Cooking With the Healthy Colors of Autumn

Why Orange Foods May Be Healthy for the Body and Mind

By Erin Jones

As the cooler breezes begin to blow in this season and the trees begin to shed their multicolored leaves, the scenery becomes peppered with brilliant hues. The vibrant shades of orange speckled all around are nature’s last burst of life before the dormant season of winter begins. Though it's easy to mourn the loss of summer, this natural ebb and flow of life gives us plenty of reason to celebrate (French women can always find a reason to celebrate, non?). Autumn is a joyous season, and the color orange may have everything to do with it.

Orange is a powerful color that may evoke cheerful feelings. The practice of using colors to heal, chromotherapy, has been performed since the beginning of recorded time and is still used today as a holistic treatment. The color orange was used not only to increase energy levels but also heal the lungs in ancient Chinese and Egyptian cultures. Contemporary psychologists have found that simply showing the color orange to people can help boost self-esteem and enthusiasm and positively effect hormone levels. Orange calls to mind excitement and warmth, feelings that are often associated with fall. Perhaps all those decorative pumpkins are bringing you more pleasure than you realize!

Beyond orange’s supposed psychological effects, it’s also a feature of healthy produce. Whether at the greenmarket or the supermarket, you’ll find sweet potatoes and squash bursting with color, flavor and wholesome goodness. That rich shade of orange only intensifies when cooked, creating meals that are as beautiful as the autumn landscape.


Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes are one of the oldest vegetables known to man. Christopher Columbus found this root veggie so scrumptious, he brought it back to Europe after his first voyage to the New World in 1492. Today the sweet potato is enjoyed in some capacity in almost every different cuisine, all over the world.

With a natural hint of sweetness, the sweet potato lends itself perfectly to both sweet and savory dishes, and can even stand alone to accompany a piece of protein, just like it’s cousin, the white potato. But the sweet potato is actually more versatile in cooking and packs tons more nutritive benefits.

The vibrant color means it’s an excellent source of vitamin A (a.k.a. beta-carotene), and vitamin C. It’s also packed with fiber, calcium, iron and protein, making it one of the highest nutritionally-valued foods on the planet. And diabetics take note: sweet potatoes help to stabilize blood sugar levels and lower insulin resistance.

Cooking and Serving:

Note: Unlike regular white potatoes, it’s best NOT to boil sweet potatoes (they’ll lose their flavor). Baking, grilling and steaming are the preferred method of cooking.

--Just plain baked is often all you need. Pop a potato in a 325 degree oven for about 30 minutes and you’ve got the perfect accompaniment to a piece of chicken, duck or red meat. For an extra seasoning idea, add a pinch of cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg and a small pat of butter or plain yogurt. Hint: baked sweet potatoes hold really well, even while cold, which make great lunches on the go!

--After baking, ‘scoop’ out the insides and make a ‘sweet mash’ with a touch of cream, vanilla and orange zest, OR bananas, maple syrup and cinnamon, topped with chopped walnuts. Try a savory mash with a touch of butter and coarse salt.

--Cure your sweet tooth and hone your baking skills with some sweet potato pie, bread, muffins or pudding.

--Forget deep-fried french fries, bake-up some sweet potato fries instead. Slice into long strips, brush lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, basil or even Cajun seasoning. Or, try your hand at Mireille’s take on them.

Though they’re available all year round, they are best when in season from November through December.


Squash

A plethora of squash pops up during the autumn season, offering delectable recipe ideas, healthy properties and, of course, brilliant orangey-yellow insides. Two of the most popular varieties are butternut, which is shaped like an oblong pear, and acorn, shaped like….you guessed it, an acorn!

Loaded with vitamins A, B and C, potassium and omega-3 fatty acids, squash is a fantastic way to fuel up on dozens of nutrients with minimal calories. It’s so good for you, in fact, it may help to reduce your risk of several types of cancer, boost your immune system and protect your skin from sun damage. The Native Americans honored squash so much that they buried their dead with a few pieces of squash to provide nourishment for their final eternal journey.

Cooking and serving:

--Faites simple: Cooking squash couldn’t be simpler. Just pierce the squash with a knife near the stem to allow steam to escape. Bake in a 350°F oven for 45 minutes to an hour. Then slice open, remove the seeds and add just a touch of flavor with a pat of butter and a dash of spices such as; cinnamon, ginger, cloves, allspice, cumin, nutmeg, paprika and turmeric. All marry wonderfully with the slightly sweet taste of squash.

--Butternut squash makes a luxurious soup; try your hand at Mireille’s recipe.

--Add cubes of squash to any soup, stew, casserole or curry dish.

--Bake butternut or acorn squash; slice in half and drizzle a bit of honey or brown sugar for a healthy alternative to a sweet craving.

One last tip: winter squashes can almost always be substituted for sweet potatoes in most recipes.


Pumpkin

Nothing reminds us more of autumn than the symbol of the pumpkin. The sight of a jack-o-lantern brings both children and adults seasonal joy, and who can resist a warm slice of creamy pumpkin pie? But did you know that pumpkin has dozens of other uses and is healthy for you, too?

Pumpkins are actually a type of squash. And like squash, they are jam-packed with nutrients, but low in fat and calories. They also contain a rare carotenoid (fancy word for pigment) which may significantly lower one's risk of developing lung cancer. So maybe there is some truth to the ancient use of orange to heal the lungs after all!

Cooking and serving:

Note: While fresh cooked pumpkin is the first choice for taste and nutritive benefits, canned pumpkin is a perfectly acceptable substitute. If cooking fresh pumpkin, remember that smaller pumpkins yield sweeter and tenderer flesh than large ones.

--Create moist confections such as pumpkin bread and muffins. Add some walnuts or hazelnuts for crunch, and cranberries or raisins for extra sweetness.

--Pumpkin can be incorporated into any soup. Try adding a dash of curry, as the spice marries peerlessly with pumpkin.

--Pumpkin pudding, custard, soufflé…or pumpkin petits pots.

--Pumpkin cheesecake

--Pumpkin pancakes with hazelnuts or pecans

--Try a savory pumpkin dish with a recipe straight from Provence.

--An old favorite: pumpkin pie. The pilgrims served pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dessert in 1623…it must have been good to stick around all these years! Don’t forget the dollop of (real) whipped cream. C’est magnifique! Mireille has her own French take on the American classic.


And feel free to improvise and create your own recipes. The versatility of these veggies is what makes them so much fun! Whether sweet or savory dishes overflowing with nutritional goodness, or even just an aesthetically pleasing centerpiece to give your mood a boost, when it comes to orange it seems you can’t go wrong, in the kitchen and beyond!

“J’en doute ”

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