Sep 22, 2013

Curry Love

Trying to consider the line of a poem that caught in my throat at my brother Ian's wedding last weekend. I'm usually pretty good at speaking in front of people, loving the spotlight just for a moment, my voice a calm and steady stream, but this time I got caught on a line and couldn't go on, tears streaming down my cheeks while all the guests sat and watched and the sun blared, and the blue sky stared me down with a blank blue stare. "For better, for worse, splicing spirit-bodies to each other in the daily / Communion of light..."

Even now I'm having a bit of trouble keeping it together here on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. I like to think of this line from Eamon Grennan's poem as a nod to the beauty of a good marriage, a wedding of two people whose "spirit-bodies" are suddenly realized. A wedding ceremony offers us the chance to join in this literal "splicing [of] spirit -bodies" and we are all there to share in the joy of that joining.

And even though the wedding last weekend on the coast of Maine was not religious, there was indeed this "Communion of light" that we all drank—it glimmered off the surface of the Atlantic, it sank into the pores of our skin, it lapped up against the rocks and the grasses and the fir trees. Though the toasts are all finished, the tent is collapsed and the chairs folded, I'd still like to raise one last glass of sunlight to my brother Ian and his wife Amanda: may your love be a kind of walk on water.

Speaking of marriage, I love when a recipe says to "marry" two things together. And in general, when flavors marry to create a sort of harmony of deliciousness. That's what I think of with this curried pumpkin soup that my mom used to make growing up. Never has curry been so unexpectedly delightful and comforting. I admit I'm a bit intimidated by the subject of curry, seeing as it's a supremely complex subject (er...spice blend?) that varies greatly depending on what country you're in, or what region of India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, China or Vietnam. India feels like it's homeland though, and I have a dream of someday traveling throughout India studying curry, learning how the preparation varies from place to place, from kitchen to kitchen. 'Curry' is also a tree, Murray koenigii, native to India and Sri Lanka, that produces aromatic leaves often used in curries. Curry leaves are known more often in India as sweet neem leaves, and are also used in Aruyvedic medicine.

For this soup, I decided to make my own curry blend, just to be creative and start the process of learning about this complex blend. One of my favorite blends so far (in my quite limited experience with curries) is called "Madras Curry" and comes from the southern part of India. It often is quite spicy, although I think milder versions of this blend have been popularized by the Brits. Curry or kari was popularized by merchants of the British East India company, which is why you'll often find chips and curry on the menu in British pubs. A good curry truly is a marriage of flavors, taking many strong spices and creating a fabric of tastiness (yea, I just wrote that.) For this curry I combined the following spices: turmeric, clove, yellow mustard, brown mustard, red chili flakes, cayenne pepper, cumin, coriander, fennel, adjwain (misspelled in my recipe, above!), and saffron. For the soup, use 2-3 tablespoons when cooking the onions!

Curried Pumpkin Soup
yield 6-8 servings

Either use your favorite curry powder or try your hand at making your own! (My recipe can be found below)

3 onions, chopped
3 TB curry
8 cups pumpkin (2 cans pumpkin purée or 1 small sugar pumpkin, cut, peeled and steamed)
6 cups vegetable stock
salt to taste

For croutons:
2-3 slices stale sour-dough bread, cubed and toasted 

In a large, heavy bottomed soup pot, place 2-3 TB olive oil. On medium-high heat, sauté onions until soft and then add the curry. This will 'cook' the curry which is essential for releasing the flavor of the spices. Once the onions begin to golden and the curry is fragrant, add the pumpkin and stir. Cook 2-3 minutes and then add the vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer and cook for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and purée in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender until smooth. Salt to taste. 

About 10 minutes before serving, heat your croutons and drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Serve with a generous portion of croutons and a pinch of sea salt!

Homemade Madras-Style Curry Powder
yield 1/2 cup

In a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, combine the following, blending to a fine powder:

1 TB brown mustard seeds
1 TB yellow mustard seeds
2 tsp chili flakes
1 TB fennel seeds
1 TB coriander seeds
1 TB cumin seeds
1 tsp saffron threads
1 tsp ajwain seeds (sometimes spelled "Ajman" at Indian grocery stores...)
1 tsp cloves


3 TB turmeric powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper


The line "For better, for worse, splicing spirit-bodies to each other in the daily / Communion of light..." comes from Eamon Grennan's poem [From the angel of weddings...] in his book The Quick of It, Greywolf Press, 2005


  1. Just lovely, lovely, lovely, Claire.

    The evenings are cooling, the squash is being harvested, it is INDEED time for squash or pumpkin soup.

    Thank you!


  2. How convenient! It so happens I have a sugar pumpkin AND all the curry ingredients in my kitchen right now. :-) I love to blend my own curry powders; thanks so much for this new one.

    Congrats to your family.

  3. Many in Madras would balk at the blend :-)