Autumn Seasonal Eating. Carrot and Parsnip soup with toasted almonds.

Warming Carrot and Parsnip Soup

In Hungary we say ‘it has become my blood’ after a great meal or drink. It means the food has immediately invigorated us and brought us back to life. Having had a bad cold all week, that it exactly how I felt after a bowl of this soup.

Autumn Seasonal Eating. Carrot and Parsnip soup with toasted almonds.

I had no plans to make soup but I had too many carrots and parsnips and everybody knows making soup is a great way to use up surplus vegetables. Plus I already mentioned that pesky cold, so I  knew a few bowls of a nourishing soup would do us good. Without further ado, I hauled out one of our biggest pots and got to work. After about twenty minutes of peeling and chopping, the prep work was done, and I was ready to begin my kitchen magic.

But before I continue, there is something I would like to share with you that I think made this soup extra special. A few days before, I had made a batch of clarified butter, or ghee, for the first time.  Homemade ghee has a sweet, almost vanilla-y scent while being pretty neutral in flavour,  and it can also take some heat. It is perfect if you are after some buttery deliciousness without the smell of burning fat. So I sautéed the finely chopped leeks, celery, garlic and ginger in plenty of this melted goodness, bringing out the depth and sweetness of the their flavours and adding some creaminess to the overall texture.

After that, I added the chopped parsnips and carrots and threw in a couple of cubes of good vegetable stock. Homemade chicken or vegetable stock would be even better if you have some. I used 50/50 ratio of carrots and parsnips to get the right amount of sweetness for my taste. When the vegetables were almost ready I poured in half a can of coconut milk, just enough for a bit of creaminess without the explicit coconut flavour. I also added the juice of half a lemon which was essential for a perfectly balanced flavour.

I finished the soup by blending it with a stick blender but not before I threw in a small bunch of lemon verbena leaves. I bought a plant at my local Farmers’ Market and I just love it. It is similar to lemon grass, really good in soups and curries,  and I just had a mug of camomile tea with some crushed lemon verbena leaves, ginger, and honey, so I think my lingering cold is almost the thing of the past.

Lemon Verbena
Lemon Verbena

The soup was a hit with the kids as well which is always a huge bonus. They asked for not one but two extra helpings! We had it the next day too and I froze a batch for when we need another bowl of sunshine in our bellies.

I have learnt that toppings can make a big difference in a meal, and it is also a great way to bring a bit of variety when you are eating the same thing two or three times in a row. So after trying this soup with toasted almonds, I served it with garlicky kale crisps and toasted seeds which took this soup to a whole new level. I think next time we will try it with sautéed mushrooms to give the soup some extra body.

Autumn Seasonal Eating. Carrot and Parsnip soup with kale crisps and seeds.

So, the recipe! It will serve about four but feel free to double the amount for extra servings.

Ingredients:

  1. 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  2. 4 parsnips, peeled and chopped
  3. 1 leek, finely sliced
  4. 2 celery sticks, finely chopped
  5. 1 inch of ginger, peeled and chopped
  6. 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  7. 2 tbsp. ghee (feel free to use any other fat if you prefer)
  8. 2 tbsp. coconut milk
  9. juice of half a small lemon
  10. small bunch of lemon verbena leaves (optional)
  11. Vegetable or chicken stock
  12. Salt, pepper

 

Method:

  1. Melt the ghee and sauté the finely chopped leeks, celery, garlic and ginger.
  2. Add the carrots and parsnips, top up with enough water to cover plus 2 inches. You can always add some more water in the end to get the desired consistency.
  3. Add the stock cube. If you have liquid stock add it with the water.
  4. Cook until the vegetables are soft.
  5. Add the lemon juice, coconut milk, season with salt and pepper to your taste.
  6. Add some lemon verbena leaves and blend until smooth using a stick blender.
  7. Serve topped with toasted almonds, seeds, or anything you fancy.

Enjoy!

Merlixa

 

 

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dark and moody photography. Still life photography. Pumpkin. Autumn harvest.

Autumn Pumpkin Curry with Black Cardamom and Star Anise

It is the middle of September and I still feel slightly disoriented. Autumn has barged in rather unceremoniously, like an uninvited visitor, leaving me in a perpetual state of trying my best to be polite, while really wanting to kick them out.

Summer has been good to us, with its free flowing days, lots of play, and very few obligations. And while free play will always be a big part of our days, we certainly need to plan ahead a bit more.

I am not a creature of habit but I have learnt that we all have more space, literally and figuratively, to be creative when the wheels of the household mechanics are well oiled.  So I am spending a solid week decluttering the house, setting up a meal prep and batch cooking routine, a cleaning schedule, and trying to plan our days so there is time for the most important things,  like spending time outside, reading stories, play, dream, and create. My husband must be on the same page, as there is talk of refreshing the house, in fact, he is on his way to pick up some new doors, as we speak. Wow, simple life does actually require a lot of prep work!

Anyway, before I turn this blog post into a chapter from housekeeping journal, I would like to share with you my recent recipe for Autumn Pumpkin Curry, a definite upside of Autumn being here. Maybe she can stay, after all.

dark and moody photography. Still life photography. Pumpkin. Autumn harvest.I love curries, especially vegetarian versions. It is such a great way to enjoy the flavour of vegetables, to transform them into a wholesome and heart-warming meal.

I enjoy the organic way of cooking a curry, almost like creating a magic potion, making sure all the vegetables are cooked just right and the spices are perfectly balanced to enhance the overall flavour. Serve it on a bed of steamed rice, with some homemade pita and chutney on the side, and I can’t imagine a better meal on a rainy autumn evening.

When I cook a curry, I rarely follow a recipe. First I look in the fridge, then take out all the veggies that might work well together. I open the spice cabinet and take out all the warm spices I have, choose the ones I think might work well together, and trust my intuition when it comes to measurements.  I check for some tomatoes, chickpeas, or lentils, perhaps coconut milk. If I am particularly organised, I will do some work in advance, like peeling and chopping the vegetables.

dark and moody photography. Still life photography. Pumpkin. Autumn harvest.

For this version, I was using a pumpkin, aubergine, red pepper and tomatoes combo, some rainbow chard added at the very end, all delicately spiced with black cardamom, star anise, coriander seeds, cumin, paprika, turmeric, and ginger. It sounds like a lot of spices but they balanced each other really well, warming the autumn vegetables and enhancing their flavour without overwhelming them. I love spicy food but because of the kids I add the chilli separately to my serving.

dark and moody photography. Still life photography. Pumpkin curry. Autumn harvest.

Ingredients:

  1. 1 medium pumpkin, peeled, deseeded, and chopped into 1 inch cubes
  2. 1 aubergine, sliced and quartered
  3. 1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped
  4. 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
  5. 2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  6. 1 bunch of rainbow chard, spinach, or kale, chopped
  7. 1 can of tomatoes
  8. 3 black cardamom seeds, grinded
  9. 1 star anise, grinded
  10. 1 tsp coriander seeds, grinded
  11. 1 tbsp turmeric
  12. 1 tsp paprika
  13. 1 inch ginger, peeled and grated
  14. Salt, pepper

Method:

  1. Steam the cubed pumpkin until just tender but still have a bit of bite, set aside.
  2. In the meantime, gently fry the onions in a bit of olive oil until soft and slightly caramelised.
  3. Add the spices, ginger, and garlic, and fry for a minute or two.
  4. Add the aubergines and chard stalks and let them soften a bit. Add a bit of water as the mixture might stick.
  5. Add the pepper, pumpkin, tomatoes, rinse the tomato can and add extra water, and let it simmer until the vegetables are soft but not mushy, about 15-20 minutes. Season to taste.
  6. Add the rainbow chard leaves and cook for two minutes.
  7. I like to serve the curry on a bed of boiled brown rice, with homemade pita bread, and chutney on the side.

Tip 1: If you chop the vegetables (with the exception of onion and garlic) in advance, this dish comes together very quickly.

Tip 2: If you would like to make this dish more hearty, add some beans or legumes, like chickpeas or lentils.

Enjoy!

Merlixa

 

 

Beetroot Salad with Prunes and Walnuts

This salad was one of my favourites as a child growing up in Ukraine.

Salads, in general, were an essential part of my childhood cuisine, and not the skinny green leaves, thank you very much, our salads were always wholesome, almost meals in themselves. I don’t remember any dinner party or celebration without a meaty Olivier, or a hearty Vinaigrette in the middle of the dinner table, always served in the biggest salad bowls, so there would be leftovers for at least two days. These salads always tasted even better the next day, when all the flavours have fused together. They were amazing first thing in the morning, I remember eating them on a slice of stale bread.

But back to the salad of this post. This beetroot salad was not be the king of the table, like the Olivier or Vinaigrette, and so would be served in a much smaller salad bowl, but still played a very important part in the dinner table setup, alongside garlicky cheese spread, pickled fish, and other Eastern European delicacies.

To make this salad, I would first cook the beetroot with skin on to preserve the flavours, then let the beetroots cool, peel, and coarsely grate them. Then I would add a generous handful of chopped toasted walnuts and chopped juicy prunes. I don’t originally remember any herbs added to this salad but when I tasted it I really missed a certain extra aroma that would bind the beetroot, prunes and walnuts together. I made a quick trip our herb garden and came back with a few sprigs of thyme, and they just did the trick.

Originally, I remember this salad served with a bit of sour cream mixed in, transforming the deep purple colour of into a bright fuchsia, but when I tasted the beetroot and sour cream combination, I didn’t like it at all, and not even the beautiful colour could convince me otherwise. My palate must have changed since childhood, or I maybe I have not been exposed to almost permanent sour cream doses since moving further West. So instead, I opted for a more classic dressing of balsamic vinegar, honey, and olive oil, and it worked just fine. I also added some green leaves (yes, I know, I am gladly swapping the sour cream for greens now). Rocket would work really well here too, or any bitter leaves.

I had some leftover goat cheese from out trip to the farmers’ market so I rounded out the salad with a slice of grilled cheese. The overall combination was perfect, each flavour enhancing the other and blending together beautifully.

Beetroot salad with prunes and walnut.

Ingredients:

  1. 2-3 medium beetroots, cooked with skin on
  2. 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
  3. 1/2cup good quality juicy prunes
  4. 3 sprigs of thyme finally chopped
  5. 3 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
  6. 2 tbsp. olive oil
  7. 1tsp honey
  8. salt, pepper
  9. goats cheese, 1 thick slice per serving
  10. Green salad leaves, 1 generous bunch per serving

Method:

  1. Cook the beetroots with their skin on until soft. Let them cool. Peel and coarsely grate.
  2. Toast the walnuts, chop the prunes and add to the grated beetroot.
  3. Make a dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, honey, and thyme.
  4. Add the salad leaves and the grilled cheese and add a generous splash of dressing.

Tip : I recommend cooking the beetroots in advance and storing in the fridge with their skin on. It saves time and the cool beetroot will taste better.

 

Enjoy!

Merlixa

Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.

Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage

There is something so grounding and comforting about eating seasonally. When I cook food that is in its prime, I feel that it is not only about making a tasty dish, but also about reconnecting with nature and the rhythm of its ever changing seasons.

Seasonal eating gives us an opportunity to create a strong food culture, with rituals and traditions, rooted in nature and belonging. It makes sense, really. Humans and land have forever been connected, it is in our genetic makeup. That’s why feeling the soil with our hands, or growing our own food is so powerful and healing. It makes us feel whole, like we belong.

There is so much to be said about feeling connected to something larger that us, whether it is our family, community, or purpose in life, and there are so many ways to create and nourish that connection. Cooking is one of them.

So with this in mind I am sharing the story of a humble stir fry made from our local seasonal vegetables and slow roasted pulled pork.

Organic autumn vegetables, autumn harvest, food photography

I didn’t have a recipe in mind when I made this stir fry. What I had was a box of organic vegetables from our local farm, and some leftovers from a shoulder of pork, slowly roasted in the oven until falling apart. Oh, and some homemade roasted peach barbeque sauce, a recipe from Brown Eggs and Jam Jars, one of my favourite cookbooks celebrating seasonal and homemade food.

So I started to cook, and let the process lead me to the final dish, which was very nourishing and satisfying indeed. Soft and crunchy, sweet and tangy, with its beautiful autumn jewel colours,  I think it is going to be an autumn classic in our family.

Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.

Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.

Ingredients:

  1. 200g of pulled pork, shredded
  2. 1 medium red onion
  3. 1 tsp fennel seeds
  4. 1 tsp brown sugar
  5. 1tbsp balsamic vinegar
  6. 1tbsp olive oil
  7. 1/2 head of red cabbage
  8. 2 carrots
  9. 1-2 cups of rainbow chard, shredded
  10. 1 heaped tbsp sesame seeds
  11. Salt, pepper

Method:

  1. I slowly sautéed some sliced red onion and fennel seeds in olive oil, with a  little bit of brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar, until soft and caramelised.
  2. Then I added the shredded pulled pork and combined until the pork was coated in balsamic glaze.
  3. I sliced some red cabbage, carrots, and chopped a generous bunch of rainbow chard, stalks included.
  4. I added the cabbage, carrots, and colourful rainbow chard stalks to the pork mixture, seasoned it with salt and pepper, and cooked until softened, but still had some crunch left.
  5. Finally, I added the rainbow chard and cooked for a minute or two, until the chard has just wilted.
  6. I served the stir fry on a bed of floury mashed potatoes, with a sprinkling of sesame seeds, and a splash of sweet and tangy barbeque sauce.  If you don’t have homemade sauce lying around, a dressing of tahini, lemon juice, soy sauce, and honey works well too.

Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.

Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.Autumn Stir Fry with Pulled Pork and Red Cabbage. Seasonal eating.

Have a great Autumn!

Merlixa

Banana Bread with Chocolate and Cardamom

A few weeks ago I found a jar of black cardamom pods at the back of my spice cabinet. I bought them at the Asia Market about seven years ago when I got Madhur Jeffrey’s cookbook on Indian Cuisine. Back then, my culinary ambitions quickly gave way to other interests, the cookbook landed on the back shelf and most of my prized spices wound up at the back of the cupboard, where they lay dormant until now. When I opened the lid and cautiously sniffed the black seeds, I was instantly intrigued. They had a chocolatey, clove-y scent, and their earthy warmth made me think of sweet things and baking.

I have been using this spice a lot since, pairing it with cranberries in my sourdough loaf, and with dark chocolate in a classic banana bread.

DSC_0785.jpgBlack cardamom gave the sourdough a deep, smoky flavour which was further enhanced by the sharp sweetness of cranberries. We enjoyed it toasted with butter, with a drizzle of honey and tahini, and made pulled pork, cheddar and sweet relish sandwiches.

This flavour combination also went surprisingly well with blue cheese. While I was confident that the cranberries will contrast with the cheese beautifully, I was wary that the black cardamom might compete with the strong flavour of blue. But somehow, they worked really well together, each flavour rather distinct, but enhancing of the other, with the cranberry providing the sweet link.

DSC_0836DSC_0892But let me tell you about the banana bread. I used a classic recipe but with less sugar, replaced the butter with coconut oil, crushed some quality dark chocolate and walnuts into small chunks, grinded 3 cardamom pods, and mixed it all up. The result was a fancier version of the good old banana bread with a bittersweet, smoky flavour. I think this one is a keeper!

DSC_0855

DSC_0859.jpg

Ingredients:

  1. 230g plain flour
  2. 1tsp salt
  3. 1tsp baking powder
  4. 1tsp bicarbonate of soda
  5. 120 g coconut oil
  6. 100 g brown sugar
  7. 2 eggs
  8. 3 bananas, mashed
  9. 120 g walnuts, chopped
  10. 100 g dark chocolate, chopped
  11. 3 pods of black cardamom, grinded

Method :

  1. Preheat the oven to 120 C/Gas Mark 3.
  2. Mix together the flour, salt, baking powder, soda, and cardamom.
  3. Cream the sugar and coconut oil until soft and fluffy.
  4. Add the eggs, mashed bananas, chopped walnuts, and mix well.
  5. Add to the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Do not overmix.
  6. Spoon the mixture into an oiled tin. Bake for 1 hour. Insert a skewer or ice cream stick in the middle, if it comes out clean, it is ready.
  7. Leave to cool in the tin, then turn onto a rack and let it cool completely before cutting.

Enjoy!

Merlixa

 

 

Sourdough Zucchini ‘Blinchiki’

Growing up in Ukraine, ‘blinchiki’, or pancakes, were an every day staple in our house. They came in every shape, form, and flavour imaginable. I loved everything about them. The smell, the warm kitchen, the hustle and bustle associated with cooking them, the sweet anticipation of my turn. I was particularly fond of the thick ‘blinchiki’. Transported from the hot skillet straight to the plate of the lucky person, they were then promptly topped with a generous dollop of sour cream, the holy grail of Eastern European cuisine. Sour cream gave everything a creamy and tangy richness, and it contrasted beautifully with the hot pancakes. There were sweet cottage cheese pancakes, apple pancakes, savoury potato pancakes, plain pancakes. I often dreamt about them, so it is quite strange that I have never made them until recently.

One day when I was looking for ways to use up my surplus sourdough starter, I came across a recipe for apple pancakes on Simple Bites blog, and I just knew I was going to recreate my childhood favourite, the zucchini ‘blinchiki’. With lots of sour cream.

Sourdough Zucchini Pancakes with sour cream, Ukrainean recipe

I found a sad looking courgette at the bottom of my fridge drawer that really needed to be used up. Then I sautéed a small onion until sweet and caramelised, and added it to the mixture, together with the coarsely grated zucchini, some chopped sweet red pepper, and finely diced spinach. The result was a stack of hearty and flavourful pancakes which we also enjoyed reheated the next day, or just plain cold. Patrick even used them as sandwich bread the next day, layering some pulled pork and cheese between two pancakes.

So here is the recipe, I hope you will enjoy them as much as we did. If you don’t have sourdough, Simple Bites offers a recipe version with commercial yeast.

Ingredients:

  1. 250 g of unfed sourdough starter
  2. 100 g buckwheat flour (you can use whole wheat or plain too)
  3. 2 heaped tablespoons of butter, melted
  4. A good pinch of salt
  5. 2 eggs
  6. 1 medium courgette, coarsely grated
  7. 1 small onion, finely chopped
  8. A bunch of spinach, finely chopped (optional)
  9. A handful of finely chopped red pepper (optional)

Method:

  1. In a bowl, mix well the sourdough starter, flour, eggs, and melted butter.
  2. Coarsely grate the zucchini, brown the onions in a bit of olive oil, chop the peppers and spinach.
  3. Add all the vegetables to the pancake mix.
  4. Fry a medium sized pancake at a time in a few drops of oil. Cook until the edges are set, the top is bubbly, and the bottom is nice and golden.
  5. Serve at once, with a generous dollop of sour cream.

DSC_0766

Have a great Friday!

Merlixa

Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.

Scottish Lamb Broth with Buckwheat and Seasonal Veg

As it often happens, we had some leftovers from our Sunday roast leg of lamb. I love Sunday roast leftovers almost as much as I love the actual dinner. The possibilities! With lamb they were, for a long time, mostly wasted as there was never enough left for a second dinner, so the bone was usually gnawed on by a hungry family member the next day, or forgotten about and discarded a few days later. I know, the waste.

That is, until I discovered the mighty Scottish lamb broth from Jamie Oliver’s book, Save with Jamie. So here we were, on Monday afternoon, and as I was eyeing up the bone, ready to transform it into a simmering pot of satisfying, soul warming goodness,  I realised I don’t have any of the ingredients to make my beloved recipe. No barley, no cabbage, no peas, no squash.

‘Ok’, I thought, ‘think. This is an opportunity to come up with your own version of the Scottish Broth. What’s there to lose? We can always have scrambled eggs for dinner if it turns out a horrible mess.’ So I scanned my pantry (tiny cupboard in the corner of the kitchen), checked the vegetable box, and this is what happened.

I used buckwheat instead of barley and I loved it. I used kale instead of cabbage, why not, it is all the same, as my husband says. I replaced the sweetness of peas with corn, and used mushrooms to give the broth its chunkiness in the place of squash.

I am not saying it turned out better than the original, but I honestly, I think it is up there. It certainly warmed our bellies and our hearts. This time, I am including a recipe too.

Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables.Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.

Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.

Served 2 adults and 2 hungry toddlers. Twice.

Ingredients:

  1. Leftover leg of lamb, bone and meat (about 150g)
  2. 1 chicken stock cube or use the drippings from the roast instead
  3. 200g buckwheat, cooked according to packet instructions
  4. 200g of chestnut mushrooms
  5. 3 carrots
  6. 200g potatoes
  7. A good bunch of kale
  8. 100g of cooked corn, crumbled
  9. Fresh mint, to garnish.

Method: 

  1. Simmer the lamb bone, shredded meat, and stock in 3 litres of water for 1 hour. Make sure to skim the surface regularly.
  2. Meanwhile, quarter and sauté the mushrooms in olive oil until slightly browned.
  3. Peel and chop the carrots and potatoes into cubes, add to the broth together with sautéed mushrooms. Simmer for another 20 minutes.
  4. When the carrots and potatoes are almost done, add the cooked corn, cooked buckwheat, and the chopped kale. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
  5. Garnish with fresh mint, and serve.

Tip: It is a good idea to cook a whole packet of soup grains such as buckwheat, barley, or soup mix, and freeze in small portions, ready to go.

Have a good (almost) midweek!

Merlixa

Scottish lamb broth with buckwheat and seasonal vegetables. Irish Food Blog.