It’s (somehow) quickly becoming that time of year once again: the summer heat is cooling down, the leaves are beginning to fall already, and everywhere you go, some variety of pumpkin-flavored delights are popping up for sale. I know that those of you who most appreciate sweater weather and pre-holiday season cheer are already tingling with excitement! Fall has probably the best assortment of seasonal foods and flavor options, but the problem is that a lot of them are either pretty difficult to prepare, or loaded with excessive sugars and fats in the form of baked goods and enticing, flavor-abundant dishes.
So what can you prepare for yourself and your family this fall season that you’ll enjoy cooking, and actually feel good about eating? With all of the fruits, vegetables, nuts and gourds in season, there are limitless possibilities - you just have to know where to find the good recipes! Below we’ve compiled a small variety of harvest-style meal recipes that are relatively easy, and won’t cost you a fortune (especially if you already pride yourself on having a hearty spice rack in your kitchen). So allow yourself that pumpkin spiced latte, and sip with a smile as you read on to see how you can kick off the fall season at dinner time tonight!
Creamy Autumn Vegetable Soup with Easy Pumpkin Bread
For the soup recipe, you’ll need:
2 ½ cups peeled, cubed butternut squash
1 large sweet potato, also peeled and cubed
3 medium carrots, washed and sliced
¼ cup thawed orange juice concentrate (preferably one with no added sugar)
3 cups fat-free milk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons low-fat sour cream
2 tablespoons minced chives
1 ½ tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
To get started on this hearty and colorful dish, you’ll want to steam the first three ingredients in a steamer basket over a large saucepan of boiling water. If you don’t have a steaming basket, don’t fret! Boiling your veggies works all the same, it just leaves them a little less firm and colorful. Whichever way you choose, cook covered for fifteen minutes - you may also fall over or under this mark by a few minutes, depending on how well your vegetables tenderize.
Once they’ve cooled slightly, transfer your ingredients to a food processor, and add in the orange juice concentrate. Again, no worries if you don’t have one - simply mash up your soft veggies a bit before taking them to your blender instead. Process (or blend) until smooth, and then transfer to a large saucepan, stirring in the milk, salt and pepper while still cool. Cook slowly over low heat while stirring, but do not bring the soup to a boil - simply allow it to heat the whole way through while you stir. This recipe is good for six servings of thicky, creamy, nutritious soup, each of which can then be topped with the sour cream, chives, and sesame seeds, if desired.
For the bread recipe, you’ll need:
⅓ cup melted coconut oil
½ cup organic honey
1 cup pumpkin purée (You can make your own with raw pumpkin and a food processor, or collect a can from the grocery store to make things easier!)
¼ cup low-fat milk
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
1 ¾ cups whole wheat flour
Pinch of ground cinnamon, for sprinkling on top
If you’d like: ½ cup chopped walnuts, pecans, or raisins
This side of sweet pumpkin bread takes a bit longer to prepare than it will to get your soup together, so I recommend getting started on the bread first, and then letting it bake while you get to work on your main course. For starters, you’ll need your oven preheated to 325 degrees F and a lightly greased 9x5 inch loaf pan. Then, grab a large bowl and whisk firmly together the oil and the honey. Blend in the eggs next, making sure that your coconut oil does not solidify - if it does, simply let it warm up in the microwave or on a warm stovetop before proceeding.
Whisk in next your pumpkin puree, milk, ground spices, baking soda, vanilla, and salt. Finally, with a large spoon, stir in the flour a little at a time until it is just mixed in - it’s fine if you have a few lumps. Fold in any extras now if you have them (I like to sneak in some chocolate chips every once in a while), and then pour into your greased loaf pan.
Sprinkle the top of your raw batter with cinnamon (if desired), and bake for 55 to 60 minutes until you get a clean toothpick when inserted into and removed from the center of the loaf. This recipe makes one loaf that will need to cool ten minutes before being removed from the pan, and then for 20 minutes on a cooling rack, all before slicing. And now you’ve got a lightly sweet, healthy side or dessert for your soup!
Harvest Nut Salad with Cinnamon Apple Chips
For the salad, you’ll need:
⅓ cup chopped walnuts
⅓ cup chopped pecans
1 bunch spinach, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces
½ cup dried cranberries
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
2 tomatoes, chopped
1 avocado - peeled, pitted and diced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
For the dressing:
2 tablespoons red raspberry jam (with seeds)
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
⅓ cup walnut oil (extra virgin olive oil also works fine)
freshly ground black pepper to taste
salt to taste
This salad is simple to prepare and delicious to have! To get started, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F, and spread your walnuts and pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet to toast in the oven for about five minutes. While you’ve got that going, whisk together the jam, vinegar, oil of choice, pepper, and salt to prepare the salad dressing. Once the nuts are done and cooled, mix them together in a large bowl with the spinach, cranberries, blue cheese, tomatoes, avocado and onion. Toss in your salad dressing to coat, and you’ve got six easy servings of a deliciously nutritious fall salad!
For the chips, you’ll need:
3 large sweet, crisp apples, such as Honeycrisp, Fuji, Jazz, or Pink Lady
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
These apple chips are really as easy as it gets, and can be prepared on a lazy Sunday to have with your salad whenever you’d like throughout the week, since they need to bake for a few hours. To begin, spread your baking racks out on the upper and lower thirds of your oven, preheat to 200 degrees F, and line two full-sized baking sheets with parchment paper. Wash and core your apples of choice, and use a sharp knife to cut them into ⅛ inch thick round slices. Places the apple rounds in a single layer on your baking sheets and sprinkle with the cinnamon.
Bake for one hour, switch the pans on your oven racks, and then continue baking for 1 to 1 ½ hours. At two hours in, check the crispness of your apple slices by removing one and allowing it to cool at room temperature for 2 to 3 minutes. Continue baking for that last half hour until you are happy with the crispness. Remember that the total baking time will vary upon the thickness of your slices and the kind of apple you chose! Once you’re done baking, turn off the oven, but leave your pans in for 1 hour as it cools to set the crispiness of the slices, checking occasionally to get them just as crispy as you like them. When you’re finally done, you’ll have about three cups of apple chips, which also just make for a great fall snack!
Slow-Cooker Thanksgiving Casserole
For this recipe, you’ll need:
14 ounces multigrain ciabatta rolls (about 7 rolls), cut into 1-inch cubes
Nonstick cooking spray
½ teaspoon Italian seasoning, crushed
1 pound turkey breast tenderloin, cut into 1½-inch pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup sliced celery
1 cup thinly sliced carrots
½ cup chopped onion
½ cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped
¼ cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon crushed Italian seasoning
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cup turkey stock
This is probably my favorite one on the list, since it’s a full Thanksgiving meal, without all the hours of work! Lay out your ciabatta cubes in a single layer on a large baking pan and bake in a preheated oven (350 degrees F) for 20 to 22 minutes until they are completely dried, and let cool afterwards. As they bake, lightly coat the inside of your 4-quart crockpot with cooking spray and set aside. Get to work on the meat of this recipe by rubbing ½ teaspoon of the Italian seasoning onto the surface of the turkey with your fingers, and then melt butter over medium-high heat in a large, nonstick skillet.
Add the turkey to the skillet and cook for about five minutes, or until just browned on the outside, and then remove from heat. Once your ciabatta is done baking, toss the bread cubes and browned turkey in a large bowl, adding in the celery, carrots, onion, cranberries, parmesan, and remaining spices. (You can also add in some of the drippings from the turkey pan if you like, for an extra boost of flavor.) Once combined, drizzle in the stock over the mixture and toss regularly until the bread is lightly moistened (but don’t let it get soggy!).
Finally, spoon your mixture into your prepared crockpot, cover, and cook on low for 2 ½ to 3 hours (or until your turkey has reached an appropriate color, and your stuffing is warm throughout the casserole). Dish out up to eight servings directly from your crockpot for a delicious, easy, and early Thanksgiving dinner!
Crockpot Cranberry Meatballs with Mashed Sweet Potatoes
For the meatballs, you’ll need:
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 pounds ground turkey
1 cup cooked long-grain brown rice
½ cup dried cranberries, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2 to 3 teaspoons olive oil
1 (14.5 ounce) can whole berry cranberry sauce
⅓ cup reduced-sugar ketchup
¼ cup orange juice
2 tablespoons lime juice
This one is a hearty, filling recipe that is still simple to whip up, and can be served as is, on meatball subs, or in whatever other way you can think of. Combine your eggs, turkey, rice, cranberries, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Using your palms (you can wet them if the mixture seems too sticky to work with), shape the mixture into individual meatballs, each being about 1 ½ inches in diameter, which should give you about 60 meatballs. Heat 2 teaspoons of the olive oil in an extra large skillet over medium heat (use the last teaspoon if you deem it necessary as you cook), and cook half the meatballs at a time, turning each batch over once about halfway through, until just browned and slightly firm (about five minutes).
Once you’re done, immediately and carefully move each batch of meatballs from the skillet to a 3 ½ or 4 quart crockpot. In a separate bowl, combine the cranberry sauce, ketchup, and orange and lime juices with a whisk, and then pour that mixture over the meatballs in the crockpot (but do not stir!). Cover and cook on the low setting for 3 to 4 hours, checking occasionally within the last hour to see if your meatballs have cooked entirely through. For a quicker meal, you can also cook them on the high setting for 1 ½ to 2 hours, paying careful attention that the meatballs near the edges of your crockpot do not dry out or begin to burn. This recipe produces a lot of meatballs, so be sure to have friends or family over for this one to show off your seasonal chef skills!
For the mashed potatoes, you’ll need:
1 ½ pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 ½ tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme
¼ cup low-fat milk
½ teaspoon salt
⅜ teaspoon black pepper
This is an easy mashed potato recipe with a seasonal twist that makes for a healthy, delicious side! Start by filling a large saucepan with your sweet potato cubes and covering them with 2 inches of water (meaning 2 inches from the surface of the water to the top of the potatoes). Bring the pan to a boil on high heat, and then reduce to medium-low heat and simmer for about 18 minutes until the cubes are tender. Drain the cubes thoroughly, and return them to the saucepan.
In a small skillet, combine the butter and olive oil over medium heat, and cook for about three minutes until the mixture browns and becomes fragrant. Remove this mixture from heat and stir in the thyme. Add your milk, salt and pepper to the sweet potato cubes and mash thoroughly, then drizzle with the butter mixture and stir gently to distribute the flavor. Garnish your potatoes with thyme leaves if desired, and you’re all set! This recipe provides four servings that pair perfectly with those cranberry meatballs above.
To wrap it all up…
… Yes, it really is that easy to create a variety of delicious and wholesome meals that contain all of your favorite fall flavors. Whether you whip up a light but tasty soup or salad, or a hearty and filling crockpot dish, you’ll love every step of the process, and every bite that you create as well. So, which one are you excited to try first?