After one last heatwave in september, temperatures have dropped significantly in my area (the Netherlands) and suddenly, it definitely feels like autumn. It has seemed to be raining almost non-stop and it is more tempting than ever to just stay home all day – completely in line with COVID-19 measures, of course!
Even so, I do need to force myself out of the house from time to time in order to get some sunlight, which I explained in one of my last posts. As a summer person at heart, I really do start to feel a little sad when the days get darker, shorter and colder. Over the years, however, I have started appreciating the cosy feeling that fall can bring a little more.
One thing that makes autumn a lot more fun for me is… FOOD. In order to feel my best mentally and physically, I try to find a balance between seasonal, nutritional ingredients and satisfying, warming flavours. I choose my ingredients based on macronutrients (protein, complex carbohydrates and – mostly unsaturated – fats), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), other beneficial properties (such as anti-inflammatory or fibre-rich foods and herbs) and, of course, flavour.
Not only does aiming for a healthy balance fuel your body without energy spikes and drops, and keep your organs healthy, it also makes your food taste great. Because of the great variety of fresh, whole foods that you are using combined with different herbs and spices (which themselves each contain their own specific benefits) you can enjoy complex and authentic (as opposed to chemically produced) flavours.
Below I’ll share with you some of my fall favourites that nourish both body and soul this time of year. Be sure to try them out and share your thoughts!
Spiced apple & raisin oats
Nothing beats a warm, cosy bowl of oatmeal on a rainy morning, especially if it includes flavours that are so typical for fall. Eat this dish for breakfast or even lunch (which I do, since I fast during the mornings but always want to start my day with something sweet), it should keep you full for quite a while.
- 1 sweet apple
- Handful of raisins
- 1 tbsp flax seeds
- 50-100 grams of (rolled or quick) oats
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp pumpkin spice/cookie spice
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- Some black pepper and salt
- (plant) milk
- Top with hemp seeds, chia seeds and a handful of crushed walnuts.
Microwave (my go-to) or overnight
Cut the apple in tiny pieces and mix with a handful of raisins, some oats (depending on your hunger levels and/or caloric needs) and a tablespoon of flaxseeds. Add a teaspoon of cinnamon, a teaspoon (or half) of pumpkin or cookie spice, a quarter teaspoon of turmeric, some salt (enhances flavour) and black pepper (helps absorb nutrients from turmeric).
Mix with some milk of choice (I use soy milk, or half soy milk and half water) until the ingredients are at least half covered. If you don’t like your oats super wet, like me, don’t add too much liquid, since the apples will release some extra moisture as well.
Put the bowl in the microwave for 2 minutes (mine is at 900W), mix one more time and top with some hemp seeds, chia seeds and crushed walnuts. Alternatively, mix the ingredients (apart from the toppings) in a bowl or jar, cover and leave in the fridge overnight. Once you’re ready to eat it, top with the seeds and nuts and enjoy! Perfect to take with you to work or school (if you still need to during the pandemic).
This meal should keep you full for at least a few hours, thanks to the fibre in the fruits, oats, seeds and nuts and to the protein and fats in the nuts and seeds. If you still feel hungry – or notice you get hungry very soon after – or if your protein needs are higher due to strength training, consider taking a protein shake on the side. Recently, I’ve been making simple spinach smoothies by blending some raw spinach (which you don’t taste) with some flavoured protein powder and almond milk. This gives you a head start with your veg for the day, too!
I usually don’t feel the need to add any more (natural) sugar, since the apple and raisins already provide some sweetness and I’m trying to train my palate to be satisfied with the natural sweetness in whole foods such as fruits. If you do like it a little sweeter, you could add some honey (add it after heating to preserve nutrients) or any other sweetener of your choice.
Tomato carrot soup (Italian inspired)
One of my other go to dishes in autumn is soup. And I know I’m not alone in this! It’s just so perfect for those cold days where you really don’t feel like spending much time in the kitchen but do want to get in a lot of nutrients.
Also, if some days you just can’t resist snooping through the pantry for snacks during your work-from-home breaks (like I’m definitely guilty of!), this is a great way to balance it out at dinner.
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 middle sized onion
- 2-3 tbsp of tomato puree
- 2 large carrots
- 2 cans of peeled tomatoes
- Bouillon cube (e.g. vegetable, beef or chicken stock/bouillon) or broth
- Dried oregano, basil, rosemary and thyme
- Ground black pepper and salt to taste
- Optional: extra mixed veggies (e.g. Italian veggies)
- Optional: extra protein like lentils or meat balls.
Chop the onion and garlic finely and fry at low heat for a few minutes until translucent. Then, add the tomato puree and bake for a few minutes to get rid of its acid taste. In the meantime, chop the carrots and add to the pan.
When the carrots have softened a little, add the peeled tomatoes and bouillon, as well as any other herbs you like. I chose to use Italian-inspired herbs, such as oregano and basil. You can add some pepper and salt to taste (but be careful if your bouillon/broth already contains salt!).
Cook for a few minutes, then take off the heat and blend with a hand blender until a smooth soup. If you’d like to make your soup even more nutritious, you could add some extra mixed veggies (I added in some prechopped mixed Italian vegetables).
To add some protein, I recommend adding some (traditional or vegetarian) meatballs after blending, or some lentils before blending. Add the lentils together with the carrots and make sure they have cooked long enough so that they are soft enough to blend (about 15-20 min, it’s usually on the package).
Great for lunch or dinner (serve with some – preferably wholewheat – bread) or as a starter if you don’t include the extra protein (this may be too filling if you still have a main dish and possibly dessert to go. Be sure to include enough protein in your main dish though).
30 minutes + 2 hours passive time
What is cosier than a warming bowl of tagliatelle bolognese on a cold and rainy day. This recipe is perfect for all of us working from home right now. It takes a bit of time to make this dish, but most of it is passive time. Meaning, once you’ve assembled everything in the pot you can easily go back to work in your home office (or kitchen table) and stir occasionally after every pomodoro. Just make sure you keep the fire very low so that the sauce is simmering only slightly.
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1-2 middle sized onions (depending on preference)
- 2 large carrots
- 2 stems of celery
- 70 g tomato puree (about 1/4 cup)
- 2 cans of peeled tomatoes or 500 g passata di pomodoro (sieved tomatoes)
- 300-500 g ground beef (substitute with lentils for a vegetarian/vegan version)
- 250 ml red wine (I used tiny 250 ml bottles that I found at my supermarket)
- 1 bouillon cube (ususally beef, but vegetable will do too) mixed with 150 ml hot water
- Dried oregano and basil
- Pepper and salt
- Tiny pinch of cinnamon
- Some bay leaves
- 100 ml of milk (or milk alternative)
- Pasta (traditionally tagliatelle, but you can use any type that you prefer or have on hand)
- Optional: grated (Parmesan) cheese
- Optional: fresh basil
Chop the onion, garlic, carrots and celery very finely. Heat some olive oil in a large pot fry the onion and garlic until translucent and add the carrot and celery. Add the tomato puree and bake for a few minutes to get rid of the acid taste.
Add the ground meat and stir well so that it falls apart before adding the wine and let evaporate for a bit. Then, add the bouillon/broth and the peeled tomatoes and season generously with some Italian herbs, I used 1 heaped tablespoon each of dried oregano and basil, but you could use some rosemary or thyme if you like, too. Add a very tiny pinch of cinnamon (weird, but trust me, it makes a difference and works very well if you don’t overdo it!), and some pepper and salt. Again, be careful with the salt if your broth already contains some. Always taste the sauce to check.
Now, add the bay leaves, partially cover the pot and let simmer (at a very low heat) for about 2 hours, stirring occasionally. After the first hour, add the milk. This will make the meat even softer. You can get back to your work from home or watch some netflix in the meantime, if you want to.
Cook the pasta in a different pot al dente and drain, while preserving about a glass of cooking liquid. For the best result, add the pasta back to the pot with a bit of the sauce and some cooking liquid. This will help the sauce stick to the pasta. You could skip this step if you want.
Serve the pasta in a (deep) plate with some of the sauce, some grated cheese on top, and some fresh basil for the finishing touch!
I must admit, I improvised a little on the recipe this time. I had most of the ingredients at hand, but I found out last-minute that I did not have any passata or canned tomatoes, but I’m trying not to go to the supermarket or other busy places if I can avoid it at the moment. So I gathered all the tomato puree I could find in the house and diluted it with the bouillon in the recipe. I also didn’t have any tagliatelle, which is traditionally used with this sauce and goes really well with it, but I used some fusilli tricolore that I had on hand. For an extra healthy version, opt for a wholewheat pasta.
If you are concerned about the wine in the sauce, after two hours of simmering, over 95% of the alcohol has evaporated. It really does add to the unique taste of the sauce, but if you prefere not to use any, you can leave it out.
I love to make this sauce in big batches, so that I have leftovers or for when I have guests over. I love that I can start making it in advance and then just let the sauce simmer, so that I have my full attention for when friends or family arrive. And even though it is really not difficult to make (it just takes a while), it never fails to impress!
Note: don’t forget to turn on ventilation. Your kitchen (and possibly the rest of your house) might still smell like food the next morning…
Which of these recipes will you be trying first?