I love autumn in Minnesota! The radiant colors just glow and the warm palette invites artistic expression. And you know what MY artistic expression is all about: producing beautiful and flavorful food that comes from the land (and not from a box), with a touch of heat and spice!
That red of our maple tree makes me think of sumac. No, not the poisonous one, but the spice that has been used forever in Mesopotamia; the Middle East and Fertile Crescent regions. It has a vibrant red color and a lemony, tangy flavor that adds complexity to dishes and spice mixes. It is one of those secret ingredients in Za'atar (along with hyssop, cumin, sesame seeds and more). The season's warm colors and colder temperatures urge me to reach for the bold flavors of Middle Eastern spice mixes. I enjoy placing them in the culinary playground with common Midwestern autumn produce. So, how about Baharat roasted butternut squash with a maple drizzle? Or sumac roasted Delicata and Kabocha squash? Served with a Silan (date syrup) glazed turkey - you could have the perfect pre-Thanksgiving melding of east and west... and I am all about the Mideast hooking up with the Midwest!
Where to find these spices you may ask? One of my favorites is World Spice Merchants in Seattle, which provides a wonderful online service. They procure spices from around the world; from Persia and Azerbaijan, to China, India, North Africa and more. High quality spices at a reasonable price. So, let your fingers do the walking and stock up your spice pantry now, before the bounty is gone and yet another fall fades into memory.
Sumac Roasted Kabocha Squash:
Prepare the squash: Heat oven to 375F.
Wash the squash well to make sure is clean of dirt and wipe it dry with a paper towel. Cut the squash in half and remove the grey conus bottom. Slice the squash into 1” slices and lay flat on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Make the seasoning: In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, sumac, maple syrup to combine. Brush mixture generously on the squash, season with salt and pepper, then turn over and repeat on the other side.
Roast: Place seasoned squash in the oven and roast for 20-30 minutes, depending on how soft/crispy you like your squash.
When squash is cooked to your preference, transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle the minced cilantro all over. Serve hot.