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Kitchen Shrink: How to gracefully slide into fall foods

As we transition into autumn, truly my favorite season, our body clocks, appetites, and palates have to reset to shorter, cooler days, heartier foods, and more earthy, robust flavors. I recently ran into an acquaintance, who beamed about her spring trip to India where she was training to be an Ayurvedic healer, and had gleaned some enlightening tips about diet and herbs. I asked her to share some gems with me, and she simply said to listen to your body, and embrace the seasons. Well, this season delivers a bounty of exciting fruits, roots, seeds, gourds, and greens to inspire us all to become our own Ayurvedic healers to achieve balance and wellness. Here’s how.

Catharine Kaufman
(File photo)

Give salads an autumn oomph incorporating antioxidant rich, brain-boosting, dark leafy greens into the mix. Start with kale, the king of leafy greens, and a super methyl donor packed with essential, anti-cancer nutrients, whether Curly, Lacinato, or Dino varieties with sturdy stems, stiff leaves, and a strong, earthy taste. For a peppery zip, do baby Arugula, some sweet and nutty nuances try tender Mache, a bite of bitter, choose Frisée, or for a crispness and rich store of Vitamins A and K then hail, Caesar with Romaine leaves. Or add some interesting texture and color along with a good jaw work-out with a handful of shredded Savoy, Napa, Red Cabbage, or Brussels sprouts charred with a sassy balsamic glaze. We’re just getting started.

Blend a variety of raw or roasted seeds or nuts into your salad bowl from pepitas and sunflower seeds to Marcona almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, and pecans for some nice crunch, a dose of protein, and a heart- and brain-boosting zing. There’s more. Sprinkle some dried cranberries on green salads, taboulis, or pilafs for a burst of flavor, pop of color, and hearty chew. This petite powerhouse has a mother lode of Vitamins A, B, and C, along with anti-adhesion properties making this tart little darling of fall a urinary tract’s best friend. To top it off with an autumn flair, gently heat the dressing or vinaigrette, especially oil and citrus-based ones, for a comforting, warm wilted salad on chilly nights.

As we’re phasing out of summer stone fruits, a bounty of crunchy, juicy apples from lip-puckering Granny Smith’s to luscious Honeycrisps fill the produce aisles and farmer’s markets. These multi-tasking fall favorites are equally (or even more) delicious in warm compotes, flaky strudels, and mulled ciders as eaten raw in hand. Delicately sweet, elegant pears, especially Bosc, Bartlett, Comice, Anjou, and Asian varieties herald the season on charcuterie boards, poached in brandy, or sliced in salads.

How about a date night cozying up with a Middle Eastern delight? Dates are a sweet fall treat, whether soft, amber-skinned Deglet Noors, creamy, mouth-watering Honey Dates, moist and meaty Medjools, or tiny Barhis with a smoky, candy essence. These nutrient-rich, waxy wonders add moisture, chew, and caramelized notes to a variety of side dishes, salads, stuffings, quick breads, cookies, or snacks smothered whole in protein-dense, creamy tahini.

Let’s get to the root of the matter with fall’s iconic Technicolors, especially garnet yams or Okinawan purple sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, carrots of many hues, rutabagas, along with ruby and golden beets to add a sweet dessert-like quality to dishes of all manners. These hearty roots also give oodles of antioxidants from beta-carotene to anthocyanins to detox, sharpen, repair, and defend various body parts.

Now, let’s play squash. The cornucopia of kitschy-shaped, vibrant-hued autumn gourds delights the eyes and palates of even the most carnivorous among us. All winners in my cookbook, whether the tender, golden Acorn squash with rich, nutty nuances; the decadently sweet, silky orange-fleshed Butternut most divine with a sprinkling of autumn’s ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves; the funky Spaghetti squash that blossoms into a mound of noodle-like strands when cooked; the mild-mannered Delicata reminiscent of sweet potatoes; Japanese Kabocha boasting a fluffy flesh much like chestnuts with a pungent, earthy kick; or the bold, behemoth Hubbard with sweet, dark orange flesh reminiscent of a Sugar Pumpkin.

Whatever variety you choose, this low-cal, botanical fruit packs a rich store of immune boosting antioxidants, along with a slew of vitamins and minerals to dial up heart and eye health, ease achy joints with a supply of anti-inflammatory omega-3’s, and soften signs of aging. Their hulls can be scooped out and stuffed, or used as an edible tureen for chilled or hot autumn soups. Bake, broil, roast, steam, sauté, or mash. Swap out pasta in a Butternut lasagna, toss Spaghetti squash with turkey meatballs and marinara sauce, or a kale and pistachio pesto for a lighter, carb-friendly casserole.

Alas, this month my wonderful father-in-law passed away at the glorious age of 94. We have been reflecting and celebrating a full, rich, and healthy life that we can attribute to a philosophy of gratitude, love of family, and moderation in food, drink, and exercise. And while a pharmacist by trade, Dad believed in the teachings of Hippocrates, “to make food thy medicine.” Whenever he came to visit us from New York, I whipped up this elegant dessert blending Acorn squash with other goodies for a tipsy, indulgent, yet healthy treat. Here’s to the memory of Burt Kaufman who really was quite satisfied with just one scoop of vanilla ice cream!

Tipsy Chocolate Squash Mousse

—1 large acorn squash (halved, seeds removed)

—2/3-cup dark chocolate syrup, or melted bittersweet chocolate

—1/3 cup dried cranberries soaked in 3 tablespoons dark rum, or fine cognac

—Orange blossom honey (to taste)

—1-cup heavy whipping cream (or dairy-free whipped cream)

—Whip cream until peaks form. Set aside.

—In a pot half-filled with water, bring squash to a boil, and simmer until tender. Scoop out flesh and puree in food processor.

—In a mixing bowl, combine squash, syrup, honey, cranberries, and liquor. Gently fold in whipped cream. Serve in martini glasses, and garnish with chocolate shavings.


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