September 9, 2021 -Fall food with Ellie Short. Carrot and golden beet soup  Don Denton photograph

Autumn food aromatherapy

Celebrate the season with fall-favourite spice recipes

  • Dec. 15, 2021 7:30 a.m.

– Words and recipes by Ellie Shortt Photography by Don Denton

There’s no denying that each season has its scent. It may be merely a trace quality in the air, intangible yet evident like the gentle whisper of new life at the start of spring. Sometimes it’s more distinct and specific, like the aroma of sun-soaked blackberries ripening in the late summer heat. More often than not, it evokes a swirl of emotions, a swelling of the heart, a sweet smile of the soul, as familiar as the fragrance of firewood smoke climbing out of the chimney on a snowy mid-winter day.

But for me, there’s no greater sense of olfactory nostalgia than the aromas of fall. They first arrive on cooler winds, send me back to the excitement of a new school year, embrace me with the celebratory sweetness of Rosh Hashanah and settle in fully as warming aromas emanate from my oven. Often at this time of year my kitchen is awash with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove and cardamom in both sweet and savoury creations.

My body seems to intuitively crave these classic autumnal spices that boost immune function during cold and flu season, aid in digestion for those heartier fall feasts and balance blood sugar for those abundant baking sessions. Yes, these beloved fall flavours do all that! In fact, for many cultures and practices, spices have been employed for medicinal purposes, among many other uses, and we have now seen the benefits of those ancestral practices supported by contemporary research.

These healing marvels primarily originated in the Spice Islands (also known as the Maluku Islands), hidden away in east and southeast Asia, but, of course, expanded into nearby regions and then found their way into European households, as kings, queens and aristocratic benefactors learned of the therapeutic benefits plus their remarkable taste potential. In fact, at one time, spices became the world’s most treasured commodity of any type, beyond precious metals and gems.

The intricate and complicated network of exchange begat what history refers to as the spice trade and subsequently shaped much of the world as we know it today. Seeking fame, fortune and glory (or by the orders of their monarchs), explorers set sail into previously undiscovered corners of the world, bringing with them disease, war and colonization. It’s humbling to think as I rummage through my spice cabinet, sorting mindlessly through forgotten flavourings and then casually sprinkling cinnamon into a pie, that a teaspoon of these seasonings were once a desired rarity beyond our modern comprehension, and were subsequently the source of much extraordinary exploration, as well as heartbreaking devastation, as a result.

So with those wellness benefits and historical gravity in mind and heart, I offer four of my favourite feel-good fall recipes that highlight and showcase these crown-jewel spices of the culinary world in all their glory. And as they simmer, roast and bake away, I hope you too breathe in the undeniable perfumes and feelings of the arrival of autumn.

Gingery Golden Beet and Carrot Soup with Honey Clove Candied Hazelnuts

This soup is bursting with immune-boosting, anti-inflammatory benefits, especially with the addition of that super spice, turmeric! Of course, it’s great on its own, but I love serving it with candied hazelnuts for a special treat, as well as a drizzle of Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of fresh thyme as shown on page 92.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30-40 minutes

Makes about 6 cups of soup

Ingredients

For the soup…

2 cups beets, peeled and roughly chopped

2 cups carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic

¼ cup olive oil, plus extra for sautéing

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

1 large apple, peeled and sliced

2 tsp honey

1 tsp turmeric

¼ tsp pepper

1 cups plain broth (plus extra if desired) * I use chicken bone broth

1.5 cup coconut milk (full fat in a can)

Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

For the hazelnuts…

165 grams hazelnuts, roughly chopped

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp honey

Pinch of sea salt

Dash of ground clove

Directions

For the soup…

Preheat your oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, toss the beets, carrots and garlic cloves with olive oil and spread evenly on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, until fork tender, and set aside (you will also want to remove the garlic cloves from their peels at this point). Sauté the onions on medium-to-low heat with a bit of olive oil until soft and translucent. Add in the apple slices and a bit more olive oil and continue sautéing until they’re soft and starting to brown slightly.

In a high-powered blender or food processor, combine the roasted beets and carrots plus the sautéed apple and onion with the remaining ingredients, and puree until smooth and creamy.

Reheat on stovetop, adding any additional broth or even some water for your preferred consistency, and season with salt and pepper to your liking.

For the hazelnuts…

Preheat your oven to 350 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a medium mixing bowl, toss the hazelnuts with the butter, honey, sea salt and clove and spread evenly on the baking sheet. Roast for 10 minutes, remove and set aside to cool.

Bahārāt Roasted Cauliflower with Chickpeas, Pine Nuts and Parsley

Bahārāt is an essential Middle Eastern blend made by combining many of the spices highlighted here. Of course, there are endless combinations and versions of bahārāt, but this basic blend has been my go-to for years. It is a staple in my kitchen for seasoning soups, grilling meat and poultry and roasting veggies, as shown here. This particular dish makes for a great side drizzled with Greek yogurt, and I love using leftovers as a salad topper.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Makes about 4 servings

To make the bahārāt (about ¼ cup’s worth)…

Ingredients

2 tsp paprika

1 tsp ground nutmeg

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1 tsp ground clove

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

¼ tsp ground cardamom

Directions

Combine all ingredients thoroughly and store in an air-tight jar or other container.

Ingredients

1 large head cauliflower, cut into florets or small wedges

1 medium onion, peeled and sliced

1 can (425g) chickpeas, rinsed

1⁄3 cup olive oil

4 tsp bahārāt

1 tsp sea salt (or to taste)

¼ cup pine nuts

1-2 tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped

Optional drizzle of Greek yogurt

Directions

Preheat your oven to 425 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, toss the cauliflower, chickpeas and onion in olive oil, salt and bahārāt, and spread evenly on the baking sheet.

Roast for about 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is starting to become tender. Add the pine nuts and toss the cauliflower (for a more even cook).

Roast everything for another 15 minutes, until the cauliflower is starting to char slightly on the edges, and the chickpeas are crispy. Remove from the oven, add any additional salt or bahārāt to your liking, sprinkle with parsley and drizzle with yogurt or any other garnishes.

Cardamom Plum Clafoutis

For those not familiar with this rustic French dessert, it’s a moist, eggy, custardy, cake-like creation with loose similarities to a Dutch baby. Traditionally made with whole cherries, the pits were thought to give the dessert a light almond-y essence. As exquisite as this is, many (myself included) find navigating cherry pits tedious when enjoying sweet treats, so using almond flour in the mix has been a go-to of mine and many other more experimental chefs’. I also find it provides a delightfully nuanced texture that plain flour doesn’t offer on its own. If you’d like to make this fully wheat free, I suggest using tapioca starch instead. Similarly, I combine both regular dairy and coconut milk for a creamy complement to the cardamom, but offer a fully dairy-free option for those that need (or want) it. As you can see, this incredibly simple, elegantly effortless and fabulously foolproof dessert is pretty hard to mess up even when subbing and swapping and messing around. While some might argue the Julia Child recipe is the gold standard, you might find this to be a fun alternative that offers lots of room for creativity and adaptation when it comes to certain dietary considerations.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 40 minutes

Makes about 6 servings

Ingredients

4 large eggs

½ cup coconut milk (full fat from a can)

½ cup half-and-half cream (sub with more canned

oconut milk for a dairy-free option)

1 tsp pure vanilla extract or paste

¼ cup cane sugar

1 cup extra fine almond flour

3 tbsp all purpose flour (sub with tapioca starch for a

heat-free option)

1 tsp cardamom

½ tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp sea salt

2 tbsp butter (sub with coconut oil for a dairy-free option)

About 10 prune plums, sliced in half and pitted

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 F and melt the butter in a 9-inch baking dish (round, square or even a cast-iron pan) until the bottom is fully coated. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the flours, spices and salt, and set aside. Either by hand, in an electric mixer or even in a blender, combine the eggs, coconut milk, cream, vanilla and sugar until frothy (this may take a minute or two, so be patient). Stir or pulse in the dry mix until fully integrated and smooth. Pour the batter into the warmed baking dish, arrange the plums to your liking and bake for about 40 minutes until the edges are golden and the middle is set (the middle should be wobbly but not wet).

Clafoutis can be served warm or cold and is shown here with powdered sugar and honey clove candied hazelnuts (see recipe above).

*Notes: The clafoutis will start to deflate when you remove it from the oven—this is normal, so don’t panic. The moisture of the clafoutis will quickly absorb the powdered sugar garnish, so add it only right before serving. You can store the clafoutis covered in your fridge for up to a week.

Slow-Cooked Apple and Pear Cider

This is pure autumnal aromatherapy at its best! I’ve been brewing multiple pots of this potion all season to simply keep my house smelling like fall harvest heaven and the delicious cider I’ve been sipping on daily is simply a bonus. Plus it’s a great way to use up excess apples and pears for those who have a fertile fruit tree in your garden as the cider freezes wonderfully.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cook time: 2 hours

Makes about 1.5 litres of cider

Ingredients

6 large apples (I use a combination like McIntosh,

oneycrisp, Fuji, Gala, etc.)

4 large pears (I like Bartlett for this recipe)

1 L water

1 vanilla bean

3 cinnamon sticks

6 whole cloves

1 large nutmeg seed

1-2 tbsp maple syrup

Directions

Quarter the apples, removing the cores and stems. Place into a large pot and add the water, vanilla bean, cinnamon sticks, cloves, nutmeg and maple syrup (start with 1 tbsp and add more later if needed). Bring to a boil over medium heat and boil for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2 hours, stirring every 30 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and let cool.

Remove the spices and vanilla bean (as best as you can— it can be hard to get all the cloves out). Carefully strain the mixture through a mesh strainer (you can discard the apple-pear mush, but I like to save mine to spread on toast or use in baking). You may want to strain the cider one more time to remove any pulp. Taste and adjust the maple syrup to your liking and serve warm or cold. Cider will keep for up to two weeks in the fridge.

Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication

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