As the fresh chill and bright hues of Autumn creep into our days with the inevitable turn of the year’s wheel, I find myself reaching for heartier foods, bolder flavours and certain nutrient-dense, omega-heavy ingredients that herald the coming inward call.
And so, I was reminded this week of the precision with which what we put into our bodies is a continual reflection of our inner landscapes. We might not think so, or choose not to notice, but the resonance is so obvious (… and this going beyond the eternal pursuit of warm tea and chocolate). As we all know, our relationships with our physical selves are so complex, multi-layered, trans-generational… and always shifting. Culinary inspiration, desires and cravings – which many a cyclical woman knows well – can often tell us more than something we simply need or want to taste: each creative assembly of ingredients, however simple it might be, when consciously approached can become a portal to a certain heritage, texture, quality, mood and value system which all meet in a unique expression of what we call food. Most days, we are just eating, sometimes in alignment with the divine beings we are, sometimes less so…! And instead of another opportunity to beat ourselves up, these days can become a gentle invitation to compassionately scan our selves for those sources of blockage, fragmentation, negativity or stress. On other days, we can joyfully witness the turning of a corner, and an inspired move toward that which our being is desiring – whether it’s a simple whole food breakfast, a healthy ingredient swap, or a sudden dive into the flavours and textures of a cuisine we rarely consider: in these precious windows where we follow something more magical than simply what is easiest, closest, cheapest or fastest, we can perhaps learn something new about where we are at right now.
Essentially, this is how I found myself cooking an ingredient I rarely use (aubergine), rich and as dark as the cool autumn night, adding to it the protective and nourishing ancient ferment miso, lashings of anti-viral, anti-bacterial garlic and protein- and fat-rich tahini sauce, to top off a bold yet simple lunch. You could say I’m just cooking lunch, but to me it clearly became an invitation for warmth, protection, boldness and an other-worldy / other-side-of-the-world flavour.
Nightshades, the ingredient family to which aubergine belongs, are often avoided for being linked to a number of inflammatory processes (as well as having a significant poisonous and hallucinatory contingent). Strong and vibrant vegetables, they are especially high in alkaloids (active metabolites) and can indeed react in an unhelpful way in our bodies; and yet – when we crave them – what are we calling in? To me, they represent vibrancy arising from the dark, the cool, the underground of the soil. Salty miso felt to me like a call for the sea, for fermented warmth, for an ancient food with roots and a heritage. Garlic, a potent hit of stimulation and defence; tahini, for an oily layer of creamy comfort. After savouring my meal, I reflected on how I might being these qualities into my day beyond food. Extra aromas in my bath oil, wearing warmer clothes, connecting again to the earth as the leaves fall, the ground hardens and preparations are made for hibernation. Staying open to my own heritage and native landscape while also drawing on those less familiar as I cook, create and parent.
Next time you cook, ask yourself with compassion and curiosity, what story am I telling?
1 large aubergine, halved
a generous dash of olive oil
2 generous cloves garlic, crushed, or 2 tsp garlic puree
1 tbsp miso paste (or less if your miso is young and especially salty)
a handful of fresh parsley, chopped
2-3 tbsp of my Tahini Everything Sauce from my book (recipe below)
black pepper and sesame seeds to garnish
Tahini Everything Sauce
4 tbsp tahini
1 small garlic clove / half a large one
juice of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)
optional drizzle of olive oil
In a blender, whizz all the ingredients until they form a smooth, thick sauce. Add more tahini, lemon or salt as desired, or water to thin of too thick.
You can keep this in the fridge as a sauce or dressing for salads and veggies for up to four days.
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.
Score your aubergine halves in a criss cross pattern, and rub a little olive oil. Then rub in the garlic and miso. Place on a baking tray in the oven to roast, checking after 10 minutes to see if the top is golden (we do not want it to burn). When it is, cover with foil (or simply place the halves together one on top of the other) and return to the oven for another 20-25 minutes, When the flesh feels soft the whole way through, the aubergine is cooked.
Remove from the oven, and drizzle with the tahini sauce, garnishing with some pepper, parsley and sesame before serving warm.