friends and food groupies will agree that there comes a time when we have to defer to the family’s wishes and eat in haste so we can shoot at leisure.

You can see how the impromptu christening gave the daughter an idea for styling the soup for the photo.

The photo and the soup – and the name- extol the virtues of a hug, which got thinking about this phenomenon.

Growing up, we were hardly ever hugged beyond a certain age. But I don’t think we were any worse off or felt deprived of affection. There were so many ways in which we felt the warmth of our parents’ love- through their care, their ceaseless efforts for us, through the underlying warmth in their tone when they even nagged us. I'd even say there was warmth in their worrying about us and in their reprimanding harangues – okay, perhaps I go a little overboard.

We were exposed to the norms of social distance and personal distance all around us.  Our hands folded reflexively in a Namaste and we had to learn to proffer a hand to shake.  Isn't it ironic that we were acutely aware, and not just instinctively, of even an inadvertent touch or contact from the opposite sex- while we actually lived in a populous society where pushing and jostling were an everyday feature.   

It took us a bit of growing up to even get used to the word itself without childishly giggling at any unintended puns in our vernacular. Then, all of a sudden, almost in another world, we realised that even older relatives (mostly our NRI ones) preferred a hug to the traditional “touching of their feet”.

Long lost friends gave you bear hugs while you were racking your brains to remember if you had ever made any physical contact with them. Even as we were getting used to shaking hands at the first meetings without reaching out for that little bottle of hand sanitizer, hugging people during the very next meeting had come out of the seemingly insincere phalanges of the socialites and film stars and was actually expected of us.

So many times I have bumped heads and knocked noses with people in my bumpkin attempts to respond to their hugs, never quite sure if it’s going to be a one arm or a two arm hug, or how many sides I am supposed to hug, or for that matter how many cheeks to touch. The only reassuring thing about some of these norms is that one doesn’t have to – err, one isn’t supposed to let lip meet with the cheek.

So why the perfunctory hug and the equally facetious smooch?

A sincere smile, happiness at meeting someone genuinely glowing through the eyes and heartfelt words expressed generously – are preferable any day to an exuberant but empty embrace - in the same way as this simple 
un-pretentious, almost rustic warm-hug soup so innocuously thawed its way to our hearth and hearts.

Coriander, cumin “warm-hug” pumpkin soup

  • 1-2 tbsp oil
  • ½ kg butternut pumpkin, skin and seeds removed, cut into chunks
  • 2 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup assorted vegetables  – broccoli and cauliflower stalks, green beans, etc. (I used up the vegetables I had boiled to make stock a day earlier)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2-3 large cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp grated ginger
  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp toasted coriander powder
  • ½ tsp toasted cumin powder
  • pinch of black pepper
  • pinch of white pepper
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt to taste
  • red chilli powder to taste (optional)
  • A squirt of lime juice (lemon will do too)

Place the butternut pumpkin, potatoes and onion in a sauce pan. Add oil and sauté well. Add the garlic, ginger and the cumin and coriander powders and sauté a little more. Add the stock and the other boiled vegetables and cook on low heat till well done. This should take about 20 minutes.

Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to cool a little. Then use a food processor or stick blender to process the soup until smooth.

Adjust the consistency by adding more water. Heat the soup again and season with salt, black and white pepper, nutmeg and chilli powder. Add the lime juice. Check and adjust all other flavours.

Serve hot, garnished with some fresh chopped parsley and with some toasted sourdough bread on the side.

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