Soup packages a gift from the garden. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Christmas from the garden

“I don’t even want to THINK about Christmas until December!”

By Mary Lowther

“I don’t even want to THINK about Christmas until December!” David announced, watching me assemble gifts. “That’s because you don’t make presents.” I pointed out. “If we want them ready by Christmas we have to start before December.”

“I DO make presents,” David protested, “I make Christmas cakes, and they’re better when they’re fresh so I wait until December.” He doesn’t make them like my mom used to — she cooked them in June and plied them with rum every few weeks so by the time Christmas came you could set them on fire. They tasted awful. David doesn’t liquor up his cakes so they don’t last beyond a few weeks.

I couldn’t argue with David’s logic, although I wanted to because I like to argue, but my presents can be made ahead and I have learned not to procrastinate — most of the time. Some gifts from the garden include packets of dried herbs or vegetables that have been sliced, dried in the oven or dehydrator and buzzed in a blender or food processor and mixed together. Mine contains tomatoes, zucchini, onions, and cabbage.

Here’s an unusual gift for those of you who have an abundance of small squash like acorn. I’ve got some small pumpkins, so I’ll use them. It’s a recipe for spicy squash/lentil soup. Not a squash lover, David nevertheless declared this soup “fine”, which is as high as his accolades go. Put the whole squash into a box or other container, along with the recipe, bags of the lentils, nuts and spices, wrap it up and it should stay just fine until the recipient unwraps it, because winter squash keeps very well. Here’s the recipe:

Squash Lentil Soup with Dukkah

1 small squash, halved and seeds removed

2 tsp oil

½ onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, chopped

½ cup red or yellow lentils

4 cups water or broth

Package #1 (include ½ tsp garlic powder, ½ tsp ginger powder, 1 tsp curry, ¼ tsp. cinnamon, ¼ tsp salt, 1/8 tsp cayenne or chile powder and ¼ cup dried, flaked vegetables)

For topping (dukkah):

3 T. cashews or shelled pistachios

juice of ¼ lime

¼ tsp thyme

Package #2 (include 2 tsp. sesame seeds, ½ tsp coriander seeds, ½ tsp cumin seeds, ¼ tsp fennel seeds, ¼ tsp. peppercorns, ¼ tsp salt)

Directions: Preheat oven to 400 F. Brush squash with 1 tsp oil and place flesh side down on baking sheet and bake for 40 to 45 minutes. Scoop our flesh and discard skin. Heat remaining oil in large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook until softened, then add package #1 and heat for 30 seconds. Pour in water/broth and lentils, bring to a boil and simmer about 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

Meanwhile, make dukkah: toast the nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown, shaking often, about 4 minutes. Remove nuts from pan. Add all the seeds and heat until fragrant, stirring all the time, about 1 minute. Remove from heat, let cool and add to the nuts. Then coarsely grind the nut/spice mixture and set aside.

Stir squash, lime juice and thyme into soup. Puree soup in batches in a blender or right in the saucepan with a wand blender. If needed, thin soup with more hot water or broth.

Serve soup garnished with dukkah and wait for compliments.

Please contact mary_lowther@yahoo.ca with questions and suggestions since I need all the help I can get.

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