The Hand Off: Fruits of Fall – Vegetarian Ramen
by Sarah A. Maine
Squashes are still a relatively new realm of vegetables for me; as I have been exploring the different varieties and how to eat them I have also been learning about the benefits they carry beyond taste, and their ability to comfort and warm you from the inside out. I’m following up Brianna’s Spaghetti Squash With Herbed Leek Sauce by bringing together an eclectic mix of fall produce.
When you think about vegetables that are full of vitamins usually the first thing that jumps to mind is spinach or carrots, both are glorified in our popular culture for the benefits you can derive through eating them (bestowers of super human strength and razor sharp eye-sight). The rainbow spectrum of squashes doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what they bring to the table in terms of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. What’s in a squash? Vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, thiamine, folate, tons of fiber; all good stuff to keep your body humming and fortified as the temperatures make their downward journey toward winter lows. Here’s an accounting of the nourishment packed into a selection of fall fruits and vegetables.
This brings me to my next point – the importance of buying nutrient rich produce locally. We have all heard the arguments about the perils of industrial agriculture, food miles, and decreasing biodiversity, but let’s be honest, all of that can seem a little abstract and hard to compute, especially when you are standing in the middle of a busy market at the end of a long work day. I try to eat locally for all the big, important reasons, but on the most basic level I do it because the vegetables are fresher, more nutritious and they taste a LOT better.
Here is something that really brought home to me what it means to eat well-traveled produce: the logistics of shipping vegetables long distances dictate that no one gets to eat the freshest produce. Premium product is chosen for the long journey across the country since it will have the longest shelf life – by the time it arrives at its destination, it’s quality has dropped significantly. Meanwhile, if you live close to an industrial farming center, the second rate produce is reserved for sale in the immediate locale. It’s an efficient and ‘egalitarian’ system – everyone gets a mediocre product.
For my recipe this week I am using a veritable medley of fresh fall produce – spaghetti squash, sweet potatoes, Japanese salad turnips (round 2 of the CSA season), leeks and Hudson Valley grown portobello mushrooms – I’ll be getting a full complement of various nutrients and fiber! I was especially excited to find the mushrooms at the Gonzalez Farm stand at the Sunnyside Greenmarket on Saturday. The mushrooms are grown on their farm in Orange County, NY, about an hour north of New York City. Their caps were as big as my fist and promised to add some delicious meatiness to the compilation of vegetables. It is now officially soup season and I am diving in head first with no hesitation. Today’s recipe owes a huge debt to Louisa Shafia’s Warming Asian Rutabaga Soup (Lucid Food, pg 89). I have made a lot of changes to the soup – but one key element remains – a starchy root vegetable bathed in soy sauce, brightened by star anise and simmered in 4 cups of stock. The combination of the soy sauce and star anise has no match in my opinion. So, with much gratitude to Louisa for kindling my RecipeRelay impulses, here is my Fruits of Fall – Vegetarian Ramen soup
Prep time: 1 hour (30 minutes if you microwave the spaghetti squash)
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Yield: 4-6 servings
- 1 spaghetti squash
- 2 Tbs olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 leek, cleaned and chopped
- 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
- 2 whole star anise
- 2 Tbs soy sauce or Tamari
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 7-8 stalks Japanese turnip greens
- 1 Tbs grapeseed oil
- 2 cups portobello mushroom caps, sliced
- 1 Tbs fresh ginger, minced
- 1 Tbs soy sauce or Tamari
- 2 Japanese salad turnips, sliced
- 1 Tbs grapeseed oil
- 1 small shallot, sliced thin
- 1 handful fresh cilantro leaves
- sesame oil
- rice vinegar
- red pepper flakes
- Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Pierce the skin of the spaghetti squash, place it in a pan and bake in the oven for 1 hour.
- Slice the spaghetti squash in half lengthwise, holding with an oven mitt if necessary. Remove the seeds and then, using a fork, scrape the squash “noodles” out of the skin into a bowl. Set them aside.
- While the squash is cooking, peel and cube 2 large sweet potatoes (yields about 3 cups), clean and chop 1 whole leek (white and light green parts only), mince 2 cloves of garlic.
- Put 2 Tbs of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the shopped leek and the minced garlic. Coat the leek and garlic with oil an sauté for about 2 minutes.
- Add the cubed sweet potatoes, 2 star anise and 2 Tbs soy sauce to the pot. Stir everything together and cook for 2-5 minutes.
- Add 4 cups of stock (either chicken or vegetable) to the pot, cover and simmer on low for about 20 minutes, until the sweet potato is tender.
- While the soup is simmering, slice the mushroom caps and mince 1 Tbs of fresh ginger.
- Heat 1 Tbs of grape seed oil in a saucepan. Add the mushrooms, the ginger and 1 Tbs soy sauce, stir and sauté for about 5 minutes. When the mushrooms are wilted remove them from the saucepan and set them aside.
- When the sweet potato is tender, turn off the heat under the pot. Add the turnip greens to the soup and cover the pot.
- Slice a small shallot and sauté it in a pan until golden brown and everyone is asking “what the heck is that great smell coming from the kitchen?”. Remove them from the pan and set aside on a paper towel.
- Thinly slice 2 Japanese salad turnips and put aside. Remove the thick stems from a handful of fresh cilantro (2-3 sprigs per bowl) and put aside.
- Ladle two scoops of the soup base into each bowl and add a small handful of spaghetti squash on top. Divide the mushrooms, turnip slices, cilantro leaves and crispy shallot slices among the bowls (Steps 12 and 13 can be done at the table for maximum interactive effect).
- Drizzle each bowl with sesame oil and rice vinegar, and sprinkle with red pepper flakes.
- Serve immediately! Have some hot sauce available just in case, but the soup should be perfect just the way it is!
As Brianna noted in her post last week, you can cook spaghetti squash several ways: in a heavy pot on the stove, in the microwave, or in the oven. I opted for cooking mine in the oven, mainly because in October, when the temperature drops and the wind picks up, my apartment gets pretty chilly. Baking a big squash at 375ºF for an hour helps to take the edge off the cold and warm up the walls of the apartment a little. A big bowl of steaming soup seals the deal by warming me up on the inside. Let us know what your favorite fall soups are and how you are making use of the fruits of fall. Happy soup season!