Autumn has turned on us. After sun-dappled days and crisp evenings, the rot (or rather, the rain) has set in. We’re faced with grey skies, damp leaves and darkness, and the clocks haven’t even gone back yet.
But enough. This is a beautiful time of year as illustrated by many an Instagram account (mine included) and a bit of autumnal adjustment is all that’s needed to warm us up. I’m well and truly in hibernation mode and am cosying up with big jumpers and big bowls of stews and soups.
‘Tis the season for squashes, marrows and, of course, pumpkins – not just for Halloween, remember. Cooking with these golden globes of goodness (they’re full of vitamins and antioxidants) might seem a bit daunting at first and there is a fair bit of peeling and chopping involved but it’s worth it for their sweet, buttery flavour.
You’re best off using a mini pumpkin rather than the larger ones which are best left for carving into jack-o’-lanterns. You can pick up the smaller variety from larger supermarkets and most greengrocers.
The beautiful thing about pumpkins and squashes (in addition to their orange glow) is that they’re really versatile. Chuck them in curries, chillis and stews, whizz them up into soup, put them in a pie or make cake.
I’ve used pumpkin here as the star ingredient in this seasonal salad. The warmth of the pumpkin acts as a base for the woody mushrooms, sweet apples, tangy red cabbage and earthy kale. This is hearty but healthy comfort food for cold days and nights. It’s pretty filling as a main dish but you could serve a smaller amount as a side to sausages, pie or casserole.
This recipe requires a bit of chopping (the pumpkin’s the real bugger) but you can use pre-chopped butternut squash (available from most supermarkets – and some even sell bags of it frozen), canned lentils and microwave rice if you’re short of time.
Any leftovers will make a lovely lunch and doesn’t even need to be heated up. In fact, you could double the quantities and make a big batch on a weekend for the week ahead.
Autumn salad with pumpkin, red cabbage and apple
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash (or 200g), cubed
200g green or brown lentils
100g brown rice
Half a head of red cabbage
4-5 whole kale leaves (or half a bagful if using pre-prepared)
6 mushrooms, sliced
1 apple, diced
2-3 sprigs of thyme
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon olive oil
1-2 tablespoons sesame oil
Handful of walnuts (optional)
Prepare the pumpkin or squash by peeling it and chopping into cubes. Set aside. Rinse and drain the lentils and add to a pan of salted water. Do the same with the rice and add to a separate pan of salted water and cook both on a medium heat for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the sesame oil in a large pan or wok and cook the pumpkin or squash on a medium heat for about 10 minutes. While this is cooking, chop the kale and cabbage roughly and dice the apple and place in a large bowl. Add the cider vinegar and olive oil and stir through. Once the pumpkin is cooked, remove from the pan and set aside. Heat a tiny bit of oil in the pan and add the sliced mushrooms and thyme (remove the leaves from the sprigs) and cook for 2-3 minutes. Remove the mushrooms and set aside. Now, add the cabbage, kale and apple mixture to the pan and cook on a high heat for 4-5 minutes, then add the pumpkin and mushrooms and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. By now, the rice and lentils should be ready, so drain thoroughly, add to the pan and stir through. Cook for another 1-2 minutes and serve. Sprinkle over the crushed walnuts if using.
PS I’ve put together a little playlist of music inspired by the autumn. It’s quite nice to play when cooking, enjoying a glass of red or reading on a chilly night. You can have a listen here.