When sweet summer fades and the days are gradually getting shorter, the evenings greet us a little earlier each day, and there is a smell of autumn in the air. Adorable autumn, with her intoxicatingly beautiful hues, veritable jewels of nature. Soon the trees will offer us a show of such enchanting, tantalising grace, as their leaves begin to fall and perform a burlesque-like dance that renders them bashfully bare.
I love the season of autumn with its spectacular colours of burnished copper, blood red, russet brown, sludge green, rich gold and copper. ‘England in the Fall’, when the days are sometimes chilly, and sometimes as warm and balmy as an Indian summer, is sensationally beautiful. In early autumn, when our senses are adjusting to its arrival, we never know quite what to wear, for it is the in-between season; cheeky autumn, the Teaser, the Trickster.
Our taste buds are seasonally aware, for as autumn approaches, no longer do we desire the foods of summer, the salads and ice creams. In autumn our thoughts begin to turn towards grounding and comforting meals. Hot bowls of wholesome soups, legumes, casseroles, and root vegetables, sweet bejewelled berry crumbles and pies, lift our spirits as the bright days of summer fade.
This, of course, is entirely instinctive and correct. Autumn is Vata season, with its ether and air elements. Vata, like autumn, is cold, mobile, light, dry, erratic and rough. These qualities need to be tempered with their opposites. Hot, liquid, oily and grounding foods are the perfect antidote to autumnal ailments such as insomnia, restlessness, anxiety, aches and pains.
My passion for Indian food clearly has its roots in my heritage and my upbringing. However, it seems to be more pronounced during the colder months. The memories of my childhood, my close-knit family of five, our friends, the Collective that is our surrogate Indian family often popping in for impromptu suppers, are evoked by a simple Indian meal.
A chickpea and spinach curry eaten with steaming hot, cumin- infused basmati rice, or hot air-filled chapatis (Indian breads) finished with golden ghee (clarified butter), takes me right back to our kitchen. Indian food is somehow the essence of all that is good; it is honest and true, it warms the heart and speaks of unconditional love, kindness and affection.
There are no airs and graces with Indian cuisine, no flamboyance. But it is possessed with a sorcerer’s touch, it is a skilful magician in its ability to turn oppressive grey skies into aquamarine blue, and to switch a mood of melancholy into one of thankfulness and joy.
A little something to eat in autumn, or frankly any season….
Chickpea and Spinach Curry (Chana Saag)
Ingredients (to serve four as a light supper):
- 2 x 400g cans of chickpeas
- 2-3 medium tomatoes
- A large handful of fresh spinach leaves, chopped
- A medium onion, chopped
- Coconut or rapeseed oil
- 2 fat garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 small green chilli, chopped
- 2 tsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- A large handful of fresh coriander leaves
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan on a medium heat and add the cumin seeds. Once they start to pop, add the onions. Soften until golden, then add the ginger, garlic and chilli. Fry for a minute or two before adding the dry spices. Incorporate everything for another couple of minutes before adding the tomatoes, along with a teaspoon of sugar to counterbalance their acidity. Turn the heat down and allow the mixture to cook for around ten minutes. If it gets a bit dry, add a splash of water.
Add the chickpeas and spinach and a teacup full of warm water. Season with salt and cook for 15 -20 minutes on a low to medium heat.
Check seasoning and sprinkle the coriander leaves on top.
This is perfect with Basmati rice or Indian flat breads, and perhaps a little plain yoghurt on the side.
A quick way to transform basmati rice into something special is to melt a couple of teaspoons of ghee and fry a teaspoonful of cumin seeds for a minute. Pour them onto the cooked rice and mix through with a fork.
Chickpeas are full of protein and fibre, and spinach is vitamin and mineral dense, and is also a great source of iron.