Seeds for Thought
This autumn has been a rich feast for all the senses and is still most evident in the brilliant spectrum of colour that is everywhere. Rare enough, in these parts, is the back drop of a blue sky and a few weeks of dry weather which has prolonged the glorious show of reds, oranges, purples and yellows. We can hear the leaves fall as the trees prepare to close down for the winter and the forest floor is sweet with the smells of emerging fungi. The magical cycle of life is most dramatic in these, the last weeks, before the cold onset of winter. As the sturdy sunflowers in the garden hang their heavy seed heads they provide a natural ‘table’ for the plump finches having a gorge on the bounty.*
Happily the fruits of autumn offer plenty of flavour and nourishment to boost our energy and to pamper our weary souls. Reflecting the intense hues of the falling foliage there are feasts to be had with dense purple beetroot, glowing orange butternut squash, sweet red carrots and earthy parsnip, turnip and swede. All of the above will be transformed by slow baking or braising and their natural sweetness can be sensational when they are complimented by seasonal herbs, nuts and seeds.
Toasted seeds and nuts are the perfect garnish to add texture to a rich creamy soup or to sprinkle over sautéed wild mushrooms on toast. The Egyptian mix of herbs, nuts and spices called Dukkah is a perfect and easy condiment to make for this purpose. It is usually made with hazel nuts, sesame seeds, cumin, coriander and thyme but you can make it your own; making a fresh batch every week or so will give you plenty of scope to experiment. Simply roast the hazel nuts for a few minutes in the oven and remove their skins by rubbing them in a tea towel. Roughly chop the nuts and combine them with toasted sunflower, pumpkin or sesame seeds. Add some dried thyme, oregano or sage. Add some ground, very lightly toasted, cumin and/or coriander. Store the mix in a jar and use regularly to maintain a fresh supply.
Here is a recipe for butternut squash soup which has been dressed with dukkah and a splash of beetroot kvass (described in my previous blog). The kvass gives a sour note to the soft, sweet warmth of the butternut flesh and celebrates the deep colours of autumn. Enjoy.
1 butternut squash, halved and deseeded
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 small red chilli, finely chopped
½ tsp. cayenne pepper
½ tsp. turmeric
1 or 2 litres vegetable stock
Sea salt and black pepper to taste
2 tbsp. coconut oil
2 tbsp. creamed coconut
Place the squash on a roasting tray, cut side up, and bake in a moderate oven 180c for about 45 minutes or until the flesh is soft. Scrape out the flesh and set aside.
In a large saucepan sauté the onions and carrots in the coconut oil for about 10 minutes until they are soft. Add the garlic, chilli and spices and stir over the heat to combine the flavours for another few minutes. Add the squash, vegetable stock and creamed coconut and bring to a gentle simmer. Cook the soup for a further 15 minutes, stirring to ensure the creamed coconut has melted. Blend the finished soup in a processor or with a hand blender.
*A haiku for autumn
The sunflower seed head sways
Under the weight of a finch.
A well balanced meal.