Guest blog by Sam Hadadi,
The autumn months are the perfect time to indulge in a spot of comfort food – rich, satisfying dishes that leave you smiling from ear-to-ear.
Happily, the next few months see some of our food staples coming bang into season. Think plenty of lamb, apples, beetroot, cabbage, plums, figs and the health blogger’s favourite, kale.
As Lucy Bee lovers will know, we’re passionate about eating foods when they’re in season. Not only do they taste fresher and more delicious but eating seasonal produce also supports small farmers and keeps prices purse-friendly, too.
If you’re looking for inspiration on what to add to your October menu, then here are a few of our Autumnal favourites to get your taste buds watering:
Where would we be without pumpkins in October? It seems you can barely move in the supermarket without stumbling over a mountain of pumpkins, or walk past a window late at night, without a ghoulish face lit up in all its glory.
Yet pumpkins are for far more than just Halloween. This round (the word pumpkin comes from the Greek “large melon”), orange fruit is a member of the squash family and is one of the most versatile ingredients around.
Its wonderful sweetness means that it can be used in a whole manner of ways, from vats of steaming hot pumpkin soup to curries, pumpkin pies and even risottos and stews, our love for pumpkin is never-ending.
Pumpkins, like many other types of squash, are native to North America, although pumpkin-type seeds, dating way back to between 7000 and 5500 BC, were found in Mexico. Thanks to its ease of growing, pumpkins are now grown across the globe, with only Antarctica unable to produce them.
Amazingly, pumpkins are one of the most popular crops in the US, with an astonishing 1.5 billion pounds of them grown each year. Planted in early July, they tend to be a warm-weather crop, even though they’re considered a “winter squash”. If you love pumpkins as much as us, you’ll be pleased to know that there’s even a variety known as “giant pumpkins” – huge squash that can weigh in at more than one ton in weight!
If you ever found yourself wondering about how they came to be associated with all things mythical and spooktacular, then you can look to an Irish myth based on a man called Stingy Jack. A known drunkard, Jack supposedly had dealings with Satan himself and his legend continues to this day.
Irish and Scottish Halloween celebrations usually used a turnip for a lantern, but carving pumpkins became popular in America, where they were more readily available. However, carved pumpkins were used during the harvest season in general, long before they became associated with Halloween.
With its gorgeous, sweet taste, pumpkins can be every bit as tasty as dessert. Thankfully, though, this squash comes packed with nutritional goodies, making it a perfectly virtuous treat.
Here are why pumpkins are so good for us:
1) They Help You to Feel Fuller
Pumpkins, and in particular their seeds, are loaded with fibre, which not only keep our insides ticking along smoothly but can keep us fuller for longer. This is great as an appetite suppressant.
2) Boost Vision
It’s not just carrots that can give us superhero-esque night vision – pumpkins are great for boosting our sight, too! Rich in vitamin A to promote healthy eyes, it can also slow the decline of retinal function. Better still, this lovely vitamin can even help us to get glowing, healthy skin, too.
3) Lower Blood Pressure
Pumpkin seed oil is loaded with goodness, which studies1 have shown can prevent hypertension. In fact, animal studies have shown that this oil could lower blood pressure in just 12 weeks.
4) Send You Sleeping
It’s all thanks to those pumpkin seeds – again. You see, these super seeds are rich in tryptophan, which will help to lull you into a sleepy slumber. Tryptophan can also help the body to produce serotonin, which not only makes you feel happier but can also ease you into relaxing and unwinding.
5) Help the Heart
Thanks to all that lovely fibre, you could even be protecting your heart as you eat your pumpkin. Studies of Swedish women2 have even found that those eating a high-fibre diet cut their risk of heart disease by as much as 25 percent.
How to Pick and Store:
Thrifty shoppers will know that, if properly stored, a good pumpkin is a keeper. In fact, pumpkins can be stored for up to 90 days without going off or rotting – perfect winter grub!
These beautiful fruits are at their best when their skin is tough, they ring hollow when tapped and they have a deep, rich colour.
For longer storage, you should wash your pumpkin first (this destroys bacteria which will cause it to rot), before leaving it to dry. Pumpkins should also always be stored in a cool, dark, dry place, ideally on a piece of cardboard. Always try to avoid storing it in direct sunlight, which will destroy its beautiful, vibrant colour.
How to Prepare:
Now, how to enjoy your smashing pumpkin? Oh, let us count the ways!
Of course, they can be a little tricky to carve – that’s why tinned or ready-prepared pumpkin puree is so popular! But, as ever, it pays to have a little patience when it comes to your favourite foods.
Since pumpkins have such tough, rough skin, it may take a little grafting – but we promise that it’s worth it. Place your fruit on a level surface and then, using your biggest knife, slice it in half. If the skin is really tough, it might take a little more work but stick with it.
Once your pumpkin is split in two, scoop out the yucky, stringy bits, as well as the seeds (but hold on to these – they’re delicious when roasted!). Then cut your pumpkin into quarters, strip off the skin, and use however you fancy.
When cooking your pumpkin, you can bake it or roast it – ideally drizzled with Lucy Bee! – for 30-40 minutes, boil until soft, or blitz into soups or puree to use in baking.
Need some inspiration? Check out our favourite pumpkin recipes:
With its gorgeous purple colouring and its ability to soak up almost any flavour under the sun, the bulbous Aubergine is a true autumn staple.
Although it’s technically a fruit (yep, that was news to us, too), these bruised purple berries tend to be used as a vegetable when cooked. Native to South-East Asia, the aubergine is more often associated with Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cooking (think of bubbling Moussakas), although it depends on the type of aubergine you’re using.
While we’re more familiar with plump, tubular types, you can even find tiny, pea-sized in Thailand. However, all types of aubergine – also known as the eggplant - share the same bland, spongy taste, which make them ideal for soaking up flavours and spices when cooking.
Happily, aubergines are available all-year round, although they’re best enjoyed now.
Packed with wonderful vitamins and minerals, aubergines are loaded with body-loving benefits. Here are some of our favourites:
Like pumpkins, aubergines are packed full of fibre to keep our digestive system running and our heart healthy.
2) Rich in Antioxidants
These wonderful foods are also high in antioxidants, particularly nasunin, which is found in aubergine skin. Nasunin can protect the fats in brain cells, which can keep our brain functioning properly and it can even help our body to let nutrients in and keep waste out.
How to Pick and Store
Along with tomatoes, certain peppers and, bizarrely, potatoes, the aubergine is part of the nightshade plant family. Perhaps because of this, aubergines grow in a similar way to tomatoes – hanging from vines, way up high.
When picking your aubergine, it’s always best to plump for a dark purple variety with a glossy, smooth and unblemished skin. However, it’s worth remembering that aubergines can come in a rainbow of colours, from lavender to green, orange and even yellow.
Once you’ve picked your aubergine, the best way of ensuring it has a long shelf-life (although this will only be about a week) is place in the fridge, or in a cool spot away from direct sunlight.
How to Prepare:
For years, people were told to salt aubergines before cooking to reduce the slightly bitter taste. While we don’t need to do this anymore, you can salt them first as it helps them to absorb less oil when fried (their spongy texture means they take on much of the cooking oil.)
To prepare the aubergine for cooking, you simply need to wash the skin, then trim off the stalk. You can then cut the flesh into chunks or slices, although we’d advise you do this just before cooking as it can discolour quickly.
Since aubergines tend to have a fairly neutral (some might say boring!) taste, they can be used in all manner of dishes, from ratatouille to baba ganoush and even vegan-friendly lasagnes. They tend to take on flavours and spices well, so experiment as you please!
If that’s whet your appetite, then feast your eyes on these – a selection of our very favourite aubergine-based recipes.
Stuffed Mushrooms With Aubergine
Oil-rich mackerel is also coming into season right now, and we couldn’t be happier! Renowned for their rich, distinctive flavour (and, yes, sometimes smell!), mackerel is packed with health benefits that really love your body.
Marvellous mackerel, often from Scotland’s north-east Atlantic, is one of the most affordable fish on the menu. For years, they were also touted as one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly fish to enjoy.
However, earlier this year, scientists warned3 that the mackerel population has plummeted by 74% over the last 40 years. In 2013, the Marine Conservation was also forced to take the humble mackerel off its ethical “fish to eat” list because of over-fishing.
However, get your hands on this delicious, oily fish, and you can expect to reap the rewards. Packed with omega-3s and lean protein, here’s why you should start adding mackerel to your diet:
1) Prevents Heart Disease
Not only will omega-3s give you luscious locks and glowing skin, but they could be good for your heart, too!
2) Controls Blood Pressure
Mackerel also happens to be rich in potassium, which can help the body to maintain a healthy, normal blood pressure. Potassium is also vital for growth and development of the body, boosting electrolytes and for building muscles.
3) Eases Arthritis Symptoms
The anti-inflammatories found in mackerel may even ease the joint pain that’s all too common in arthritis. In fact, arthritis sufferers might even benefit from mackerel in another way – the fish is thought to boost the effectiveness of drugs.
4) Boosts the Brain
Millions across the country suffer with depression at some point in their life but did you know that omega-3s might ease symptoms? It’s thought that these clever little omegas can help to prevent mood swings, as well as improving the effects of anti-depressant medications. The DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) found in mackerel may also reduce your risk of suffering from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Mackerel is one of the few natural sources of vitamin D, the so-called “sunshine vitamin”, which may also help with mood swings, boost happiness and improve general health, including bone health4.
How to Pick and Store:
We love a good food that’s friendly on the purse – and mackerel is the perfect health food to enjoy on a budget.
When buying mackerel, freshness is hugely important since, as an oily fish, it tends to spoil quickly. When you’ve found the perfect fish, it should be firm, have a shiny body and clear, bright eyes – it all sounds like describing the perfect date, right?
How to Prepare:
So, now you’ve got your fish home, how do you prepare it? Well, quite simply, however it takes your fancy!
When fresh, your marvellous mackerel can be grilled, fried, barbecued or poached. Thanks to its stronger taste, it works brilliantly when pared with softer, milder flavours, such as beetroot or cucumber.
This little fish also works well when pared with citrus ingredients, which can help to accentuate freshness. For this reason, we love keeping things simple by grilling the fish whole (perfect come BBQ season) with Himalayan salt and a squeeze of lime.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
The views and opinions expressed in videos and articles on the Lucy Bee website/s or social networking sites are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect those of Lucy Bee Limited.
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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.