Today is the Autumnal Equinox. Happy Fall!
I love this time of year. Although here in Los Angeles it does not have the cool crisp feeling of Fall that I grew up with in New York City, the shift from summer to Fall is palpable. The days are getting shorter, the 100+ degree heat wave is over (though it’s still hot!), and some of the trees are even boasting bright orange and yellow leaves.
In spite of the heat, we are in a time of transition from one season to another, and nourishing the Spleen and Stomach organ systems (the Earth element) with the right foods is crucial for creating groundedness during times of transition.
Many of you have asked me to share recipes and give tips on how to feed your family an organic, Real Food diet without losing your mind or going broke. This series, Cooking with My Kids, is my attempt to do just that. I will be posting more about the dishes we make and where we get our ingredients.
In my house, Sundays and Mondays are when I get most of the cooking and prep done for the week. As I’ve shared here before, my kids and I hit our favorite farmer’s market early Sunday morning, and based on what we haul back and what (if anything…it’s been HOT here!) is growing in our garden, I create a meal plan for the week.
Then I wash, chop, prep and cook as much as I can on my days off (Sunday/Monday), so the fullness of my work week, shuttling kids to and from school and making meals is not so overwhelming.
Family dinners this time of year feel particularly important, and when they don’t result in sibling rivalry and food fights, they are also very satisfying.
We had these butternut squash growing in our garden…honestly, I had almost forgotten they were there, as I fell a bit behind on weeding what with the 100+ degree heat wave that hit L.A. this month. (Seriously: my poor garden.) As my Little One and I were watering our new fruit trees this morning (thank you, TreePeople, for the free mango and peach trees!), she reminded me of the butternuts hiding beneath the grass and overgrown green chard.
Oh, right: squash!
Here’s one as a baby (before I caught up on weeding):
I should have taken pictures of the ones we picked yesterday…oops!
We planted them along with pumpkins in May, and unlike the pumpkins, they have been trucking along in spite of crazy drought conditions and being ignored for all of August and September. (Those poor pumpkins. They didn’t even make it to Halloween.)
The squash snapped right off the vine, and I almost expected to see worms crawling out when I sliced them open, but there was the bright orange flesh with its shiny seeds glistening like teeth. The sage in my herb garden seems to thrive whatever the weather; I love using it for baked chicken, and it pairs very well with all kinds of winter squash, so worth having in your outdoor or container garden.
I grabbed my favorite cookbooks for soup inspiration, Deborah Madison’s “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” (the 2010 version: I haven’t checked out the new one yet) and Sally Fallon’s in “Nourishing Traditions.” I compared their cooking times for butternut squash: Madison says 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Fallon says 350 degrees for an hour.
To be honest, I hate following recipes. I like to refer to them for ingredient inspiration, cooking temperatures and total cups of water or broth, and I have to give credit where credit is due for providing the spine of a recipe, but beyond that I tend to go off book and improvise.
You’ll find more specific instructions in the recipes in Madison’s and Fallon’s books, but my point here is that it’s easy to do your own thing: be inspired by a recipe but amend it to what’s in season, what you have on hand, and what your intuition and patience tells you to do.
For the butternut squash, for example, I split the difference and baked it at 360. I forgot to set the timer. (When prepping and cooking with an active 4-year-old, I have little time for left-brain stuff. I follow my intuition!)
Since I knew I had to bake the butternut squash (I don’t have a dehydrator, and yuck, that would be gross), I figured I might as well bake some sweet potatoes while I was sweating indoors, and make two meals at once. Make it three if you do a double batch of the soup!
This is one of my tricks: when you meal plan for the whole week, you can prep and cook similar items together, then refrigerate or freeze them until needed. I make a big batch of bone broth (beef, bison or chicken) every other week, and freeze it in glass jars for when I need it. (I keep meaning to freeze some in ice cube trays, for the perfect serving size to add to soups or stir-frys, but haven’t gotten around to it yet.)
Here’s the menu for two meals for the Autumnal Equinox.
Butternut Squash Soup with Chicken Bone Broth & Fried Sage Leaves
Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Spinach and Heirloom Tomatoes*
*I’m not including photos or a detailed recipe here, but you can make any sort of grilled cheese sandwich using good organic grassfed cheddar, gruyere, or swiss; I added sauteed spinach and some slices of heirloom tomato, and my favorite sourdough bread that we get at our local farmer’s market; I spread one side with butter and the pan with coconut oil, and cook until lightly browned.
Lentil Sweet Potato Baked Burritos with Spinach, Sour Cream and Salsa
Sauerkraut (on the side)
Leftover Butternut Squash Soup (freeze half the batch – or double-batch- in a glass container)
BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP WITH CHICKEN BONE BROTH & SAGE
Serves 6-8 (depending on the age & appetites of your family members)
(Double it if you want a freezer meal for later use)
3 small-medium butternut squashes (about 2 lb total, I think)
1 large red onion
8 cloves garlic, whole peeled
10 fresh sage leaves
1/4 tsp dried sage
1/4 tsp dried lemon verbena (oregano or lemon thyme are fine substitutes)
2 tsp Himalayan pink salt (+ more to taste)
6 c. chicken bone broth (follow my associate acupuncturist’s recipe for bone broth here) or chicken stock. If you are vegetarian, you can use water instead, but you might need to add a little more salt or seasonings to enhance the flavor of the soup.
Pinch of cumin
Fresh ground pepper (to taste)
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) organic grassfed butter, for spreading on squash and sauteeing veggies
Fresh goat cheese (about 1/4 c.) or freshly grated pecorino romano (optional)
NOTE: I made the soup, the grilled cheese sandwiches and the ingredients for the Lentil-Sweet-Potato Baked Burritos at the same time; it requires some multi-tasking but means less time in the kitchen overall. If you plan to do the same, read through this whole post before you start cooking. If you’re only making the soup, ignore the part about putting the sweet potato in the oven and cooking the lentils and spinach (unless you need spinach for the Grilled Cheese Sandwiches.)
1. Preheat oven to 360.
2. Wash the butternut squash. (Or ask your minions to do so.)
3. Cut squashes in half, remove seeds and discard.
4. Grease a baking sheet or glass baking pan with coconut oil. (I let my 4-year-old do this with a paper towel.)
5. Spread organic, grass-fed butter all over the cut sides of the squash. (Again, my daughter did this for me while I prepped some of the ingredients for the Lentil Sweet Potato Baked Burritos.)
6. Place squash pieces on the baking pan, cut-side down. BAKE for 45 minutes. (If you are making the Sweet Potato Sort-Of Enchiladas at the same time, BAKE the sweet potato on the lower shelf in the oven.)
7. Saute onions in a large soup pot with a pinch of salt, stirring occasionally until lightly browned, about 7-10 minutes.
8. While the squashes and sweet potato bake, cook the lentils for Meal 2 (if you’re making them both), and saute the spinach.
9. Scoop cooked squash from the skin with a spoon, being careful not to burn your hands.
10. Once onions are lightly browned, add the cooked squash to the onion mixture. Break up chunks with a wooden spoon. Mince garlic cloves directly into the squash/onion mixture, and add 1T of the butter. Cook on medium, stirring continuously for 3-5 minutes.11. Add 8 c. of water to the soup pot, turn heat to high, and cook until boiling.
11. Saute sage leaves in olive oil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool on a paper towel for a few minutes, then chop finely and add to soup. Reserve a few leaves for garnishes on the soup.
12. Add dried herbs to soup.
13. Simmer soup for 20 minutes.
14. Puree soup with an immersion blender (or handheld blender). If the soup is too thick, add water or more broth. If too thin, add sour cream or make a roux with flour and water, and puree for another moment.
15. Ladle soup into bowls, top with goat cheese (optional), drizzle with olive oil. I served this alongside Grilled Cheese Sandwiches with Spinach and Heirloom Tomatoes, which are extra delicious when dipped in the soup. You could serve it with the following Baked Burritos instead, or make the Burritos for another night.
SWEET POTATO LENTIL BAKED BURRITOS
This is a recipe inspired by an article I read in the now-defunct Mothering Magazine about 5-6 years ago. (The online Mothering is awesome, but I do miss that magazine in my mailbox every month!) I have tried and tried to find the original recipe online, so I can give the author proper credit: was it Peggy O’Mara? Cynthia Lair? (I’m big fans of both.) My searches come up blank.
Anyway, over the years I have made this recipe my own, changing ingredients and making additions here and there, sneaking in stuff I want my kids, surplus veggies from our garden or those extra chunks of cooked chicken. You can cook the sweet potato, lentils and spinach the night before, then assemble the burritos right before you want to bake them. Alternatively, you assemble the whole dish, cover it and put it in the fridge, and take it out the next day – dinner will be ready in 20 minutes.
It is a very versatile recipe, and the main ingredients are super cheap, even when bought (or grown) organic.
6 organic whole wheat or sprouted wheat tortillas (we avoid corn in our family, but if you are allergic to wheat you could use gluten-free tortillas)
1 large organic sweet potato
1c dried brown organic lentils
1 small red onion
2 bags organic washed spinach (or 2 bunches fresh) – I have also used cooked kale in place of the spinach
1 cup of shredded organic grass-fed cheddar or monterey jack cheese
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tsp salt (pink or grey, ideally)
1/2 stick (1/4 c.) butter
Coconut oil (for greasing glass pan)
Mild or medium tomato salsa
Organic sour cream
1. Preheat oven to 375.
2. Grease a 9 x 11 glass pan with coconut oil.
3. Wash sweet potato, prick in 2 spots with a knife. Bake for 60 minutes, or until soft.
4. Wash and drain the lentils.
5. In a medium pot, cook lentils with 2.5 cups of water and 1/2 tsp of salt; bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20-30 minutes, or until the water is cooked off and the lentils are soft and aromatic.
6. In a medium saucepan, saute the red onion in coconut oil or butter until tender.
7. Add the minced garlic to the onions and cook another 3 minutes or so.
8. Add the spinach to the onion/garlic mixture and cook for 3-4 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from heat.
9. Once the sweet potato is done cooking, remove the skin and discard it. Put the cooked sweet potato into a large glass bowl. Turn the oven down to 325.
10. Add 1T butter, 1 tsp salt and 1T cumin to the sweet potato, and stir with a wooden spoon until well-mixed.
11. Spread all 6 tortillas on a large working space.
12. Spoon equal amounts of sweet potato into the center third of each tortilla. (I’m being vague with the amount because it will depend on the size of your sweet potato. 4T cooked sweet potato per tortilla seems about right.)
13. Add equal amounts of lentils, then cooked spinach/onion/garlic mixture, on top. Finish by adding some shredded cheese.
14. Fold in both sides of each tortilla, then flip it over and place in the greased glass pan. I find that six tortillas fit nicely in a 9 x 11 pan with a little room to spare.
15. Shred additional cheese on top of each tortilla (if you wish). You may cover the dish and refrigerate it at this point for up to 24 hours, if you’d like to cook it the next night. You could also freeze it, if you plan to bake the dish more than 24 hours from now. Or you can go ahead and bake it now if you want to eat it soon!
16. Bake in a 325 oven for 15-20 minutes. The dish is done when the cheese is nicely bubbling.
17. Serve with salsa and sour cream on top. (My kids won’t eat salsa but they LOVE getting to add their own sour cream.)
Again, this recipe is super versatile. You can try adding different cooked vegetables, chunks of cooked chicken or pork, and experiment with different kinds of cheeses.
Please let me know what you think in the comments section, and Happy Fall!
All photos are copyright Abigail Morgan, L.Ac., 2014.