Six years ago, during the autumn of 2007, I watched the leaves turn first a gorgeous golden yellow and then later a very pretty auburn, the color that I will always associate with one of my favorite seasons ever.
Here in Buenos Aires it’s springtime, and while I have no complaints that the air has turned warmer and the landscape is now bright and green again, it is always autumn that has a special place in my heart. And to be very honest with you, it was the autumn of 2007 that made me fall in love with this special season.
It was the autumn of freedom.
And it was the autumn during which I fell in love.
That autumn, a couple of friends and I boarded our flight to Germany, ready to start off our student exchange adventure.
It was the first time I was going to be overseas for such a long time, in the company of friends instead of family; and there was an excitement in the air – I knew it was going to be a special trip, I just didn’t know how the trip would literally change my life.
Before we officially started school in the University of Mannheim, Faye and I, along with a couple of other friends, left our heavy luggage in Mannheim before setting off to tour Italy in slightly less than two weeks.
During those beautiful Italian days in the south of Europe, we reveled in the beauty of the boot-shaped country.
Bologna, the student town in Northern Italy from which the meat-based Bolognese sauce derived its name, was pretty and quaint. While I don’t remember particularly much about it right now, I definitely recall us roaming its streets, and me taking a dozen pictures of the lovely Italian architecture.
And then there was Venice, whose melancholic beauty and charm exceeded her fame; those romantic gondola-filled canals and tiny cobbled streets, which linked the entire Venice together, were lit with warm sun rays and crowded with tourists and locals alike. I remember being fascinated by the shop windows which displayed handmade masks and pasta of every size, shape and color possible. It was incredible.
But mostly, I loved the Mediterranean Coast. In Cinque Terre , which literally means “Five Lands”, because Cinque Terre is made up of five neighboring villages that are bordered by the Mediterranean Sea, we breathed in salty sea air that smelt of freedom and the last days of summer giving into autumn. We lay down on large, flat stones and let the warm sunshine gently toast our skin; and we sat at a cliff-top ristorante delighting in rich, tomato-based pasta full of fresh seafood that was the very day’s catch. We’d be walking up some hills in the late morning, trudging through tall grass blades when some random local Italian farmer would salute us and wish us a “Buon Giorno”.
Ahhh, during those days, it felt just like heaven.
I knew there and then that I had fallen in love with Italy, this South European country whose food and people and land engulfed me in a way I couldn’t quite fathom.
I won’t go all mushy but I’ll say that it was also during that autumn in Mannheim that I realized love actually meant someone treating your well, who not only made your heart flutter but made you feel wanted and respected. Love is about small gestures of kindness and consideration, amidst days of celebration and other times of sadness. I found a love that made me want to share things with someone else, a motive that is not based on selfishness but a love for another.
It was the autumn that I met Juan, the reason why I live in Buenos Aires today. And it was the autumn that I fell in love, and learnt what it meant to really love.
Because that autumn means so much to me, I wanted to commemorate that special season and bring you a salad that’s filled with the colors and tastes that remind me so much of it.
Colors like auburn reds, intense oranges and golden yellows mixed with honeyed browns.
Tastes including the natural sweetness of red apples; the rich tenderness of salted and peppered butternut squash that has been roasted until soft; the slight nuttiness of chewy, springy quinoa; and the crunchiness of chopped almonds, all mixed in with the combination of salty mustard, natural syrupy honey and a quick squeeze of lemon.
Yes, these are the shades and tastes and textures of a season that’s forever etched in my memory, a season that’s as beautiful as it is intense.
I hope you enjoy this salad, and the season to which it is dedicated, and most of all, I wish you love.
APPLE, BUTTERNUT SQUASH & QUINOA SALAD + HONEY MUSTARD DRESSING
(Serves 4 as a side, 2 as a main)
For the salad:
1) 1 small butternut squash, peeled, de-seeded and cubed
2) 2 red apples, cored and cubed
3) 1 cup uncooked quinoa
4) 2 cups of water
5) 1/2 cup of chopped almonds
For the honey mustard dressing:
6) 5 tablespoons of mustard
7) 5 tablespoons of honey
8) Salt & Pepper to taste
9) 1/2 a lemon (for the juice)
1) Pre-heat oven to 200 deg celcius
2) Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and once water starts boiling, blanch cubed butternut squash for three minutes, then remove
3) Sprinkle salt & pepper generously over the butternut squash, and mix well
4) Coat the surface of a baking tray with oil, heat it in the oven for about 5 minutes
5) Once oil is heated up, arrange blanched butternut squash on the tray, making sure they are in one layer and do not overlap
6) Roast butternut squash for at least 45 minutes until tender
7) Rinse uncooked quinoa until the water runs clear
8) Combine the 1 cup of rinsed uncooked quinoa and 2 cups of water in a small pot
9) Bring quinoa-water mixture to a boil, then bring fire down to low, cover the pot, and let quinoa cook for next 15 minutes
10) Once 15 minutes is up and quinoa has absorbed all of the water, switch off the heat and allow it to stand for 5 minutes, still covered
11) After quinoa has stood for 5 minutes, uncover pot and fluff quinoa with a fork and let it cool
12) Combine mustard, honey and lemon juice to get the honey mustard dressing
13) Mix cubed apples, cooked quinoa, chopped almonds and roasted butternut squash in a large bowl (or divide it equally into the number of smaller bowls you prefer)
14) Drizzle honey mustard dressing over, mix well and serve
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and once water starts boiling, blanch cubed butternut squash for three minutes, then remove:
Sprinkle salt & pepper generously over the butternut squash, and mix well. Coat the surface of a baking tray with oil, heat it in the oven for about 5 minutes. Once oil is heated up, arrange blanched butternut squash on the tray, making sure they are in one layer and do not overlap. Roast butternut squash for at least 45 minutes until tender:
Combine the 1 cup of rinsed uncooked quinoa and 2 cups of water in a small pot. Bring quinoa-water mixture to a boil, then bring fire down to low, cover the pot, and let quinoa cook for next 15 minutes:
Once 15 minutes is up and quinoa has absorbed all of the water, switch off the heat and allow it to stand for 5 minutes, still covered. After quinoa has stood for 5 minutes, uncover pot and fluff quinoa with a fork and let it cool:
Mix cubed apples, cooked quinoa and roasted butternut squash in a large bowl (or divide it equally into the number of smaller bowls you prefer). Drizzle honey mustard dressing over, mix well and serve: