I’ve been chatting to a lot of people recently, who talk about autumn being their favourite season. I do like seeing the colours of the leaves on the trees change as winter approaches, but ultimately I’m a summer baby! I spend most of autumn and winter anxiously waiting the first signs of spring, and therefore summer. It must be my Caribbean roots; I just can’t stand being cold!
One good thing about this time of year however, is the abundance of root vegetables and bulbs on offer at the green grocers. Sweet potatoes, parsnips, turnips, carrots, fennel, they all come into their own! Whether using them in soups, roasting them in the oven or simply slicing them up as crudités, they should be celebrated. Especially the carrot!
I grew up believing that all carrots are orange, and that they help you to see in the dark! Actually around the world you can find carrots in many different hues, including white, yellow, brown, purple, red and black. Today, typically carrots are orange, but they didn’t always used to be. Before 17th century, most carrots were purple. Dutch growers took mutant strains of purple carrot and bred them into the sweet orange root that we see in supermarkets today.
As well as being beautifully inviting, purple carrots contain much more beta carotene than orange ones. They have anti-oxidant and anti inflammatory properties as well as strengthening the immune system and preventing heart disease. They also contribute to good eye health, so maybe that old adage that ‘carrots help you see in the dark’ wasn’t such a silly concept after all.
Purple carrots come from Middle and Far East, but here in Spain you can find them in Cuevas Bajas, Andalucia (see Purple Carrot Festival for information on the annual celebration).
Fennel is a Mediterranean vegetable, also from the carrot family. It has a strong aromatic anise flavour, so you can spot the taste of it a mile off. For this reason a little bit goes a long way, sometimes the striking anise flavour can dominate a dish. The leaves, flowers, bulb and seeds are used for many things, in my kitchen I tend to use dried fennel seeds and the bulb in dishes. Fennel seeds are often sugar coated and eaten as an after meal digestive in the Far East. The fruit of the plant is one of the main ingredients in liquorice. Fennel leaves are brewed into a herbal tea and consumed in many parts of the world. There are so many uses for this plant!
This recipe for an autumnal root salad is bright and exciting enough to cheer up any grey autumnal day. The anise flavour of the fennel, lime zest and coriander make it very aromatic. The addition of tuna, seeds, nuts and cheese increase it’s protein content, which is something I’m aways aware of as a vegetarian.
6-8 purple carrots
1 fennel bulb, sliced
120g tuna, cooked and flaked
40g pumpkin seeds
60g hazelnuts, toasted
coriander, small bunch chopped
1 lime, juiced and zested
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, chopped
Using a vegetable peeler, ribbon the carrots into a bowl. Look at these striking colours!
To prepare the fennel, remove any damaged brown parts of the bulb with the peeler. Slice a small section off the root and cut off the fonds, near to the bulb. Cut this in half and cut out a triangular section of the heart which tends to be really hard.
Slice crossways so you have fine slices of fennel. Add the fennel, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and coriander to the carrot and mix.
Combine the olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, lime juice and zest in a small jar and shake, to mix the dressing. Dress the salad, mix in the tuna and top with small balls of ricotta.