It’s funny how I started my last post saying that October was finally here and now all I can think about is that it’s almost over, with just a few days of it left. Before we know it, it’s Halloween and the beautiful pumpkins will be gone from stores for yet another year. But there is a wonderful, sweeter alternative to it that makes beautiful warming recipes to keep you nourished and satisfied throughout the winter, and even in the warmer months if you like – butternut squash.
The recipe I have for you today is the one I first cooked when I experimentally went vegan, back in October 2013. Since then it has been an autumn and winter staple in our house, which even my then toddler approved of. It’s perfectly warming, cosy AND healthy and nourishing. The recipe blends well with the Ayurvedic way of eating that I try to incorporate more into my diet as I often find my body craving the extra warmth, especially during the cold months. And given that my body type is that of a typical Vata dosha, recipes like this work for well for me and I can instantly feel the difference. But we will talk about Ayurveda later.
Now, let’s dive into the specifics of the recipe!
Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil Stew
- 1 butternut squash, diced into 1 inch cubes
- 1/2 onion, finely diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
- 1/2-1 Tbsp quality curry powder (mild or medium)
- Smoked paprika to taste
- Good pinch of cinnamon
- 900ml vegetable stock
- 2 cups red lentils
- Himalayan pink or sea salt, to taste
- Ground pepper, to taste
- Olive oil for sautéing
- Heat 1 Tbsp of olive oil in a pot or deep pan with a lid. When hot, add the whole cumin seeds and fry until they start popping. Turn the heat down.
- Add the onion and garlic, fry gently over the medium-low heat until golden and fragrant.
- Add the diced butternut squash and the rest of the spices including the curry powder, stir to combine. Continue stirring for about 4-5 minutes until it’s well mixed.
- Add the stock, stir the mixture again. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer covered for 10 to 15 minutes, until the squash softens and can be prodded with a fork.
- While the squash is simmering, measure two cups of red lentils and rinse them very well until the water runs clear.
- When the squash is tender, add the lentils to the pot and stir to combine. Increase the heat to medium-high briefly, to bring lentils to a boil, then lower the heat again and let simmer, covered, for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the lentils are cooked through. If the stew becomes dry at any point, add more stock.
- Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Serve with naan or toasted pitta bread and/or rice on the side. You may wish to garnish with chopped coriander leaves (I didn’t have any on hand).
A spoonful of cosy nutrition
Butternut squash is a close relative to pumpkins, but sweeter in taste than its round cousin Jack’O’Lantern. Although butternut squash is largely composed of carbohydrates, it is quite low in calories (about 45kcal per 100g, or 60kcal per 1 cup) and only has between 2 and 3 grams of sugar for that amount.
Butternut squash is rich in vitamins A (59% of daily recommended value (DRV) per 100g) and C (23% DRV) and has some vitamin E (10% DRV). Vitamins A and C are essential for your immune system and healthy, youthful skin. Along with vitamin E, they are considered to be ‘beauty vitamins’. All three are also powerful antioxidants, meaning they can reduce inflammation and formation of free radicals in the body, thus offering protection against certain cancers and preventing premature ageing.
In addition, butternut squash provides some potassium (7% DRV) and magnesium (8% DRV). These two minerals are required for healthy heart and nerve function, and muscles.
Spices, as mentioned in my previous post, are full of antioxidants too. Although normally consumed in small amounts, they can still offer traces of vitamin and mineral content that may improve your nutrient status. Cumin, for example, is rich in vitamins A, C, E and B-complex. It is also very rich in Iron and Manganese, as well as Copper, Magnesium and Calcium.
Curry powder, which is the main spice for this recipe, is also extremely rich in vitamin E and has a decent amount of vitamin K, which is so important for formation of red blood cells and proper blood clotting, as well as heart, nerve and bone health. Curry is also high in Manganese, Iron and Copper. While Iron is very important for the red blood cells that deliver oxygen to cells throughout the body, manganese is also noteworthy as it’s required for the brain function and red blood cell synthesis. Manganese may reduce cell damage and restore DNA. And while you won’t get a high percentage of DRV from a single serving, it may still boost your health and wellbeing.
A word on Ayurveda
I mentioned Ayurveda in my previous post and also at the start of this one. For those unfamiliar with Ayurveda, this is an ancient Indian medicine system, which is still heavily practiced today in India and Nepal. While I am not fully convinced on the medicinal part of Ayurvedic healing, I like that Ayurveda places a big emphasis on nutrition that is optimal for the body type of the person. In particular, it divides the body into three dosha types: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. It is believed that a mix of all three composes the body, but typically one or two will be more prominent than the other, with one dosha often dominating. Each dosha represents elemental energy and has a set of certain characteristics. If dosha is out of balance due to various factors, the excess or lack of this elemental energy will cause certain symptoms. Beside the actual medicine part of Ayurveda, these imbalances can be corrected by reconnecting your mind and body through exercise and mindfulness, certain body care practices (such as self massage) and of course through proper nutrition – and this is the part I like the most.
The Three Doshas
Vata Dosha: represents air, wind. People with dominant Vata dosha are of a light build with thin bones and small wrists, and are often hyper-mobile. They tend to have light coloured eyes and skin, and fine hair. Their skin is naturally on the dry side and the can often feel cold. Their appetite always varies and they are prone to problems with digestion, such as bloating. In their character and temperament, they can be very energetic, social and creative, but this is also changeable. They tend to overanalyse things and may find it difficult to make decisions. Unbalanced Vata dosha can experience exaggeration of the symptoms characteristic to them, such as feeling extremely cold, sluggish, having dry skin and dry cough, stiffness in muscles and joints, anxiety, poor sleep. To balance Vata, cooked and warming foods are often recommended, starchy, sweet, with warming spices, as well as heavy, oily foods such as nuts and nut butters.
Pitta Dosha: represents fire and water. People with dominant Pitta dosha are of medium build and can build muscles. Their skin and hair tends to be oilier and can be prone to acne and rashes. They are the opposite of Vata in a way that they don’t feel cold and become easily overheated, so they often don’t like hot summer days. Pitta dosha makes an ambitious and highly motivated person, who thrives in a competition. They like to be part of something bigger, part of society, and therefore often participate in various events and activities. They have a great appetite and hunger and cannot skip meals. Luckily, people with Pitta dosha also have a strong digestive system and are less prone to digestive discomfort. But this has a downside too, as they can often eat unhealthy without exhibiting any symptoms until enough damage is done. Unbalanced Pittas can become hyperactive, angry or irritable and impatient. Eating spicy, hot and overly sweet foods, as well as consuming alcohol, can create imbalance in the Pitta dosha. Therefore, cooling foods work best for Pitta dosha.
Kapha Dosha: represents water and earth. Of all three, people with Kapha dosha are most prone to gaining weight and have naturally larger and curvier builds. As this dosha type is associated with excess moisture in the body, they usually have well moisturised skin and thick hair. Like Vata dosha, people with Kapha dosha tend to be on the cold side, but they are cold and moist as opposed to cold and dry. Their energy tends to be slow but steady, they can be active for a long time at a steady pace. They are naturally calm and kind people, funny and sweet. They are great at building strong, supportive relationships. People with Kapha dosha love food but don’t have that much appetite as people with Pitta dosha do, so they can easily skip meals and then indulge in something creamy and rich after. When out of balance, Kaphas can become materialistic and possessive, lazy and jealous. They tend to develop allergies and retain excess water. Kaphas need a balanced diet that includes all group foods and tastes, with some extra focus on bitter and pungent foods and avoid excess of oily/fatty foods.
Naturally, not everyone will be a follower of Ayurveda, and I leave this option up to you. As a person who is passionate about health sciences, medicine and nutrition, who is educated both in herbal medicine and the modern pharmaceutical medicine, I have to say that I see benefits in both – but this is strictly my personal opinion. From my own experience, as someone who falls into the typical Vata territory, I feel a huge difference when I focus more on foods that are prescribed by Ayurveda. I feel more balanced, grounded and energetic. But I also tend to listen to my body and skip meals if I feel like it, or go off cooked and carbohydrate-rich starchy foods in summer and then go back to more Ayurvedic eating when I feel out of balance. This feels natural to me, changing with the wind.
But if you are sceptical, I would suggest you read more and just give it a go while keeping an open mind – it may be exactly what you are looking for.
If you would like to learn more about the three dosha types, Yoga International has a lot of useful articles. Here are the links to the three doshas discussed above, but you can also search for various articles relating to the dosha type of your interest.
Where does this recipe fall in?
If you have read this far, you can probably see that this Curried Butternut Squash and Lentil stew makes a perfect meal for Vata. But because we are in a cold season that is associated in Ayurveda with Vata energy, this stew also makes a perfect meal for any dosha as any of us may feel affected by the weather.