As soon as the weather starts to cool down I get a bit over excited about Autumn's arrival. So many new things to look forward to instead of mourning the end of summer. Its a time of year I love and I start to think about the foods that I associate with it. For our family and many others I'm sure, each celebration brings with it our own traditions. Halloween for us means its time to make and decorate spooky biscuits to string across the room for party games and every bonfire night we make ginger cake together which the kids take a slab of to eat whilst watching the fireworks. Don't even get me started on Christmas....! But I'm jumping ahead here and of course the first real celebration of autumn is the harvest festival. The church is gearing up for its services and the kids are coming home from school singing harvest songs.
We're beginning to wind down in our own vegetable patch with several crops sadly having come to an end. We dug out the last green beans a week ago and the tomatoes are down to the final few.
The radishes have all been enjoyed and my thoughts have turned to how to best use our own final harvest. Our spinach is still going strong but having eaten it almost daily for the last 2 months I'm aware it won't last much longer! I will miss being able to pick the spinach whenever I like in the quantities I need, especially for our morning green smoothies. I picked a glut today and pureed it with some water to freeze in ice cube trays so I can use these in smoothies and soups or stews long after the fresh spinach has gone from the garden.
Its been a hugely successful year for us produce wise. Mostly I feel due to the glorious weather and in part due to the kids being that bit older so I can give the garden more of the attention it deserves. In previous years I will admit to having been almost relieved when the growing season has drawn to a close. Losing the pressure of trying to keep on top of the watering and tending the veg with two small children and a breastfeeding baby has always been quite welcome! This year however the kids have become so much more involved and the veg patch has become a bit of a family project. Many a mud pie has been made and sunflower competitions have been won (and lost!).
Warning: I could harp on all day about the benefits of growing your own veg especially with young children so watch out when spring rolls round again... : )
One thing that we have been really happy with has been the quality and quantity of carrots we've grown. I really feel anyone can grow carrots given a bit of space, they require such little effort and I sort of feel like we fluked this one! We planted 3 packets of seeds (2 orange and 1 purple) and all varieties have done really well with well over 50 carrots for us to enjoy.
We use them regularly just cooked on their own but my littlest requested soup for lunch today so we pulled some carrots together and made a lovely carrot and red lentil soup with toasted chickpea croutons. A really easy and healthy way to use up this plentiful veg without a long list of expensive ingredients. This is such a versatile soup, you can spice things up by adding cumin or coriander or go more tomatoey with fresh tomatoes or tomato puree.
Serves 4 or 6 as starters/kids portions
- Sunflower oil
- 1 medium onion roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic
- 1 stick of celery
- 4 medium carrots. Washed and roughly chopped into small pieces (I don't peel ours but you may wish to)
- 150g red lentils, rinsed
- 1.2l Vegetable stock
For the croutons
- 1 x 400g can of chickpeas
- A splash of sunflower oil
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tsp ground cumin
For the soup
- Heat a little oil in a large saucepan.
- Add the onions, garlic, celery and carrots and sweat for approx 10mins until softened
- Add the paprika, red lentils and stock and boil gently for approx 15 mins until lentils are soft.
- Blend until smooth using a hand blender or in a food processor.
For the croutons
- Preheat oven to 220˚C
- Open and drain the chickpeas.
- Rinse well in cold water
- Thoroughly dry using kitchen paper
- Toss the chickpeas in a splash of oil and the salt and cumin and mix until well coated
- Spread on a baking sheet and cook in the oven for approx 25-30mins or until browned.
- Turn off the oven and leave to cool in the oven (check to ensure they don't burn) This helps to dry them out and add crunch
By all means forget the croutons and serve with a hunk of bread but I urge you to try them, they're delish... These can also be flavoured in many different ways. Try italian style with garlic powder and oregano to match a tomato soup or go crazy and make them sweet and salty for a handy snack! Do get in touch and let me know what you think...