Autumn salad – spicy baked pumpkin with honey and nuts
With lovely warm autumn days it’s not quite time to snuggle up in front of the fire yet, but somehow there is a need for slightly heartier salads.
When I started painting about 8 years ago, one of my first subjects was a pumpkin, so I must resonate with their beautiful shapes and lovely rich colours. Since then I have painted a few more!
But let’s get back to the kitchen…….
My mother never served much pumpkin, but I have enjoyed delicious dishes with friends. In Traditional Afrikaans Cuisine pumpkin is often over sweetened and I sometimes have difficulty marrying excessively sweet with savoury flavours. I have however recently been motivated to experiment with this versatile vegetable. I think it’s its affinity to marry so well with the flavours of North Africa and the Middle East that attracts my attention.
A lasting impression when I visited Babylonstoren* was their skill in creating ‘monotone salads’. On my first visit a few years ago, I recall the most stunning pumpkin salad. On later visits I have been amazed by a glorious ‘red salad’ and on another occasion a ‘symphony of green’!
It’s that pumpkin salad that has inspired me this autumn. Monotone salads always look so classy, so look out for other yellow and orange fruit and veggies to combine with the golden pumpkin tones, but err on simplicity rather than adding too much.
Simply slice wedges of your favourite variety and roast them in the pizza oven or braai (barbeque), or your kitchen oven, with a dressing of honey, nuts, seeds, spices or herbs and serve them at room temperature with the lovely contrast of peppery rocket.
As a meaty starter or a main course I think pumpkin marries well with pork, and of course, if you want to go meat free, use your imagination with nuts or cheese, especially goats or blue cheese. I will give you some good ideas in the recipe attached.
Don’t omit other flavours. For sweetness honey or maple syrup are firm favourites, but also try golden or dark brown sugars or fruit purees.
Spices marry well with the pumpkin and butternut family. Try Dukkah or make up your own spice blend. I am a bit of a chilli monster so most of my recipes will contain some form of chilli, and don’t forget the deep earthy fragrance of ginger, either powdered or fresh. But please display restraint and think carefully about the total dish before raiding your spice shelf.
I tried growing courgettes and pumpkins once, mainly to harvest the flowers to stuff them. I discovered that my vegetable patch is simply too small to cope with rampant climbers & creepers. I had them escaping from the carefully positioned tripods and obelisks, preferring to choke everything else. They also attracted every bug in the universe, so now I have come to realise that I will savour filled courgette flowers in a restaurants and otherwise buy the squash or pumpkins that I need.
Even the salad dressings are colour-coded at Babylonstoren! With the new powerful blenders at home it is so easy to blend stunning ingredients with the best olive oil, fresh fruit or veggie juice. Once you get the hang of it, experiment with flavours and textures…… thick and luscious or thin and flavourful! I had a ripe mango in my fridge, and was so tempted to add a few splashes of mango and ginger puree, but decided I had sufficient flavours for an impressive starter salad. Sometimes I make a nut-based mayo style dressing for the pumpkin and on other occasions a fresh citrus-ginger-chilli based vinaigrette-style, or both, allowing guests to choose!
I am irritated by those salads composed of whatever veggies there are in the fridge. I think every salad deserves some thought and good composition. I don’t want to be prescriptive, but first look what you have in your fridge or what is in season at the market before planning and composing a salad.
*Babylonstoren (https://www.babylonstoren.com ) is a farm situated between Stellenbosch and Paarl, in the Western Cape, South Africa. Visiting the farm is a gourmet experience. You will find a boutique hotel, 2 restaurants. Babel is my favourite. (Reservations recommended some weeks or sometimes months in advance!) But the best is that guests are encouraged to visit the spectacular vegetable, herb and fruit gardens that inspire the menus! Allow at least an hour for a stroll through the gardens before enjoying a meal or wine tasting. The winery produces delicious wines and don’t miss the foodie boutique, cheese and charcuterie deli’s. I try to visit there during every season, it is always a treat! Next time I visit, I will take many photographs to share with you.
I recommend the Cookbook, Babel, by Maranda Engelbrecht. The story of the farm is fascinating and you will be inspired to create your own combinations.