Sarkarai Pongal (Sweetened Rice)


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We celebrated pongal (the harvest festival) a week back. Leisurely posting the recipe a week later, that is how “fast” I am. Well, next year I can republish this post right on time, so I am happy for next year ;). Sarkarai Pongal is a very traditional, very basic and a very simple dessert, often offered in temples or made in homes on auspicious days. But don’t let that restrict you, this makes a great dessert for any day or any party. Another popular variation of this dish is “Akkara Vadisal” where rice is cooked in milk instead of water.

Making this sweet pongal involves only four basic steps. Cook rice, make brown sugar syrup, mix rice and syrup, add some roasted nuts and raisins. Child’s play , right ? It is really that simple. Hopefully, the tips I give below are helpful in simplifying the already simple recipe.

To make the sweet pongal, you will need :

  1. Uncooked rice – 1 cup (any kind is good)
  2. Moong Dal or split green gram – 1/4 cup
  3. Jaggery/Vellam/Dark Brown sugar – 1 cup
  4. Water (to cook rice) – 4 cups
  5. Water (for syrup – 1/4 cup)
  6. Cardamom powder – 4 tsp
  7. Cashew nuts – 3 tbsp
  8. Raisins – 2 tbsp
  9. Ghee / Melted Butter – 4 tbsp
  • First, we have to get the rice ready. In a pan or a pressure cooker, heat 2 tbsp of ghee or butter and roast the moong dal (green gram).

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  • Rinse rice and add  rice to the pan and mix well that each grain is coated with ghee.

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  • Rice and dal mixture has to be well cooked to really soft consistency, so double up the quantity of water used. Add 4 cups of water and 2 tsp of cardamom powder and cook the rice and dal until soft. When rice is cooked , mash it gently with the back of a spatula. (If not using pressure cooker, you will have to add more water).

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  • Now to make the brown sugar syrup, mix 1 cup of brown sugar in 1/4 cup of water and heat until the sugar completely dissolves in water.

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  • If you are using jaggery/vellam it is important to make sure the syrup is free of any impurities, so filter the sugar solution using a clean cloth. I used a wet bounty paper towel, it gets the job done.

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  • Now, put the clean syrup back on heat and bring it to a boil. You are looking for 1-string consistency, but when your syrup comes to a good rolling boil, you can be sure its there.

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  • Add the syrup to the cooked rice and dal and mix thoroughly.

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  • Now , for the last step : In a separate pan , add a tbsp of ghee/butter , and fry the cashews and raisins to golden brown and add to the rice.

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Add the last spoon of ghee right before serving, and your sweet pongal is ready to be served to the king/queen in you 🙂

Some pointers :

  • Instead of making syrup, you can directly add the  brown sugar to rice. But I do not prefer that method, as the brown sugar tastes raw in the final pongal. Adding the syrup gives a well rounded taste.
  • I have only used cardamom powder, you can also add nutmeg, ground cinnamom or a pinch of ground ginger to elevate the flavors.
  • It is not very appealing when it is in a soupy consistency, often confusing the eater if its pongal or payasam (kheer). It should be in the”sticky rice” consistency.
  • Use milk to cook the rice instead of water and make a much creamier version of this pongal, which is also called as “Akkara Vadisal”.

Treat yourself to this yumminess effortless !!!!!!

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Baked Tofu Fries


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There is nothing much to say about this recipe, actually there is nothing much to this recipe either :).  My kids love fries and they also love tofu. I have seen tofu responding very well to baking. So this recipe was a no-brainer, crunchy fries (just the way  they want it) made with less than a tbsp of oil (just the way I like it 🙂 ).

To make this healthy munch, you will need :

1. Extra firm organic tofu (I used half the slab for this recipe)

2. Chilli powder or paprika – 1 tsp

3. Garlic Paste or Garlic powder – 1 tsp

4. Salt to taste

5. Oil – 1/2 tbsp

  • First cut the tofu into strips. If you prefer super crunchy fries, cut them very thin. I prefer crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside kind, so I did medium cuts.

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  • For the rub, I mixed red chilli powder, garlic paste, salt and oil. You can also grind red chillies and garlic cloves to make a fresh rub or use the store bought chilli garlic paste.

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  • Rub the chilli garlic mix on the tofu strips gently. Even the extra firm tofu breaks easily, so be gentle :).  Line a baking tray with foil or grease the tray with cooking spray and place the tofu strips on the tray in a single layer. Bake at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes and then flip the strips and bake for another 8 – 10 minutes , until your preferred texture is reached.

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  • As I expected the golden crunchy fries were gone in minutes and the kids were complaining that I didn’t make enough :). Well, there is always next time :).

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Adai (Savory Lentil Pancakes)


I am beginning this post with an apology to Sugarfree Sweetheart Priya , because this recipe was intended to be part of the diabetic friendly food week she hosted, but did not make it in time :(. It was one of those weeks, where everything seemed calm and quiet until things started rolling and before you knew, it was an avalanche and you are buried deep under trying to catch a breath. It was frustrating to have all the photos in the camera, yet not able to find an hour to sort through them and post the recipe online. However, it was a happy avalanche , had my college buddy over for thanksgiving, and met two other college mates over the weekend and it was an unplanned and unintended mini college reunion, which is always fun.

Even though I didn’t post in time, the recipe is still a very diabetic friendly food and I just love it for its taste. I also have a weird personal connection with this “Adai”. In May 2002, suddenly I started craving Adai, so I kept  making them two or three times a week, and two weeks later I found out that I was pregnant with my first child. And in July 2005, when I started super-craving Adai again, I just ran to the store and got an early pregnancy kit and guess what , I was pregnant with my second child. Pregnancies and the cravings…….. 🙂   No  more crazy cravings…… and thank God for that !

So here is my Adai recipe for the Sugarfree Sweetheart’s Diabetic friendly food week:

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To make the adai batter , you will need :

  1. Rice – 1 cup (use brown rice instead)
  2. Thur dal (split piegeon peas) – 1/2 cup
  3. Channa dal (split chick peas) –  1/2 cup
  4. Moong Dal (green gram) – 1/2 cup
  5. Urad Dal (black gram) – 1/2 cup
  6. fennel – 1 tsp
  7. cumin – 2 tsp
  8. dried red chillies – 2 or 3 (5 or 6 for spicier adais)

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  • Soak the rice and lentils in water for 3 hours. I also soak the red chilles with them as it helps them to grind better.

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  • After 3 hours, grind the soaked rice and lentils with red chillies, cumin, fennel and salt to make a coarse batter. I grind in my blender and it takes only two minutes.

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  • You can make pancakes with just plain batter. But adding onions and greens add more texture and taste to the adais. Traditionally, drumstick leaves are used. They are not available here, so I use spinach.

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  • Thinly slice an onion and chop  baby spinach and add to the the batter.

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  • Heat a skillet and grease with cooking spray. Pour a spoonful of batter and spread evenly.

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  • When you see the adai browning slightly, flip over and cook the other side.

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  • Flip one more time and cook until you see brown spots. The lentil batter takes longer to cook.

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Adais can be served with coconut chutney or a dollop of yogurt. If you ask me, they are good on their own :).

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Banana Blossom curry (Vaazhaipoo curry)


The banana tree is a true giver, all parts of the plant : the tender bark, the leaves, the flowers , the fruits…. either are edible or they aid in cooking. Banana blossoms, rich in antioxidants , flavonoids and vitamin E are found to stabilize blood sugar levels and elevate mood among other health benefits. Prepping the flower for cooking can be cumbersome, but its unique taste is completely worthy of the time and efforts.

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If you are new to cooking with the blossom, this post can show you how to properly prep the flower. The blossom can be used in stir fries, salads, stews and curries. The most popular concoction is the “vazhaipoo vadai” (crispy patties made with chickpeas and the banana flowers). Though the flowers can be used in any curry, here I have given my mushroom curry recipe, replacing mushrooms with the banana flowers.

Without further ado, here is how to prep the blossom for cooking :

[Either use  food prep gloves or rub sesame oil on your fingers before working with the blossom to avoid staining.]

  • The petals are layered on top of one another and as you remove each petal you will find the cluster of tiny flowers inside.

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  • Actually in a fresh banana blossom , the flowers are slightly pinkish (as shown in the image below). However, the blossoms I get here are either refrigerated or frozen before they make it to the stores, so the black color. However, the color doesn’t affect the taste.

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[Image from : http://www.moorheadandrutter.com.au]

  • As you remove the layers you will notice the flowers getting smaller and tender.

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  • Finally you will end up with this beautiful tender bud, which can be either eaten  raw or sliced up and used in cooking.

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  • Once you have removed all the flowers, each flower must be individually prepped by removing some unwanted parts (similar to deveining a shrimp).

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  • Each mature flower has  a stamen and a sepal (a wax paper like layer). It is important to remove both , as the stamen and sepal will stay raw even after cooking, resulting in an unpleasant texture and taste.

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  • It is time consuming but if it is any consolation, only the outer 4 or 5 clusters will have stamen and sepal. The middle clusters won’t have a prominent sepal. The inner flowers are very tender and they can be used as such.

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  • Soak the cleaned flowers in diluted buttermilk until you need them.

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This concludes the prepping of the banana blossom. No matter what you choose to make with them, the above steps have to be done first.

Now for the curry recipe :

I normally make this curry with mushrooms. The cooked flowers have a similar texture to mushroom, so I figured this would be a good choice. You can add the florets in any curry of your choice.

To make the cooking sauce for this curry, you will need :

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  1. Pearl Onions – 5 or 6
  2. Ginger – 1 inch piece
  3. Garlic – 4 or 5 cloves
  4. Green chilli – 1 (optional)
  5. Dry red chiilies – 3 or 4 (use red pepper flakes instead)[use only 1 or 2 chillies for milder curry]
  6. cloves – 3
  7. cardamom – 1
  8. fennel – 1 tsp
  9. cumin – 1 tsp
  10. coriander seeds (dhaniya) – 1 tsp
  11. roasted gram dhal (pottukadalai) – 1 tbsp (replace with cashews or grated coconut)

I know thats a lot of ingredients, but they result in a very aromatic curry. No fancy ingredients anyways 🙂 . Grind all the above ingredients with little water to make the cooking sauce.

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  • You will also need :
  1. onions – 1 medium (chopped)
  2. tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium (diced)
  3. curry leaves – few
  4. turmeric powder – 1 tsp

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  • In a pan , heat a 2 tsp of oil, and saute the onions and curry leaves. Then add the tomatoes and cook until tomatoes soften.

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  • Add the banana flowers (that were soaking in buttermilk) to the pan and saute.

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  • Add the cooking sauce , turmeric powder, salt and mix well.

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  • Add about half a cup of water and cook until the flowers are tender and oil starts to separate. It will take about 15 – 20 minutes in medium heat.

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I like this curry for its flavors and also that it goes well with rice, rotis, idli and dosa. You will definitely appreciate the unique taste of banana flowers in this curry. Hope you try it 🙂 !

Garlic Bread (with Indianised garlic butter)


The perk of home cooking is customizing recipes to suit our own taste buds. There are countless times, I had eaten something outside wondering “hmmm….if it just had a hint of chillies” . That too , when you try something from a different cuisine and wondering how it would taste with a sprinkle of chaat masala or garam masala, there is only one option “DIY” :). I lovvvvveee garic bread (who doesn’t ?)….the golden toasted crust with half crisp and half soft insides soaked in garlic…..I so wish, its  health food 😦 . Every time I ate garlic bread, I sprinkled some crushed red peppers on the slices, and I  believe that red chillies and garlic compliment each other so well. So when I had this intense craving to taste garlic bread spiced up with red chiili powder and garam masala, I knew I had to make it :).

I am not baking any breads yet (I might soon give it a try 🙂 ), I got a nice ciabatta roll and made an Indian spiced garlic butter and was all set to go. The prep time was 5 minutes , the cooking time was 10 minutes….. an easy entertainer recipe !

Here are a few things you will need :

  1. Ciabatta roll (any French or Italian bread will do too) – 1 loaf
  2. Butter (or butter substitute) – 1/2 stick or 2 oz or about 50 gm
  3. Oil – 2 tbsp
  4. Garlic cloves – about 8
  5. Chopped Cilantro – 2 tbsp ( use parsley instead)
  6. red chilli powder – 1.5 tsp
  7. garam masala – 1.5 tsp

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  • Slice garlic cloves into thin chips. You can also finely mince garlic. But I like nibbling on the crispy garlic flakes at the end.
  • Heat oil in a pan and saute garlic and cilantro , just for a few seconds.

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  • Make sure the butter is at room temperature and soft. Add the hot oil with garlic and cilantro to the butter. And also add chilli powder and garam masala to the butter. The hot oil will melt the butter slightly, which is okay. If you used unsalted butter, you might have to add just a pinch of salt to the mix.

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  • Slit the ciabatta into halves.

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  • Spread the garlic butter on the halves. And make sure the garlic flakes are uniformly spread.

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  • Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes. I pulled them out after 10 minutes and sprinkled some parmesan just on kids’ portion and returned to the oven and baked at 425 degrees for  another 3 minutes.

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The toasted garlic chips easily fall off the bread, so you don’t have to console a panicky child screaming “why do you have to put those awful garlic stuff on my garlic bread ??? ” (Experience !!! )

Slice and serve while the warm aroma fills your home and your soul 🙂

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I paired it with a clear soup to help keep the total calories in check and it was a good combo too 🙂

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Please let me know what spices you would like to have on your garlic bread, I will try it the next time !!!

 

The 5 minutes Sambar


Being a south Indian, sambar is our staple curry. I can make a pot of sambar , serve with rice for lunch and then serve with idlis or dosas for dinner, or serve with vadas for appetizers ,or as lentil soup, it is truly multi-purpose. Made with lentils and vegetables , it ranks high on nutritional value too. To make sambar in traditional way is not at all complicated, cook your lentils, cook your vegetables, add tamarind and sambar powder, add your favorite seasoning, temper with some ghee…..and that is all there is to it. But the lentils do take some time to cook, so it is not something you can make when you are trying to fix a meal in 10 minutes.

This quick sambar recipe replaces dal (lentils) with powdered split chickpeas (pottukadalai / roasted gram). Pottukadalai (fried gram) is the split and roasted chickpeas. Roasting is not done with oil, but done by applying high pressure (similar to how puffed rice is made). It is the most easily digestible form of chickpeas, porridge made out of this form of chick peas is a popular baby food. I encourage my kids to eat this roasted gram as such, a good source of protein yet mild on their stomachs.

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Ok, now to make this quick sambar, you will need :

  1. Pearl Onions – 7 or 8 (quartered)
  2. Tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium
  3. Green chilli – 1 (slit)
  4. Cilantro – a good bunch
  5. Curry leaves – few
  6. Pottukadalai (Roasted gram) – 1 tbsp
  7. Tamarind water – 2 tbsp (diluted)
  8. Turmeric – 1 tsp
  9. Sambar powder – 2 to 3 tsp
  10. Salt to taste
  11. Vellam / Jaggery / Brown sugar – 1 tsp
  12. Mustard seeds, urad dal and ghee – 1/2 tsp each (to temper)

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  • Powder the roasted gram, this will only take a few seconds and it becomes a fine powder very quickly.

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  • Now dilute this 1 tbsp of powder with about half a cup of water.

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  • In a pot, heat a spoon of oil and saute the onions, tomatoes, green chillies, curry leaves and cilantro.

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  • When the onions and tomatoes soften add the tamarind water, turmeric, sambar powder, brown sugar and salt. Tamarind is optional, you can just add more tomatoes instead. Also if you don’t have sambar powder , use chilli powder and coriander powder.

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  • Add about half a cup of water and bring the curry to boil, and then mix in the diluted gram powder solution.

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  • You will see the sambar thickening within seconds. Bring the sambar to a good boil. Check for seasoning, add salt if needed.

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  • In a separate pan, heat 1/2 tsp of ghee and fry the mustard seed and urad dal and add it to the sambar.

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  • Remove from heat and serve. The neat thing is you can make this sambar while your idlis are steaming .  You might have already tasted this sambar, because it is a popular restaurant trick 🙂 (why wouldn’t they ? it is both cost effective and time effective). I still make my sambar the traditional way with dal (lentils), but this quick sambar recipe is good to have in your arsenal for one of those crazy busy days !

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P.S. – While you can use besan (garbanzo flour) instead of the roasted gram powder, I prefer the latter.

Butternut Squash Soup (with cashew cream)


A butternut squash in its wholesome is very intimidating(to me). Had never bought one, always chose the frozen cut squash to make our traditional koottu. If somebody cleans, peels, cuts and puts in a bag, why bother ? 🙂 So imagine my shock surprise, when my neighbor walked in with this “humongous” squash…a fruit of her labor in her garden. I just left it on my kitchen counter , not wanting to deal with it amidst the Halloween/Diwali chaos.

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A week after Diwali, suqash was still there, and I was just pretending not to look at it, if I don’t see it, its not there.. kind of logic 🙂 . But then came the day when my mind went blank at the thought of dinner. Having read some amazing squash soup posts by fellow bloggers, I declared it was squash soup for dinner. Though I didn’t have  many ingredients that I normally add in a soup, I decided to make do with what I have (hence, the cashew cream instead of heavy cream 🙂 ) and it turned out to be a very successful dinner (with kids polishing their bowls 🙂 ).

If this is your first time handling a whole squash, please check out Anjana’s (At the corner of happy and harried) tips on how to cut a squash. I found them very helpful, I strongly recommend it if your are a first timer, because no soup is worth losing a finger 🙂

And here is my squash soup recipe:

  • Cut squash into cubes.

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  •  Cut some carrots and red onions. I also used few mint leaves. You can add celery, tomatoes and definitely more carrots (it was a “fridge almost empty, so make-do” day for me ). However, I did have some vegetable broth which made up for the lack of other vegetables.

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  • Here is my favorite spice blend for the soup.
  1. Cinnamon – 1 stick
  2. Cardamom – 2
  3. Cloves – 5 or 6
  4. Bay leaves – 2
  5. Black pepper – 1.5 tsp
  6. Cumin – 1 tsp
  7. Fennel – 1.5 tsp

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  • Coarsely crush the spices just enough to release flavor.

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  • Tie the crushed spices in a bundle, either using a clean cloth or a bounty paper towel. This is a convenient way of seasoning the soup, just drop the bundle in the soup and remove it once the soup is cooked.

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  • I used my pressure cooker, as I didn’t have a lot of time to slow cook the soup and develop flavors. Pressure cooker delivers the same results in a quicker fashion…(what will I do without them ???? ). Heat a spoon of oil and saute the red onions and when the onions brown, add a tsp of ginger garlic paste and then saute the carrots and mint.

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  • Add the squash cubes and sprinkle some salt to sweat the veggies and saute until the squash softens a little.

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  • Add 5 cups of broth (vegetable or chicken). If you are using a lot of vegetables , just water will suffice. Drop the spice bundle in the broth.

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  • I pressure cooked for 5 whistles. Squash was so tender that it  almost dissolved in the soup. Fish the spice bundle out as its job is done :).

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  • I allowed my soup to completely cool down before pureeing and meanwhile made the cashew cream. You can use dairy cream instead. To make cashew cream, grind 2 tbsp of cashew nuts with water or milk to make a smooth cream.

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  • I reserved 1 tbsp of cream for final garnish and mixed the rest in the soup.

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  • Puree the cooled down soup in a blender and add the cashew cream to it. Add salt and pepper as you need, and heat the soup (do not bring to boil).

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It is a yummy comfy soup, we had it with some roasted corn quesadillas and it was a finger-licking, bowl-polishing meal 🙂 Hope you try it too !

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