The days when I craved butternut squash soup were long ago. A time when the sweetness did not overwhelm my taste buds and the heavy soup felt light.  An era I did not think would return.  Until I came across this Roasted Butternut Squash & Lentil Stew recipe in Vibrant India. A cookbook filled with Chitra Agarwal’s family’s recipes from the southern Indian state of Karnataka (click here to read the review).

The combination of sweet and spicy ingredients immediately appealed to my current taste preference. Which is currently lingering between autumn and winter. When vata dosha is still center stage and kapha dosha begins to introduce itself.  A time when the grounding, earthy nourishment from the sweet taste is still integral to Ayurveda’s seasonal diet. While the pungent taste needs to take a step forward.  To counterbalance the start of the cold and wet season with its warming and drying qualities.

A take on a traditional family recipe, Chitra, author of Vibrant India, blends butternut squash with red lentils.  Then spices it up with with a traditional spice blend from Karnataka known as huli. Creating a creamy, soupy-stew style dal that is slightly sweet and spicy.  Huli is similar to sambar powder, a spice blend commonly used in South Indian dishes. Sambar is also the name of the lentil soup served with dosas and idli. Consisting of common spices used across South Asia with the addition of ground lentils.

Chitra provides a recipe for huli in Vibrant India, but due to time, I opted for her suggested alternative sambar powder. Which is easier to find at the local South Asian market. However, trying to find a sambar powder that was similar to her huli recipe, was not an easy. I tried to find one with closest ingredients to her huli blend and the overall ingredients in the stew. Then I made small adjustments to the recipe, in order to obtain a similar taste profile. It sounds complicated, but when you read the adjustments in the recipe section, it was pretty easy. Most commercial sambar powders tend to have the same ingredients, if you end up going down this route, I think my adjustments will work for you too.

Overall this is a fairly easy recipe if you have some experience with South Asian cooking. If you are new to South Asian cooking the tempering part can be the most challenging. I recommend searching YouTube for a visual if it reads confusing below. Or follow me on Instagram, as I post IG stories showing the process quite often. Otherwise, use the sambar powder and skip the tempering. It will still be delicious! Happy Eating. Happy Digesting.


Roasted Butternut Squash & Lentil Stew

servings: 4 | time: 70 mins

Dosha: VPK
Season: Fall, Winter
Qualities: Moist, Warm, Soft, Heavy, Liquidy
Tastes: Astringent, Bitter, Pungent, Sweet, Sour, Salty
What you need: a 4-quart heavy bottom pot, a small pot, blender

*Notes: The recipe noted below is from the book. Here are the adjustments I made since I opted for the recommended alternative, sambar powder versus making huli. I tried to get a sambar powder that had the ingredients closest to Chitra’s huli and overall stew recipe. Not an easy find, so I made these adjustments to align the flavors: increased the dried coconut by 1/2 T since sambar mix did not have any, but her huli recipe does. I skipped adding hing to the taarka as there was plenty in the sambar blend. Instead, I added 1/2 of a cinnamon stick since her huli recipe called for cinnamon, and the sambar powder did not have any.  You can add a pinch of cinnamon powder if you don’t have a stick.  I did not add salt until the very end as the sambar powder came with it. I also used a small butternut squash, it was about 1lb, which made for a thinner consistency. All the ingredients that required adjustments are asterisked in the recipe below. The quantities are from the recipe and do not include my adjustments.

In the pot:

  • 1/2 cup split & peeled masoor aka red lentils
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/8 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp mineral-rich salt

In the oven:

  • 1 butternut squash (about 2 lbs or smaller)
  • 1-2 tsp of coconut oil

In the blender:

  • 2 T unsweetened coconut (fresh or dried)*
  • 2 T hot water
  • 2 T sambar powder*
  • 1 T jaggery,  (or succanet or raw sugar)
  • 2-4 cups water
  • 1 tsp mineral-rich salt*

Vaghaar/Taarka/Hot Oil Infusion:

  • 1 1/2 T ghee, sunflower or coconut oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • pinch of hing aka asafoetida*
  • 4 or 5 curry leaves
  • 1 dried red chili split
  • 1 green onion – white part sliced thinly
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick or pinch of powder (not part of original recipe, read notes for details)*

Finishing Touches:

  • juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 T chopped cilantro (with stems)
  • 1 green onion – green part thinly sliced

1.Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and place halved, quartered or cubed butternut squash in a greased pan. I quartered my squash lengthwise, kept the skin on and removed the seeds after roasting. About 45 minutes or until tender.

2.In a small pot, add lentils, water, salt and turmeric, cover and simmer until lentils are falling apart.  Try and soak lentils at least 20 minutes to overnight if possible to aid digestion. Cook time is about 15-20 minutes. Once cooked, leave uncovered to cool, while the butternut squash is roasting.

3.If using dried coconut, in a small bowl, pour about 2T of hot water over the coconut and let sit until coconut is plump. 5 minutes or so. In the meantime, prep ingredients for the tempering.

4.In the blender add the soaked coconut and sambar powder with about 1/2 cup of water. Enough to blend the coconut into a fine paste and get the blades rotating. Then add the roasted butternut squash (seeds removed and peel removed if very tender), cooled red lentils, 2 cups water, jaggery, and salt (if not in the sambar powder). Blend until the mixture is nice and smooth. Set aside.

5.In a 4 quart pot, on medium-high heat, add ghee or oil of choice. When warm add in 1-2 mustard seeds, if they begin to sizzle right away, the oil is well heated. Add the remaining and keep a lid nearby.  The seeds can pop out of the pot and the lid will help splatter. Lower heat a bit once the seeds start to pop.  When testing the oil’s heat, if the seeds pop out right away, the oil is too hot. Lower the heat a bit and move the pot away from the heat to let the oil cool down. Then start again.

6.Once the mustard seeds crackle and pop, releasing the volatile oils, lower the heat a bit to medium. And immediately add the hing/asafoetida (if not in the sambhar powder), white part of the green onions, curry leaves, red chili and if needed the cinnamon stick. Due to the moisture crackling may occur. Give the ingredients a quick stir and have a lid handy to cover if needed. About 30 seconds or less. Once it’s fragrant move to step 7.

7.Then immediately add in the blended dal/butternut squash mixture. Add the remaining cup or 2 of water. Adjust water for desired consistency. I used a total of 4 cups of water. Once the stew comes to a boil, simmer for 10 minutes or so. Turn off the stove, and add the lemon juice, green part of the onion, and cilantro. Serve immediately.

Additional Notes: 

  • The tempering part can be a little tricky, The trick is getting the heat levels just right and working quickly between the 3 steps – mustard seeds, remaining spices and the liquid.
  • The consistency of this dish is not watery thin nor not too thick, it dollops. It’s  slightly thinner than a creamy butternut squash soup. It can tend to thicken as it sits or if serving the next day. Add additional water if needed after reheating.
  • Some sambar powders can be spicy, start with one tablespoon and add more after tempering in the spices if needed. If adding more, ensure to simmer for another 5-7 minutes to marry the spices.

Serving Suggestions:

  • As is for a light dinner
  • With a dollop of yogurt
  • Over a simple rice, with a veggie and a crunchy slaw for a complete meal
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