Monthly Archives: November 2014

Butternut soup

Autumn Spiced Butternut Soup

Growing up in South Africa, butternut was (and still is) a regular part of meals. The beautiful orange squash can be used in soups, stews, salads, sides and even baked whole (or stuffed) in an oven or over coals. I was surprised to find that this versatile vegetable wasn’t as common in Europe as I expected (I’ve been asked a couple of times how to cook it – both times lined up in the queue to buy one!). I might be biased, but I think butternut has a far superior taste and texture to other varieties of squash, which can be watery and stringy. The cooked flesh of butternut is wonderfully dense and smooth – it is brilliant just roasted or steamed with a little butter, salt and pepper.  It has a slightly sweeter flavour than most squash – almost bordering on sweet potato. It marries very well with most herbs (especially mint, sage, rosemary and thyme) and spices (coriander, cumin, cinnamon, chilli) and can also be used for sweet baking.

Put away the peeler

For the vast majority of butternut recipes, keep the skin on. Yes, on. Don’t be tempted to peel butternut, it’s not necessary for most recipes. The skin cooks to a soft texture that is easy to eat and digest (if fully cooked). Why waste all that wonderful fibre? This soup recipe is no exception – you’ll be amazed that the skin blends into a wonderfully smooth and velvety soup. It’s a great way to ramp up the fibre in a meal without any hassle or impact on flavour and texture.

The good stuff

Down to business. Not only is butternut tasty, it is full of wonderful nutrients! It is particularly high in vitamins A and C, folate, potassium and has a good omega 3:6 ratio (i.e. is higher in omega 3 than omega 6). Leaving the skin on also means this soup is a good way to boost your daily fibre intake. If you’ve never cooked with this lovely squash, take a look at my post on choosing and preparing butternut.

Autumn Spiced Butternut Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or organic butter
  • 1 red onion, chopped
  • 2 celery sticks, diced
  • 1 teaspoon each of turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh ginger (about 1 big knob)
  • 1 medium butternut – in chunks
  • 1 tablespoon bouillon (I like Marigold)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Water (or stock, omit bouillon)
  • Ground pepper and salt to taste

To serve:

  • 1 dessert spoon pumpkin seeds (or pine nuts) per serving
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon
  • Drizzle of olive oil
  • Coriander
  • Sprinkling of feta or goat’s cheese (optional)

Method

  1. Heat the coconut oil over a medium heat in a saucepan and sauté the celery and onion until the onion is translucent
  2. Add the turmeric, ground cumin, ground coriander, ginger and bay leaf and sauté until you can smell the aromas being released – be careful not to burn the spices
  3. Add the butternut chunks, stir and allow to sweat with the onion and spices for 2-3 minutes
  4. Add the bouillon and enough water (or stock) to just cover the vegetables, a good grind of black pepper and bring to a simmer
  5. While the soup is cooking, gently toast the pumpkin seeds (or pine nuts) in frying pan, tossing every 30 seconds until you can smell them become ‘nutty’. Watch these like a hawk, burnt seeds are bitter!
  6. The butternut is ready when it is soft and easily gives way under the pressure of a fork. At this point, stir in the crushed garlic and remove the pot from the heat
  7. Remove the bay leaf and blend the soup until smooth with a stick blender, or in batches in a liquidiser (allow to cool a little if using a liquidiser)
  8. Return to the heat, adjust seasoning to taste and add more water or stock to reach the consistency you like

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with torn coriander leaves, toasted pumpkin seeds and a little drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice. You can also add a crumble of feta for a slightly saltier result. Note: Watery butternut soup is nobody’s friend. I recommend that you start off with just enough water to cover the vegetables and then add more liquid (if desired) once you have blended the soup. Butternut soup with feta This soup can be frozen for a month or so (without garnishes). Cool and freeze in appropriate containers.

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Preparing butternut (for beginners)

Don’t let the tough-looking exterior of butternut put you off cooking with this fabulous squash.

Butternut is delicious, versatile and packed with nutrients.

Choosing your butternut….

In order to get the most out of your butternut, you need to pick the right one. The rule of thumb when choosing a butternut is to go for one that has a long slender neck and a smaller round base. The neck has a solid core of butternut and the base houses the seeds – the more neck you get, the more butternut you get.

You want your butternut to be fairly heavy and firm to the touch. If it’s light and feels a bit spongy, it’s not worth investing in.

Slice and dice

For most recipes, I keep the skin on (to increase the fibre content), so please make sure to use a sturdy sharp knife and a board that won’t slide (place it on a tea towel for grip). If you do peel the squash (to make a mash for example), simply use a potato peeler.

Here are my tips to prepare butternut for cooking:

  • Give the squash a good scrub and dry. Keep the skin on.
  • Cut a thin slice off each end to remove the top and bottom.
  • Next, cut in half at the point where the top slender part starts to bulge. You’ll now have a narrow cylindrical top half and the rounded bottom half.IMG_3001
  • Cut each half vertically down the middle to be left with four quarters.Butternut 3
  • Use a spoon to remove the seeds from the rounded quarters and cut into equal sized chunks.Butternut 4

Now cook your butternut – roast, steam, boil or barbeque whole (double-wrap in tinfoil and place in hot coals, turning regularly).

Butternut is versatile and matches well with most herbs (especially mint, sage, rosemary and thyme) and spices (coriander, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, chilli) and can also be used for sweet baking.

Try this Autumn Spiced Butternut Soup for an easy, delicious butternut dish.

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Sad to see the sunshine go? So is your body.

Here in the northern hemisphere, the days are getting colder and shorter. The leaves are turning golden and red and there is a hint of frost in the morning air.

At this time of year, our metabolisms start slowing down and conserving energy for the winter ahead. It’s a time for warming and nourishing soups, stews and apple pies.

Autumn leaves

This time of year also heralds the decrease in daily UV rays from the sun, which means our ability to manufacture the wonderful vitamin D is drawing to a close. This is part of nature’s cycle, so why all the fuss about topping up our vitamin D levels?

What is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is one of the few nutrients we make ourselves (for the most part). While we need to eat a balanced diet to ensure we get sufficient vitamins, minerals, protein and antioxidants, we were created to make our own vitamin D.  The ‘manufacturing’ plant is our skin. We receive UVB rays from the sun and the cholesterol under our skin converts the rays into vitamin D. It is then transported to the liver and kidneys where it is converted into usable forms of vitamin D that different tissues need.

However, modern lifestyles mean that we spend more time indoors which means we aren’t able to make this key nutrient. In addition, we are now more cautious of over-exposure to the sun, so when we are outdoors, we are well covered up with clothes and/or sunscreen.

Why do we need it?

Perhaps the fact that we are designed to make our own vitamin D indicates how important it is for our overall health – we’re able to make it regardless of how much food there is available to eat!

Vitamin D is required for the proper absorption of calcium, which makes it essential for strong bones and healthy teeth, and to prevent rickets. Therefore, in order to maintain healthy bones and avoid possible osteoporosis in the future, you need to have adequate levels of vitamin D as well as adequate calcium.

However, vitamin D is critical to our health in more ways. Research conducted over the last few years indicates that vitamin D deficiency may be associated with a number of illnesses and conditions. These include:

  • SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), also known as ‘winter blues’, symptoms of which include depression, lethargy and anxiety
  • Poor immunity (frequent illness)
  • Osteoporosis
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Asthma
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes

Many of these conditions are more prevalent in the northern hemisphere, possibly due to lower levels of UVB rays during the year. Levels of vitamin D deficiency are also highest in the northern hemisphere, particularly in Europe.

Some research has shown that every cell in the body has a vitamin D receptor, which suggests that it may be required for way more essential processes than we currently know of.

Who needs it most?

It is now widely accepted that people of all ages need adequate vitamin D.

This means that even pregnant mothers need to ensure they have enough for themselves and their baby – particularly if the last trimester falls in winter.

Growing children and teenagers also need adequate levels to keep them healthy, achieve peak bone mass and prevent chronic illnesses down the road. In fact, if a young person’s diet is full of processed foods and soda, and they are spending longer indoors on devices or watching TV, then they are doing even more damage to their immune and skeletal health, so adequate vitamin D is imperative.

Adults and the elderly also need to maintain good vitamin D levels. Conditions such as osteoporosis are a long time in the making – keeping on top of your health throughout childhood and adult life is really your best insurance policy for a healthy and vibrant old age. Furthermore, as we age, our skin becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D, so the elderly need to pay particular attention to their levels.

It’s also important to remember that the darker your skin or the higher your BMI, the more vitamin D your body requires.

How can we get it?

The best way to get vitamin D is to make it yourself, through sensible exposure to the sun (that’s the way nature intended!).

It is generally recommended to get 20 minutes of exposure (without sunscreen) daily in order to make and store sufficient levels of vitamin D for optimum health.

I stress optimum health, because RDA guides will prevent you from being deficient. When you’re deficient, you can start to manifest health problems, so you really want to have levels that are above the baseline for deficiency!

Of course, over-exposure to the sun can cause problems, so be sensible. 20 minutes at the hottest times of the day can send some fair-skinned types into lobster territory. You know your skin – if you can do 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes at say, 3pm, then that’s fine. Ensure you have your arms and legs exposed for maximum absorption. But if you can only nip out of the office during lunch, then just roll up your selves and soak up as much sunshine as you can. Sensibly.

The sun

Now, sunbeds are a source of UVB rays and are recommended by many as a *safe* way to top up your vitamin D levels if sun exposure is not an option. However, if you are considering this option, I would caution you to ensure that you only stay under the lights for the shortest time possible to manufacture some vitamin D.

You can get some vitamin D through food. The best sources include herring, oysters, salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, mushrooms and organic/free range eggs.

However, you generally will only be able to get about 10% of the vitamin D you need through food.

That’s why a good supplement in the winter is a good option for those with low levels. A supplement with the active D3 is the best and should be taken with a meal, as vitamin D needs fat to be absorbed.

So, in summary:

  1. More and more studies are showing that vitamin D is essential for good health and prevention of disease
  2. Many in the northern hemisphere are vitamin D deficient (due to lower exposure to UVB rays)
  3. You need to ensure that you get adequate exposure to the sunshine when you can
  4. Eat vitamin D-rich foods to top up
  5. Consider taking a vitamin D3 supplement if your levels are below optimum.

 Notes:

  • Sun exposure times will vary depending on skin pigmentation and weight. An average of 20 minutes is recommended, but this could be more depending on your individual requirements.
  • Women who are pregnant or of child-bearing age and young children should not eat more than 2-3 portions of oily fish per week in order to reduce exposure to heavy metals.

 

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