The seasonal cook: November

Categories: Expert guidance

Sybil Kapoor is an award-winning food writer and broadcaster, author of eight cookbooks, and regularly writes for Borough’s website and Market Life magazine. She has also contributed to the new Borough Market cookbook. As part of this series, Sybil takes a look each month at what’s in season, and explores how cooking can be enhanced through colour, forms, textures and aromas

Words: Sybil Kapoor

One of the peculiarities of cooking in Britain is that we often get stuck in foodie ruts. In my case, this is manifested by the fact that I go through phases of making the same dishes for weeks on end. And I am not alone. Even top restaurant chefs find it hard to break from serving their favourite food combinations on their menus, as any regular customer will know.

The causes are simple: a fondness for certain flavours, combinations and recipe types and, in the case of domestic kitchens, a love of convenience and too little time to cook. If you enjoy salmon teriyaki with beansprouts and steamed rice on a Monday night, why stop cooking it? However, if you make a dish too often, its allure will fade.

Regular readers of Borough Market’s website will know that I like homemade oven chips and salad with griddled chicken breast that has been marinated in lemon juice, sweet smoked paprika (from Brindisa), honey and olive oil, but after eating it once a week for a year, even I have to admit that I’m bored and need a change.

Beautiful silver herrings
The only answer is to step back and ban yourself from cooking certain dishes from habit. You then need to think about what you’d enjoy cooking, otherwise you may find yourself flummoxed when shopping for food. It’s all very well admiring beautiful silver herrings and fat pumpkins at this time of the year, but few of us will buy them unless we feel confident about what to make with them. 

It’s equally important to be realistic about how much time you have to cook. There is no point in buying a pheasant to pot roast with bacon, button onions and chestnuts, if you don’t have time to slow roast it. Work out when you’d enjoy cooking a new dish and then integrate it into your shopping. Who can resist a warming pheasant pie on a rainy November night?

Try to find both quick and leisurely recipes to test out. Steamed leek vinaigrette, for example, is utterly gorgeous as a light lunch—especially when combined with some Kentish cobnuts and a crumbling of feta.

Red chicory

Muted autumnal colours
Ideally, let your imagination run free. Take inspiration from the changing seasons and abundance of produce, before rifling through recipe books. Draw on November’s muted autumnal colours, smoky scents and cold temperatures. They can be translated into warming dishes that work in harmony with your mood, such as a rich beef and onion stew, baked pumpkin, leek and blue cheese calzone or toasted spiced tea cakes. Set yourself easily achievable targets and plan a new dish or two each week. 

Part of the pleasure of taking on this task is that you become more aware of your environment. For me, a russet and red-coloured salad of sliced doyenne du comice pears, red chicory, cashel blue cheese and walnuts expresses the exhilaration of walking among autumn leaves dancing along the pavement, while a steamed Kentish cobnut pudding drenched in a toffee sauce captures the feeling of glancing into softly lit windows as a misty dusk falls over the city. Steamed mini-puddings only take 25 minutes to cook in a foil-covered bain-marie in the oven.

Draw on elements from the sea, farmland and wilderness—they will all subconsciously play on the perception of your guests. There are few things as evocative of dark frosty nights as a supper of lightly salted herring, served with a lemon wedge or lemon and mustard butter and crusty bread. 

Fine sea salt
To salt six herrings that have been filleted, hold a handful of fine sea salt about 35cm (14 inches) away from a clean plastic tray and evenly sprinkle the surface with half the salt. Lay the fillets skin-side down on the tray, then let the remaining salt sift on to the fish. Chill for 40 minutes before brushing with olive oil and grilling.

Pumpkin and squash suggest November farmland perhaps more than any other food. They make wonderful soups and sweet tarts, but also taste delicious in creams, soufflés and pasta. For the latter, make a simple sauce by mixing finely diced pumpkin flesh into caramelised shallot and garlic, then sauté until soft and any excess water has evaporated, before simmering with cream and finishing with parmesan. You can add a little shredded sage or thyme, if feeling herbal. 

In time, you will find yourself slipping into a new groove, with new favourite dishes to cook each week: from leek and lemongrass soup, to cinnamon plum and walnut crumble. By which time, you can reinvent your culinary repertoire again.