Yasmin Khan’s red lentil and squash soup with za’atar croutons
Red lentil and squash soup with za’atar croutons.
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Yasmin Khan’s red lentil and squash soup with za’atar croutons. Photograph: Matt Russell

Za’atar is a Palestinian spice mix made from wild thyme, sesame and sumac that has an affinity with sweet root vegetables. Here it is used to make crunchy, tangy croutons to adorn an aromatic soup of roasted butternut squash and spiced lentils. Roasting the squash intensifies its flavour and sweetness, and gives the soup a glorious silky texture that perfectly contrasts with the crispy croutons.

Serves 4
butternut squash 1kg, peeled, deseeded and cut into 3cm pieces
light olive oil
onions 2, finely chopped
garlic 4 cloves, crushed
cumin seeds ¾ tsp
coriander seeds ¾ tsp
ground cinnamon ½ tsp
red lentils 160g, rinsed
vegetable or chicken stock 750ml
lemon juice of ½
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the toppings
stale bread 2 slices (I like to use sourdough for taste and texture)
za’atar 2 tbsp
extra virgin olive oil
parsley or coriander leaves chopped

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Place the butternut squash on a baking tray and drizzle with light olive oil. Toss the chunks so they are evenly coated in the oil, then roast for 20-30 minutes, until they are soft.

Heat 3 tablespoons light olive oil in a large saucepan, add the onions and fry for 10 minutes over a medium heat. Add the garlic, reduce the heat and cook for another few minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the cumin and coriander seeds by stirring them in a dry pan over a low heat for a minute until their aromas are released. Grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, then add them and the cinnamon to the saucepan with the softened onions. Fry the spices for a few minutes.

Add the lentils and 1 litre of just-boiled water. Cover and simmer the soup for 10 minutes.

Once the lentils have softened, add the squash, stock, lemon juice, 1 teaspoon salt and ½ teaspoon pepper. Leave to simmer for another 10 minutes.

Once the lentils are fully cooked, take the pan off the heat and blend the soup with a hand-held blender. Taste and adjust the seasoning to your preference.

To make the croutons, roughly chop the bread into 3cm chunks. Heat 3 tablespoons light olive oil in a frying pan and, once it is very hot, add the bread and sprinkle over the za’atar. Fry the bread, stirring frequently, until it is toasted and crunchy. Place the croutons on some kitchen paper to soak up any excess oil. To serve, ladle the soup into warmed bowls, top with the croutons and finish with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped herbs.
From Zaitoun: Recipes and Stories from the Palestinian Kitchen by Yasmin Khan (Bloomsbury, £26)

Anna Jones’s maple toffee apple and pear crisp
Anna Jones’s maple toffee apple and pear crisp
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Anna Jones’s maple toffee apple and pear crisp Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

This is everything I want in an autumn pudding. Melting orchard fruits spiked with ginger and cardamom and a topping that’s half crisp and half crumble, which reminds me of oatmeal cookies. I eat this with thick Greek yogurt mixed with a little honey and vanilla or, if it’s really cold, good hot vanilla custard.

Serves 4-6
apples 3
pears 3
maple syrup 2 tbsp
prunes 75g
dried figs 50g
candied ginger, 2 pieces, finely chopped
unwaxed lemon 1
vanilla pod 1, seeds scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla paste)
ground cinnamon ½ tsp
ground cardamom ½ tsp
For the topping
rolled oats 100g
ground almonds 50g
butter or coconut oil 100g
light brown sugar 75g
white spelt flour 100g
salt a small pinch

To serve
Greek or coconut yogurt whipped with a little vanilla and honey

Preheat your oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Peel the apples and pears and roughly slice them. Toss them with the maple syrup in a roasting tray and cover the tray with foil. Roast for 15 minutes in the hot oven, then remove the foil and roast for a further 10 minutes until the edges catch and caramelise.

Meanwhile, roughly chop 50g of the prunes and all the figs, finely chop the ginger, and place the whole lot into the bottom of a 24cm round (or equivalently sized) baking dish. Grate over the lemon zest and add the juice of ½ the lemon, add the vanilla and spices and mix everything together. Cover the dish with a clean tea towel and leave to one side.

Make the topping by rubbing the oats, almonds, butter, sugar, flour and salt together with your fingers. It will feel wetter than a crumble topping and you’ll be left with larger pieces of butter, but you should have a very rough crumbly dough after about 4 minutes. Chop the remaining prunes roughly and mix them through too.

When your apples are ready, mix them with the fruit and spices in the baking dish, then sprinkle over the topping. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes, until deep golden.

I serve mine with some Greek or coconut yogurt, whipped with a little vanilla and honey.

From The Modern Cook’s Year: Over 250 vibrant vegetable recipes to see you through the seasons by Anna Jones (Fourth Estate, £26)

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