After dining al fresco with fresh food available all summer long, cooking for fall can be a big adjustment. Temperatures are dropping and the last of the summer crops are fading. But your culinary creativity doesn’t have to settle into hibernation. Au contraire, fall brings a whole slew of crops and meals to enjoy. These nutrition superstars can help to keep you from going into a comfort food coma. Here’s what your tastebuds and waistline have to look forward to this season.
New fruit on the block
There are two fall fruits so versatile, they’re worth the wait: apples and cranberries. Support local farmers by picking your own apples. Wandering around an orchard is a fun way to spend an afternoon, and you’ll get freshly-picked apples for a fraction of the supermarket price. Apples are no-brainers for desserts and snacks, but they also work wonders in sweet and savoury combos. Try adding them to a spinach salad with balsamic vinegar, or cooked in your favourite barbecue sauce. They’re also delicious stuffed. Try them with a bread stuffing or spicy wild rice filling.
Cranberries are typically cooked, and add a fantastic tart flavour to desserts and sauces. But they’re also useful for adding flavour when fresh. Throw fresh crans in oatmeal, or add a kick to a sweet fruit salad with pineapple or mango.
Pumpkin carving isn’t just for Halloween any more. Pumpkins are vegetable superstars with lots of vitamin A, potassium and fibre. They add a hit of nutrition and flavour to creamy dishes like risotto when pureed. They can also be served roasted as a side dish – celebrating the beginning of November with what’s left of Jackie the Jack O’Lantern could be a fun (if slightly creepy) way to get your vitamins.
Pumpkin’s cousin squash is also nutrition-rich. Squash is full of fibre and vitamins A and C. Butternut squash makes a sweet side dish, and is great for stuffing vegetarian pastas like canneloni and ravioli. Spaghetti squash is a smart substitute for – surprise, surprise – spaghetti, if you’re cutting down on carbs. The consistency is the same, so it works well hot or cold. Try it hot in a primavera sauce, or cold, Thai-style with peanuts, lime and coconut milk.
Frosty temperatures and hearty soups go together like coffee and 7 a.m. But satisfying soups that fill you up don’t have to swallow you up. Look at soups as a blank slate: you can use almost any leftovers in them for a thrown-together stew. Broth-based soups are typically better for you, since thicker ones are often full of heavy cream (read = fat). But if you get creative with how you thicken them, you can have creamy soups with all the nutrition and little to none of the fatty cream.
Pureed vegetables are the best way to add substance and bump up nutrition. Pureed broccoli adds a calcium kick to potato and leek soup, and makes an unexpected flavour combo. Creamed corn and mashed kidney beans are great in minestrone soup, and bonus: their fibre will help fill you up faster and longer. If you’re set on adding dairy flavour to your soup, try non-fat cottage cheese (preferably with little or no salt added) or low-fat cheese spread like Laughing Cow for healthier cream soup options. Both are spectacular in cutting down the cheese without cutting down on flavour in French onion soup, too.