Though we are Egyptians at heart, used to the dichotomous hot summers with mildly cool, rarely damp winters, we still completely revel in the defined four seasons prevalent on the East Coast of the U.S. Though it signals a turn to cooler weather (of which we aren’t very fond), autumn is a favorite in our household because of the heart-warming and filling meals, strikingly vibrant colors of nature, and the spicy drinks and scents that fill the air. Something about the fall inspires me to get creative in the kitchen; and more than any other season – probably because of the vibrant rustic colors – I feel compelled to look to nature for inspiration, prompting me to cook seasonally.
Buying seasonal, locally-produced food has been a developing hobby, born out of the conviction that the current model of agribusiness is largely unsustainable (Did you know that fruits and vegetables shipped across the world have to be plucked from the tree before they’re ripe, and then ripened artificially using man-made ethylene gas? That’s in addition to the large amount of pesticides often used to grow conventional produce. And I didn’t even begin to mention the environmental impact of shipping apples from New Zealand to the States…) In an effort to bypass all this mess, I elect to purchase as much of my produce and meats as possible from local farms. While this isn’t always easy to do in the cold winter months, the rest of the seasons provide ample harvest. Even though I haven’t yet gone apple picking in a local orchard, I am satisfied just talking to the farmer who picked them himself at the farmers’ market.
In America at least, the conventionally-grown crop that receives the most pesticide is apples: “Topping the 2011 dirty dozen list is a tree fruit that always makes the list: Apples. (Apples ranked No. 2 in 2009 and No. 4 in 2010.) more than 40 different pesticides have been detected on apples, because fungus and insect threats prompt farmers to spray various chemicals on their orchards. Not surprisingly, pesticide residue is also found in apple juice and apple sauce, making all apple products smart foods to buy organic.” (Daily Green). In an NPR interview, Michael Pollan explains why this is the case:
“If you plant all genetically identical Delicious apples [as is done in modern times to control for the sweet taste that people crave] and they are genetically identical, they’re supremely vulnerable to pests and that is why apples are the crop that receives the most pesticide. In a cider orchard, where you have so many different genes and different combinations, certain ones are bound to be resistant to this disease or that disease and we’ve lost that diversity and that really hurts the apple.”
In light of this information, I always try to buy only organic apples that are grown locally.
The thing about buying locally is this: you have to get used to having a lot of the same type of produce around for a couple of weeks to a couple of months. We try to buy enough to consume raw (it’s healthier to eat fresh fruit than it is to cook it, of course), but sometimes a few forgotten apples start to show signs of aging. Apples take quite a while to ‘go bad’; but if left for several weeks outside on the counter, they start to bruise a little bit. There’s certainly nothing wrong with removing the little scratches and bruises and eating it raw, but if you’re not a fan of the often mushy texture of old apples, you can easily turn them into dessert.
Even though apples actually originated in the Middle East over 4,000 years ago, they’re not as popular nowadays in that region. Apples are called toffah in Arabic, and they’re actually starting to be imported in Egypt, usually from the U.S. I would love it if they were grown once again on Egyptian soil.
For Middle Easterners who haven’t really heard of apple pie until the American staple became as ubiquitous as the burger, French-inspired ‘compote’ was the most popular and easy way to turn some bruised apples into a delicious morning dessert, and incidentally it is the ideal blend of a recipe that is both seasonal and traditional! Typically, Egyptians don’t add too many spices to their apple compote, but since I absolutely adore the taste of habbahan (cardamom) in desserts, I added some of that to this recipe, along with some irfa (cinnamon) and qoronfil (ground cloves).
Compote is very simple to make. All you need to do is to slice, cut and core the apples, and place in water with some sugar and spices to boil. The whole process takes less than half an hour from start to finish. Over the past couple of months, I have also been eating a lot less sweets. I drink my coffee and tea with no sugar (or substitute) whatsoever and it tastes great! At the end of the day though, I still have a sweet tooth, and I try to manage that by eating a wide variety of fruits whenever the mood strikes. However I slice it, though, some days just call for a dessert celebration! For these desserts, I use either natural sweeteners like raw honey or 100% pure maple syrup or Rapadura sugar, the purest and least processed type of sugar available in the world:
“Rapadura is the pure juice extracted from the sugar cane (using a press), which is then evaporated over low heat, whilst being stirred with paddles, then sieve ground to produce a grainy sugar. It has not been cooked at high heat, or spun to change it into crystals, and the molasses has not been separated from the sugar. It is produced organically, and does not contain chemicals or anti-caking agents […] Because Rapadura is dehydrated at a low heat, the vitamins and minerals have been retained. It still has the natural balance of sucrose, glucose, and fructose, and contains components essential for its digestion. It is metabolized more slowly than white sugar, and therefore will not affect your blood sugar levels as much as refined sugars. The more refined the sugar, the more it raises your blood sugar” (Quirky Cooking).
Of course, I try not to use even Rapadura often, because it’s still sugar! But if I’m making a dessert, then I opt for the least processed kind available.
Without further ado, below is the recipe for apple compote. Enjoy!
Spiced Apple Compote with Cardamom and Cloves
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Keywords: boil breakfast dessert vegetarian vegan soy-free low-sodium low-carb gluten-free apples sugar cardamom cream compote fall winter
For the Compote
- 4 organic Gala apples, peeled and sliced
- 1 cup of filtered water
- 1/2 teaspoon of whole cane sugar (I use Rapadura)
- 5 cardamom pods, cracked
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- a few drops of fresh lemon juice
Serve With …
- a few tablespoons of grass-fed heavy cream, or a scoop of vanilla ice cream (preferably homemade using full-fat milk and cream, and a small amount of natural sweetener like raw honey or pure maple syrup)
- a handful of shelled pistachios, chopped
- a handful of walnuts, chopped
(1) Cut Apples. Peel and chop apples into fourths, and then slice each fourth into thirds lengthwise.
(2) Add spices. Add to pot with spices (cardamom pods, cinnamon, ground cloves, and sugar) and add 1 cup of filtered water.
(3) Boil mixture. Bring to a boil, lower heat, and simmer until most of the water evaporates (this usually takes about 15 minutes). Apples should be softened but still retain their shape.
(4) Add to jar. Remove from heat, add to a sterilized glass jar and leave outside to cool. Once tepid, place in the fridge.
(5) Serve with tasty toppings. Add cream or ice cream, and top with chopped shelled pistachios and chopped walnuts.
Happy seasonal eating!