Before last season's Top Chef, I'd never heard of vadouvan,so when I saw a small sample packet at the The Spice House in Chicago last summer, I couldn't pass it up. Basically, it's a French version of a South Indian curry powder (which can be a blend of up to 30 spices), and just as curry powders vary from one cook to the next, so does vadouvan. Sometimes it's more of a paste, made with cooked onions, that needs to be stored in the refrigerator. The packet I bought, which is a dry spice mix, contains curry, curry leaves, white and toasted onion and garlic powders, brown mustard seeds, shallots and kosher salt. Some blends also include fenugreek and cardamom. Use it as you would a sweet curry powder; the flavor is milder and a bit more fruity, with just a hint of smoke.
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Butternut squash, apple and vadouvan soup
Whenever I meet a new spice, I like to use it in a version of a recipe I make frequently. It's a good way to test the effect of the new ingredient, because you already know how the dish tastes. This soup was the perfect foil for vadouvan's curry overtones. The result was a bit more fruity, and more complex, than my traditional squash and apple soup. Make this vegan by using vegetable broth. Serves 8.
2 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch cubes
1 large red onion, peeled and chopped
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
2 large tart apples (I like Macoun), cored (but not peeled), roughly chopped
2 Tbsp vadouvan
2 Tbsp hot curry powder, or 2 Tbsp sweet curry powder plus 1 tsp hot sauce
1 qt chicken broth (I use Swanson 99%) or vegetable broth
1-2 Tbsp honey, to taste
1-2 Tbsp lemon juice, to taste
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper, or more to taste
In a large stockpot, place the squash, onion and olive oil. Over medium heat, cook, stirring frequently, until the onion is translucent and the edges of the squash are starting to soften. Add the apples, and cook 2 minutes more. Add vadouvan and curry powder, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes, until the spices are lightly toasted and fragrant. Add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 20 minutes or until the squash is quite soft.
Remove the pot from heat and, using an immersion blender, puree the soup until smooth. If you don't have an immersion blender, puree the soup in batches in a blender or food processor, and return the soup to the pot. Stir in honey, lemon juice, and black pepper. Return the pot to the stove, and cook over low heat for 5 minutes. Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve hot.
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