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A menu fit for the fall


I love everything about Fall — from the kaleidoscope of colors that Mother Nature paints, to the crispy leaves covering the grounds, and above all else, the warm comfort food that comes with the chilly autumn weather.

There are mounds of root vegetables, winter squashes and varieties of apples waiting to be turned into warm, toasty, comfort foods that we tend to seek when the outside temperature drops.

For me one of the foods that give me warm fuzziness is my mom’s carrot halva. Carrot halva is a very popular sweet in Indian cuisine that is made by sautéing grated carrots in ghee or clarified butter and then cooking in milk. The cooking of the carrots in the ghee is pure heaven and it is this smell that brings great comfort to my soul!

Though this halva can be a year round dessert, my mom always prepares it during this time because “the best halva comes from fresh carrots” and those carrots would have to be from her garden. Neither my sibling nor I ever enjoyed helping my mom grate all those carrots back then and we would always argue as to whose turn it was. As I grate carrots now, it brings waves of memories of sibling rivalry and close binding times which were just a part of the chore back then.

Halva is also prepared by Indians during this time because autumn not only brings the bountiful of this root vegetable, but also commences a long thread of Indian celebrations. Along with other sweets, carrot halva is eaten during times of celebrating religious occasion like Navratri and Durga Pooja and is a must when Hindus celebrate the festival of lights, Diwali.

As much as I find comfort in the smell of carrots in ghee, vast majority of the North American population find solace in the smell of baking apples. For it is the “Apple and Cinnamon” fragrance which is the number one fall scents sold by the company Glade.

It really is the perfect way to welcome company or family, especially for the holidays: when they walk in and smell the cinnamon and caramelizing natural apple sugar, it screams “home”. The warmth and the seasonality of apples make it a perfect fall ingredient. Besides, the humble apple should justly have a season devoted to itself for it is easily brushed aside in the summer for more glamorous fruits like peaches, plums, and berries.

Besides baking them into a double crusted pie there are so many delicious fall apple treats to be excited about — apple cider, apple sauce, candy apples, and apple cobblers are just a few from the long list. In my household, warm and spicy apple pancakes rings in the morning is what I use to summon the heaviest sleeper or the pickiest eater to the table; cored apples are sliced into rings and then dipped into pancake batter and slowly pan fried. I cannot take credit for this recipe for it first appeared in 1950’s television commercial while featuring aunt Jemima pancake mix. That time the mix was advertised with the unusual concept of cooking them with apple rings.

Hearty soups and stews also take centre stage in our kitchen during this season and rightfully, a piping-hot bowl of soup is a satisfying meal for a cozy fall dinner. For me a real iconic hearty fall soup is Borscht, a Russian beet soup. This soup captures the bounty and the beautiful red hues of the season, all in a bowl!

There are as many variations of borscht as there are kitchens it is found in. Almost all recipes include beets, cabbage and stock. The rest is open to interpretations.... onions, apples, beans, carrots, parsnips are but a few choices. A soup comprised mostly of broth, or mostly of chunky vegetables, or one loaded with meats and garlic -- these are all variations that are perfectly acceptable as far as tradition goes. Also, how many beets you put into the soup can be adjusted according to the beet lovers at your table.

Finally the fall season would not be complete if we didn’t bring the winter squashes to the table. Baked, roasted, toasted or in a soufflé, winter squash is a versatile vegetable with a rich flavour just on the edge of sweet.

The only thing I don’t like about these gourds is peeling them. This is why I avoid any recipe that says to peel the squash before it is cooked. The skin is quite hard, so removing it is a real challenge. Winter squash also can be cooked whole in the oven or in the microwave — if it is small enough. Simply make some cuts into the skin with a knife. Place it in a pan or bowl, and it is ready to cook. In the oven, roast winter squash at 350 degrees until the skin is easy to prick and the pulp is softens. In the microwave, cook on high until you can smell it is done. It will continue to cook for several more minutes. The cooked pulp can be used in soups, casseroles, breads, pancakes, pies and puddings. Any of the squash varieties can be used to replace pumpkin in recipes, and all freeze well for later use.


Carrot Halva

Makes 8 — 10 servings

2 pounds grated carrots

4 cups milk

2 cups granulated sugar

1 2/3 cup dry powdered milk

1 teaspoon cardamom seeds

3 tablespoons ghee

Crushed pistachios or cashew, for garnish.

Put the carrots and ghee in a heavy pot. Sauté the carrots until cooked. Add milk and bring to a boil over medium heat, and then reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring frequently until the milk is absorbed into the carrots. Add the sugar, dry powdered milk, and cardamom seeds to the pot. Stir everything together and cook the mixture for 5 minutes, then remove from the heat, Cook and stir until the mixture turns a golden brown, then remove it from the heat and serve. The halva can be served in bowls, or pressed into a mold to be shaped. Garnish with crushed pistachios and cashew pieces.


Borsch

1 (16 ounce) package pork sausage

3 medium beets, peeled and shredded

3 carrots, peeled and shredded

3 medium baking potatoes, peeled and cubed

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste

3/4 cup water

1/2 medium head cabbage, cored and shredded

1 (8 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained

3 cloves garlic, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

1 teaspoon white sugar, or to taste

1/2 cup sour cream, for topping

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley for garnish

Crumble the sausage into a skillet over medium-high heat. Cook and stir until no longer pink. Remove from the heat and set aside. Fill a large pot halfway with water(about 2 quarts), and bring to a boil. Add the sausage, and cover the pot. Return to a boil. Add the beets, and cook until they have lost their color. Add the carrots and potatoes, and cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Add the cabbage, and the can of diced tomatoes. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook until tender. Stir in the tomato paste and water until well blended. Transfer to the pot. Add the raw garlic to the soup, cover and turn off the heat. Let stand for 5 minutes. Taste, and season with salt, pepper and sugar. Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with sour cream and fresh parsley.


Apple ring pancakes

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons white sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 Macintosh or other small apples

cooking spray

Combine milk with vinegar in a medium bowl and set aside for 5 minutes to “sour”. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Whisk egg and butter into “soured” milk. Pour the flour mixture into the wet ingredients and whisk until lumps are gone. Using a melon baler or an apple corer, peel and core the apples keeping them whole. Slice the apples crosswise to make 1/4-inch rounds. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, and coat with cooking spray. Dip apple slices in mixture and cook until cooked on one side. Flip with a spatula, and cook until browned on the other side. Serve immediately or transfer to oven to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining apples and batter. Serve with warm maple syrup.

The only thing I don’t like about these gourds is peeling them. This is why I avoid any recipe that says to peel the squash before it is cooked. The skin is quite hard, so removing it is a real challenge. Winter squash also can be cooked whole in the oven or in the microwave — if it is small enough. Simply make some cuts into the skin with a knife. Place it in a pan or bowl, and it is ready to cook. In the oven, roast winter squash at 350 degrees until the skin is easy to prick and the pulp is softens. In the microwave, cook on high until you can smell it is done. It will continue to cook for several more minutes. The cooked pulp can be used in soups, casseroles, breads, pancakes, pies and puddings. Any of the squash varieties can be used to replace pumpkin in recipes, and all freeze well for later use.

 
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