A Healthier Taste of Fall (Sept. 21, 2013)

For my September 21 article about healthy and local eating in Autumn, A Healthier Taste of Fall, either click here or keep on readin’!

As we bid summer adieu and transition into fall, we have plenty to look forward to: autumn colours, football season and pumpkin carving spring to mind.

But from a culinary point of view, the transition from summer to fall can mean a transition from light to heavy. Gone are the chilled salads and barbecues of the past — fall is all about hearty, heavy, warming dishes.

Great on the soul, not so great on the waistline.

It doesn’t have to be this way, though. With a little planning, effort and thought, you can enjoy the tastes of the season and the comforts of a traditional fall meal without breaking the caloric bank.

Fall is also harvest season, and we live in a great part of the world to take advantage of exactly that. Some of my favourite, healthy, fall harvest products of Ontario are:

Apples — Ontario produces a shockingly large number of apple varieties, each with its own unique flavours, textures and uses. Head to a local farm or fruit stand to find what variety suits you best — or better yet, take the kids to a pick-your-own farm. Great for everything from snacks to applesauce to dessert, the apple is as versatile as it is plentiful.

Beets — Ok, I know beets aren’t exactly an easy-to-get-excited-about food. But with their low cost, natural sweetness, and ease of preparation, beets give us plenty to get excited about. Beets are also one of the rare, beyond nutritious red vegetables, providing us with nutrients hard to find elsewhere. If you’re feeling extra ambitious, save your beet greens … they’re lovely sauteed with garlic.

Cabbage — An inexpensive answer to the question of greens, cabbage keep an extremely long time and serve as a great side dish. My favourite way to enjoy cabbage? Steamed, and topped with a tomato sauce — it serves as a wonderful ‘faux’ pasta.

Carrots — Carrots are one of the few veggies out there that are an easy sell, even on a child. They serve as a great lunchtime or afternoon snack for grown-ups and kids alike. But put down the ranch dressing. If you must dip, dip them in 0% fat Greek yogurt, mixed with onion and garlic powder.

Kale — If you follow my column regularly, you may have caught my article about this leafy green. The superfood to beat all superfoods, kale is jam packed with vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. This time of year, it makes a lovely addition to soups, stews and bakes.

Squash — Incredibly tasty and easy to prepare, squash is falls under the rare and mysterious “healthy carbohydrate” category. Boil it, steam it, broil it, or bake it — squash is tasty no matter what.

And with those delicious and healthy products of Ontario in mind, here is my recipe for one of my favourite fall soups. I hope you enjoy the fruits of the season as much as I do.

This incredibly healthy soup makes a perfect weeknight dinner. Full of superfoods, fibre and protein, this soup is vegan, low glycemic index and glycemic load, and can be made with largely locally grown ingredients. It’s incredibly filling and easily stands on it’s own as a meal — and will warm you up on even the chilliest of fall nights.

Molly Daley is a nutritionist and runs the website Diary of a Formerly Fat Girl. Find her at www.DiaryofaFormerlyFatGirl.com , or follow her on Twitter, @DOAFFG

Molly’s Spicy Butternut Squash, Kale & Black Bean Soup

1 large butternut squash

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 to 4 white onions

7 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons powdered vegetable stock

Cups and cups and cups of water

2 tablespoons cayenne pepper (less if you can’t handle the heat)

2 tablespoons paprika

1 spicy pepper (I suggest jalapeno if you aren’t crazy about spice, scotch bonnet if you are)

2 tablespoons salt

3 cups kale, de-spined and diced

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

One-third cup cilantro

Preheat your oven to 400 F.

Cut your squash vertically in half, place on a cookie sheet, and bake for 50 minutes.

While your squash is baking, grab your onions and garlic. Now, I’m sorry to have to put you through the pain that is chopping onions, but toughen up those eyes and dice those onions. Once you’ve stopped crying, pour your olive oil into a large soup pot and heat on medium. Add your onions, and cook for about 10 minutes. They should soften nicely. Dice your garlic, and add it to the mix — cook for about a minute longer.

Now, throw about four cups of water into your pot. Add your vegetable stock, and mix. Let this simmer down to almost nothing. Add more water and repeat. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: reduce, reduce, reduce. The key to a really great, flavourful soup is reduction. So, again — the more reduction, the better.

At this point, you squash should be coming out of the oven. Grab a spoon and scoop out all of the seeds, taking care not too remove too much “meat” in the process. Remove any excess skin (it should peel off relatively easily), and chop into large squares. Add about eight cups of water to your now very reduced soup pot, and throw in all of your squash. Keep on medium heat.

Now it’s time to get spicy. Add all of your spices and your pepper. Remember, the more you add, the spicier the final product will be, so proceed with caution. De-spine and chop your kale, and throw it into the mix. Reduce, reduce, reduce. Let it boil down, and add more water when it gets low. Stir occasionally. This should go on for at least an hour, if not more.

Now, this step is optional, but it really can work wonders on the texture of your soup. If you own a hand blender, remove your soup from heat and blend through the soup — magically transforming it from a lumpy, bumpy, chunky soup into silky, smooth goodness. This shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. Return the soup to medium heat. Add your black beans and another two to three cups of water. Stir, and let simmer for another 30 minutes or so.

When you’re ready to eat, ladle into big soup bowls and top with a big pinch of cilantro. Serve piping hot, and don’t be afraid to get seconds — this soup couldn’t be healthier!

For those who’d like to take the edge off the spice of the soup, top with a big dollop of 0% fat plain Greek yogurt — it’s a super clean substitute for sour cream. Store your leftovers in the fridge, and you’ve got lunch ready to go for tomorrow.

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