Fall is the time when we joyfully return to the kitchen and embrace the hot stove over which to “slave.” Summer is in the rear-view mirror and our inspiration now turns to the beautiful and nutritious heirloom winter squashes, leafy greens, and root vegetables being harvested from our gardens. The combination of the season’s sweet, savory, and bitter vegetables comes together beautifully in soups and chili where flavors and textures meld. The one-pot meal is also a nice way to ease back into the kitchen routine after a carefree summer spent slicing fresh tomatoes and tossing salads! Pair these soups with a crusty loaf of homemade bread and a light repast is had for the family.
Everywhere I look these days I see kale! Kale is certainly having its heyday and for good reasons. Kale is loaded with nutrients, some hard to get elsewhere, like Vitamin K. Vitamin K aids in bone health and the prevention of blood clotting; it also protects us from various cancers. Kale is a wonderful nondairy source of calcium, and non-meat source of iron. It contains powerful antioxidants and is considered an anti-inflammatory food — good for preventing all kinds of health maladies. So, take advantage of the kale all around us and work it into soup, smoothies, and even snacks.
Fall classics — sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and winter squash — are nutritional superstars as well. It’s no surprise that these orange veggies are loaded with beta carotene and thus, Vitamin A. They have similar nutritional profiles that include antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. However, to achieve the full benefits of that beta carotene, especially with sweet potatoes, you must include some good fat in your meal. According to The World’s Healthiest Foods, recent research has shown that “a minimum of 3-5 grams of fat per meal significantly increases our uptake of beta carotene from sweet potatoes.” This isn't hard to do: consume virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or organic butter with this delicious tuber.
The following method of bread making takes a small bit of forethought, some mixing, and a lot of time in between. It’s a “slow rise” method in which the flavor is a result of slow fermentation, and the texture is the result of baking in a cast-iron pot. The yeast is eased to life over time (12 to 18 hours), rather than shocked to life with warm water and sugar. In fact, this type of bread doesn’t require any added sugar. The ingredients are pure and simple — flour, yeast, salt and water — ingredients surely in your pantry now.
Due to the nature of slow fermentation, you’ll need to start your bread the day before you want to consume it. This may be hard to get your mind around, but the effort is well worth it. Feel free to take liberties with these recipes to determine what works and tastes best to you, and to come up with new flavors (just keep the ratios of ingredients the same). Bread is a forgiving medium for experimentation … whenever you combine flour, yeast, water and heat, you’ll end up with bread in some form!
If you’re blessed with armloads of kale or chard from the garden, freeze it for later use. A great approach to this is to make what I call haystacks. Instead of making blocks of greens in freezer bags that must be defrosted and used all at once, make these handy haystacks that can easily be added to sautes, smoothies, and soups.
Wash the kale (or chard), remove the ribs, and chop. Put on a large pot of water to boil. Fill a large bowl with ice water. Once the water comes to a boil, blanch the kale in batches for 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water. Once all the kale is cool, drain the water and squeeze out all the excess. Spread out the kale on paper towels to dry slightly. Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. Build little haystacks with the kale and place trays in freezer. After a few hours, transfer the frozen stacks to freezer bags and label. Be sure to squeeze out as much air as possible from the bags and use within three months.
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