As the chills commence, sniffles set in, and the mould in your student house starts to fester, a comforting meal goes a long way.
What makes an already tasty dish that little bit better is the use of seasonal produce to get those in-fashion flavours bursting. I’m here to (hopefully) give you a bit of inspiration.
So don’t let the cold get you down, because there are some hot new veggies about town to spice up your weekly meals. Here are a few at a quick glance:
- Brussels sprouts (give them a chance!)
- Butternut Squash
- Wild Mushrooms
Maybe a few too many ingredients to add to your weekly shopping list, so I thought I’d get you started on a couple of recipes I’ve enjoyed recently.
The stars of the show are butternut squash and leeks. With Asian-infused flavours, these dishes are comforting, hearty, fresh, and flavourful – what more could you want in this rainy weather?
I’ve made both recipes vegan, but I’ve noted where to substitute in meat if that’s what you’d prefer – no shame here! I’ve also put a little * next to ingredients that aren’t essential to the dish but add another layer of flavour. So whether you decide to include them or not is entirely up to you.
One recipe takes a little patience, and the other you can have finished in no time. The aim is to keep the meals cheap, nutritious, and yummy – let’s dive in.
Squash Laksa Noodle Soup
Serves 4 – Allow an hour
Disclaimer – This one does need a blender!
Now, this is the ultimate comfort bowl after a long day at uni. It’s creamy, rich (but not heavy), packed with flavour, and a little punch. This is great to cook in bulk, whether you want to treat your housemates, meal prep for the days ahead, or pop in the freezer to save for a later date.
What you need:
For the saucy soup:
- Half a butternut squash
- 1 onion (white or red)
- 3-4 garlic cloves
- 1.5 inches of ginger
- *Fresh chilli
- *A handful of fresh coriander
- 2 tbsp of curry powder
- 1.5 tbsp chilli powder (adapt to spice preference)
- *1/2 tsp turmeric
- 2 cubes of vegetable stock
- 300ml of water
- Coconut milk
- 1 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tbsp soya sauce (light or dark)
- 1 tsp honey
- 300g extra firm tofu (or chicken)
- Any veg you need using up – think what would go well in a stir-fry; I used half a broccoli and half a red pepper
- Glass noodles (any will do)
For garnish: (all optional)
- *Fresh coriander
- *Sesame seeds
- *Spring onion
- *Fresh chilli
Let’s get started:
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
Cut the butternut squash in half and put one half aside for another day. Using a spoon, dig out the seeds (save these to fry up as a crunchy topping for a salad or traybake). Peel the skin off the butternut squash and chop it into 2 cm cubes.
Place the squash on a tray with baking paper, drizzle over some oil, along with 1/2 tbsp curry powder, 1/2 tsp chilli powder and a generous amount of salt and pepper.
Toss it so it’s evenly coated and put in the oven for 30-35 minutes.
While that’s roasting, prep the other ingredients.
Starting with the sauce base, roughly chop up some onion, garlic, and chilli and grate your ginger (the flavour melts into the dish better this way; leave the skin on, just wash it). We are going to blend it up so don’t worry about it being neat.
Chop up your chosen veg in whatever way you like so they’re ready to whack in a pan later.
Now, let’s prep the protein. Get your tofu and press it with a (clean) tea towel, or kitchen paper, to ensure you can get it nice and crispy. Cut into little cubes, about 1-2 cm, and chuck them in a bowl. Cover with 1 tbsp of cornflower, some salt and pepper, 1 tbsp of soya sauce and a sprinkle of sugar – it adds great flavour. Prepare your chicken in the same way; just skip the pressing. Mix everything together and set it aside.
Your squash should be nearly ready – give it a toss and check to see how soft it is. You’re on the right track if a fork pokes in with relative ease.
Now, let’s get the sauce base cooking.
Add a big glug of oil to a sizeable pot. Once that’s hot, add the onion, ginger, chilli and fresh coriander (stems only – they hold the majority of the flavour – we’ll save the leaves for garnish). Add 1 tbsp of curry powder, a 1/2 tsp of chilli powder and a 1/2 tsp of turmeric. Add the garlic once you get the aroma from the ginger, and the onions start to go a little translucent.
Introduce the soft butternut squash to the pot and cook for a couple of minutes until the components combine.
Add the water, coconut milk, peanut butter and honey along with a tbsp of soya sauce. Simmer for a few minutes.
Blend until smooth and adjust flavours – adding lime for tartness, honey for sweetness or soya sauce for a little saltiness.
Let that bubble away.
Whack your veg in a pan with some oil and a drizzle of soya sauce. They don’t need much seasoning, as the sauce should be packed with flavour. Shallow-fry your tofu or chicken until golden and crispy.
Cook up your noodles according to the packet instructions.
You’re finito! Plate it up and enjoy with some fresh chilli, coriander leaves, lime, spring onion, and sesame seeds.
Sticky Miso Leeks and Aubergine
Serves 2 – Allow 30 minutes.
This one is sweet, spicy, and has a depth of flavour. Not only do the leeks melt into the dish, the aubergine softens to a meaty texture and soaks up the flavours beautifully. I’ve had this meal on repeat, and it’s still not getting boring.
What you need:
For the sauce:
- 1tbsp miso
- 1tbsp honey
- 1tbsp soya sauce
- *1tsp sesame oil
- *1/2 tsp gochujang
- 60-100ml of hot water to bind it
For the veg:
- 1/2 onion
- 1/2 inch ginger
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2 spring onion
- 1 leek
- Half an aubergine
First, get your sauce ready. Mix all the ingredients together, give it a taste and alter it to your preference.
If you’re serving the dish with rice, this is where you’d start prepping it. If you are using a microwavable packet of rice, then skip this part!
Everyone makes their rice differently, but my dad taught me a great method, and I’ve never looked back: It’s 1 part rice to 2 parts water. Half a large mug of rice for 2 servings. So one mug of water. Wash it in a sieve under cold water until it runs clear to eliminate the starchiness. Cook the rice in a bit of butter till it’s all coated, then add the water. Boil until the rice begins to surface then turn down the heat and pop a lid on. Wrap a (clean) tea towel around the lid – it absorbs the excess moisture which makes it really light and fluffy. Poke through the rice with a spoon and check that the water has been absorbed. Then, take it off the heat and leave with the lid on for at least 10 minutes.
If you are cooking the rice from scratch, prep everything while it’s bubbling away – I find this makes the process of cooking seamless, as having it all laid out means nothing gets forgotten!
Chop your onion into long, thin slices – it will reduce down to the same texture as the leeks. Also, cut your garlic into thin slices, this maximises their surface area and therefore flavour. Grate the ginger. Chop up the spring onions – only the white, stem part; we’ll save the rest for garnish.
That’s your base ready.
Chop the leafy part of your leeks off (you can save them for a soup stock) and then divide into 3 or 4 parts. Chop them lengthways into quarters. Then, cut up your aubergine into cylinders about half a cm thick. Lightly score them with a knife (create a criss-cross pattern). This allows them to soften and absorb all the good flavour.
Make sure your rice is off the heat and resting before you start cooking the vegetables.
In a wok or large pan, add a splash of sesame seed oil and veg oil. Once hot, add your onion, ginger, and chilli. Fry until the ginger is aromatic and the onion becomes a little translucent.
Add your spring onions and garlic and cook for two minutes.
Chuck in your leeks and wait until they’ve wilted a little bit, about four minutes.
Add in the aubergine – this will absorb a lot of the liquid in the pan, so keep tossing everything around so the garlic doesn’t catch.
Cook until the aubergine softens, about another four minutes.
Add in your sauce. Let it bubble and thicken. Add in a splash more soya sauce or honey, depending on what flavour you fancy.
Plate your sticky miso leaks and aubergine onto a bed of fluffy rice and top with spring onion, fresh chilli, coriander and sesame seeds.
I hope you enjoy these dishes as much as I have, or at least take a little inspiration to explore some seasonal recipes – there are tonnes floating around online. Stay warm, and keep your bellies full! Happy cooking.