A week ago, we turned the clocks back, and just on cue, autumn has well and truly arrived around these parts. It's bittersweet - on the one hand, I welcome the extra light in the mornings, and I love how cooler temperatures have me craving soups over salads. The flipside is it's been really quite cold - cycling to work now requires a woolen hat under my helmet, a wool scarf around my neck, and I'm definitely going to have to invest in some gloves soon!
I've said to a few people over the years that Dunedin does autumn and spring well. It's true - I love the autumn produce: pumpkins, kale, parsnips, apples and feijoas. The trees I see outside the lab now have bright red leaves - and soon those bright red leaves will fall to the ground.
Last week began with the last swim in the sea after climbing on a beautifully hot day; and ended with going for a walk on a much cooler day with a hot water bottle in my coat. I've been having showers to warm up in the mornings as incentive for getting up early, we've been making soup and beans and lots and lots of tea. The summer we had was sublime, but it's definitely gone now.
Last Saturday evening saw us at the stadium, listening to Rufus Wainwright and Paul Simon. Both were incredible - we sat for Rufus' set. Of course he played hallelujah - and his voice echoed around the covered stadium like it was made for him to sing there. Paul Simon's set was incredible too - in a completely different way. We were up and dancing by the second song, and despite the best efforts of the stadium security, didn't sit down for the rest of the concert. There were at least two encores, lots of songs from Graceland played. Singing this song with 12, 500 other concert goers was a particular highlight, as was "The Boxer", which we hoped and hoped he would play - and it was the last tune.
I made bedouin lentil soup from this book for Friday night's dinner. We've made it before, many times, at Maitland, and I've promised to share the recipe before too. It's the perfect soup for all seasons - we've eaten it frequently through late winter, spring and summer. It's simple without being too plain, warm and filling without feeling like too much. It also freezes well.
lemon, lentil and coriander soup
for the soup:
1 clove garlic
1 tsp ground cumin
1 bunch spring onions - optional, but I had some from Mum's garden to use up.
2 cups brown lentils or puy lentils, soaked overnight/8 hours
2 lemons - juice, rind optional
1/2 cup coriander (or more), chopped finely
1-2 cups leafy greens - such as spinach, chard, kale or a mixture
2+ cups vegetable stock/water
for the taklia:
2-4 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp sea salt
2 cloves garlic
Honestly, this is quite a forgiving recipe. You can use up almost any vegetable you have - I grated a couple of yellow courgette into the version I made on Friday night. The key ingredients are the lemon, lentils, coriander, and the taklia.
Chop the onions and garlic finely and lightly sauté with the cumin, but don't let them get too brown. Add the lentils and vegetable stock and bring to the boil, then simmer for 45 minutes - 1 hour.
While the soup is cooking, make the taklia. Briefly fry the chopped garlic cloves - use a medium-low heat for this as you just want to make them a bit soft. It will only take about 3 minutes. Add these to a mortar and pestle with the other ingredients and "bash" or "stir" until all the ingredients are combined and the seeds are cracked. You want the consistency to be quite runny, so add more olive oil if necessary. Set aside.
Once the lentils are soft, add the greens, lemon juice and rind. If you're using kale, you'll probably want to simmer for about 5 minutes with a lid on. If you're using spinach, you won't want to cook it very long at all. Carefully use a stick blender or blitz in batches in a benchtop one. Be careful - if it's really hot the steam can blow off the lid and you can end up with hot soup all over yourself and your kitchen. I (unfortunately) speak from experience - I was very grateful that nobody was there to witness that!
Once the soup's blended, keep it warm. Add more lemon juice if necessary, or some pepper. Try to avoid adding salt - sometimes I'll add just a tiny bit. This is because the taklia is quite salty and is a necessary addition - so the soup doesn't need to be as salty.
To serve, add around 1 teaspoon of taklia to each bowl of soup. Sometimes we also add some plain yoghurt but it's just as delicious without. A couple of slices of toast turns this simple soup into a meal filling enough for dinner - particularly if you've got a version of this made with black boy peaches to eat after..
The end of this week marked the completion of some important deadlines - I think that the next couple of months will be less chaotic than the previous two. In many ways, it feels like the cold air has brought some calm to my days also. I stopped halfway up the hill on my way home one night last week, because I realised the Southern cross was right above my head, and all the stars were out. It reminded me of a winter weekend spent in the Catlins last year ..
title from the boxer - simon & garfunkel