What is Canadian cuisine? In our young country, it likely has a lot to do with where you've come from and where you've ended up. Celebrate July 1 with this coast-to-coast menu of Canadian recipes, featuring our wild and indigenous ingredients.
Oh Canada, our home and Native land!
By CINDA CHAVICH
As a Canadian food writer, a question I’m often asked is: “What is Canadian cuisine?”
While the answer can be quite complex — delving into our history of First Nations traditions, indigenous wild foods, multiculturalism and regional specialties — it can also be rather simple. Like any other place in the world, what people eat is a function of where they’ve come from and where they’ve ended up.
It’s why you’ll find Bahn Mi sandwiches on French baguettes in Vietnam, the Chinese-Peruvian stir-fry of onions, tomatoes, beef and potatoes in Lima, and Muslim specialties at the end of the Silk Road in Xian, China.
Since we’re a mere 150 years into this experiment in Canada, during a time when world migration has been progressively more rapid, our international influences are less entrenched, though equally eclectic.
That’s because the principal is the same. Every region has its own specialties, depending on who arrived, from where and when. Wherever people end up in the world, they eat what they know, and cook what they have.
But they also always rely on the land, what foods are indigenous and what can be grown and sustained in any of the various regions and microclimates across our vast country.
Maple syrup, an original foraged food, came to our immigrant ancestors from First Nations, who also taught us about Saskatoon berries, man-o-min (wild rice), drying meat for pemmican, gathering Labrador tea, rose hips and spruce tips, camas root and clams, smoking salmon and oily oolican fish, and cooking in pits or over smoky fires.
When it comes to post-contact, colonial cuisine, first wave English, Scottish and French traditions are the backbone, but there are many layers in this multicultural stew, from the eastern Europeans and Ukrainians of the prairies, to Loyalists of southern Ontario, and west coast arrivals from across Asia.
Toss those ethnic ideas with the ingredients at hand — whatever is accessible to the average family — and you have the backbone of Canadian food traditions, from west coast salmon bakes to prairie perogies, British butter tarts, French Canadian tourtiere and Maritime lobster rolls. Dig deeper and you’ll find foods specific to individual communities — wild rice and bannock, bar mitzvah-inspired Schmoo Tortes in Winnipeg, spicy Clamato Caesars and cowboy flapjacks in Calgary, Montreal smoked meat and bagels, wild fiddleheads, salt cod and screech in the Maritimes.
It’s home cooking, the kind of food people tend to bring to potluck parties and share at celebrations, and the perfect way to mark our country’s confederation.
A backyard barbecue or a family picnic is a great way to celebrate Canada Day.
At her website, FoodDayCanada.ca, Canadian food writer and activist Anita Stewart encourages Canadians to plan a party every summer on the early August long weekend — “light a campfire…sweep off the deck for a neighborhood supper…dig a roasting pit…fire up the grill and used only Canadian ingredients to create a feast of a simple dinner that honours our extraordinary culinary history.”
Cooks post her to social media with #fooddaycanada and share menus ranging from seared bison rib eye and Macintosh apple pie to vegetarian chili.
Here on the west coast, with our strong connection to the sea, our coastal First Nations potlatch traditions and subsequent infusions of British and Asian immigrants, a big party might revolve around a salmon barbecue, along with seafood chowder or fresh local oysters, hot-smoked salmon and cold-smoked tuna for snacking, Dungeness crab cakes, spot prawns, Chinese dumplings or even California rolls.
Add some fresh local corn, seaweed salad, wild mushrooms and BC wines or local craft beers to round out the menu, with a fruit pie or crumble (think local apples or blueberries) or festive red-and-white strawberry shortcake with a tray of creamy Nanaimo bars for dessert.
While Wikipedia claims poutine is “the national dish of Canada” — and the Quebec creation has become a fast food staple from coast to coast — I’m sure many Canadians would beg to differ. Canadian cuisine is whatever is traditional in your family and your community, from pemmican to PEI mussels, salt cod to sushi.
It’s the taste of the world and exactly what it means to be Canadian.
Happy birthday, to all of us!
A BC BARBECUE FOR CANADA DAY
Feel free to add your own family favourites to this BC salmon barbecue menu. I am sharing some of my own recipes, and some from local chefs and bakers. But you might also add your own favourite dish — creamy crab dip, little skewers of boconcini and cherry tomatoes for a red-and-white appetizer, classic potato salad and bumbleberry pie from a local baker, or individual strawberry shortcakes made with small scones, fresh berries and sweetened whipped cream — to this summer menu.
Happy Canada Day!
Mushroom Crab Cakes
Creamy Crab Dip
Cold-Smoked Tuna with Wasabi Mayonnaise
Local baby Buffalo Mozzarella and cherry tomato skewers
Grilled wild sockeye or spring salmon burgers
local corn-on-the-cob, grilled in the husk
Mini Strawberry Shortcakes
Lemon Pound Cake with Blackberries
MUSHROOM CRAB CAKES
Chef Bill Jones of Deerholme Farm outside Duncan is a mushroom expert and forager. This is his tasty recipe for Crab and Pine Mushroom Cakes, made with these sweet, wild BC mushrooms. You can substitute enoki mushrooms for a milder flavour. From The Deerholme Mushroom Book by Bill Jones (TouchWood Editions).
1 pound (450 g) white fish (cod, halibut, sole)
¼ cup (60 mL) whipping cream
2 cups (500 mL) crab meat (from a 1.5 pound crab)
1 cup (250 ml) finely diced pine mushrooms (or enoki)
1 teaspoon (5 mL) minced garlic
1 green onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup (250 mL) Panko or bread crumbs
2 Tablespoons (25 mL) canola oil
In a food processor, pulse the fish until a rough paste is formed. Add the cream and process until a smooth paste is obtained. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the crab (without any juice), mushrooms, garlic, green onion, salt and pepper. Mix until smooth. The mixture should form into a ball – if it’s too wet, you can add a few breadcrumbs. Fry a small sample to test the seasoning.
Using and ice cream scoop or ¼-cup measure, scoop up the mixture and form into a ball with your hands. Roll in the panko to coat evenly. Press into a cake and place on a tray lined with parchment. Repeat to form remaining cakes.
Heat a nonstick pan with oil and add the crab cakes, in batches if necessary, and fry until golden brown on each side. Transfer to a warm oven and let rest while you finish cooking the remaining cakes. Serve warm with coleslaw or mayonnaise flavoured with lemon and garlic. Makes 8 cakes.
COLD-SMOKED TUNA WITH WASABI MAYONNAISE
I buy pieces of cold-smoked tuna loins from Finest At Sea, slice it paper thin and serve it over a dab of wasabi mayo on a seaweed cracker. Look for rice crackers with seaweed at the supermarket. Very west coast, very easy and very popular.
Cold-smoked tuna loin, sliced paper thin
¼ cup (60 mL) mayonnaise (I like Hellman’s reduced fat version)
½-1 teaspoon (2-5 mL) wasabi powder or paste (to taste)
Japanese rice crackers with seaweed (nori)
Freeze the tuna partially to make slicing easier, then use a sharp knife to carve off paper thin slivers. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the mayonnaise and wasabi powder and mix well – adding more wasabi to taste.
Place a dollop of wasabi mayonnaise on each cracker, and top with a rolled slice of smoked tuna. Serve immediately.
GRILLED WILD WEST COAST SALMON
Whether you cook a whole side of salmon to serve as a main dish, or pick smaller skinless fillets to eat as salmon burgers with mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato, it all starts with my tried-and-true marinade, kicked up with Canadian whisky. You can make a refreshing salsa to serve with your salmon – cut sweet corn from the cob and toss with chopped green onion, minced red pepper, jalapeno, lime juice and cilantro. Or whirl up a tasty burger sauce of mayonnaise, chipotle chili, lemon zest, ketchup and sweet pickle relish in the blender.
Whole side of wild BC sockeye or spring salmon (or skinless individual salmon fillets for burgers)
½ cup (125 mL) Canadian rye whisky
¼ cup (60 mL) olive oil
2 tablespoons (25 mL) soy sauce
2 tablespoons (25 mL) maple syrup or brown sugar
4 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
1 teaspoon (5 mL) white pepper
Optional (for salmon burgers):
Whole wheat buns
Mayonnaise or burger sauce (see head note)
In a shallow dish, large enough to hold the fish in a single layer, combine the marinate ingredients. Set the salmon, flesh side down, into the dish, and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Preheat the barbecue to 400 F. Place the fish skin side down on the well-oiled grill (or use a grilling basket or grilling mat) and cook for 8-10 minutes, until fish flakes easily.
For added flavour, cook your salmon on a cedar plank, or add some smoke with alder or applewood chips. Just soak the chips in water, wrap in a foil pouch that’s been punctured in several spots, then set over the gas burner until it starts to smoke. Place the salmon on the grill and cover while cooking.
Grilled corn is really just corn that’s steamed, on the cob and in the husk. Make sure to buy corn that’s fresh with bright green husks – the fresher the sweeter as the sugars in corn start turning to starch the minute it’s picked. So get your corn close to home at Silver Rill farm.
Corn on the cob (in the husks)
Peel back the husk, leaving it intact at the base of the cob, and pull out all of the corn silk. Rinse the corn and fold the leaves back up around the cob. Tie closed with a few pieces of string, or a strip of the husk, and then soak the cobs in a sink full of cold water for about 10 minutes.
Put the corn on the hot barbecue grill, or right on the hot coals, and steam the corn for 15-20 minutes – the husks will get a little charred on the outside and the water that’s trapped within the husk will steam the corn as it cooks. Peel the charred husks away and serve the corn with plenty of fresh butter.
CLASSIC LEMON LOAF AND BERRIES
This is one of my favourite recipes for a portable, summer dessert. With a lemon loaf, you have the backdrop for an impromptu berry shortcake — just top with sweet whipped cream or lemon yogurt and fresh blackberries, blueberries or strawberries. Jazz this pound cake up with 3 tablespoons of poppyseeds or a little minced fresh lemon thyme from the garden if you’re feeling fanciful.
1 3/4 cups (425 mL) all-purpose all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
2 large eggs
1 large lemon (preferably organic)
1 cup (250 mL) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (175 mL) plain or vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup (60 mL) canola oil (or any other neutral flavoured oil)
1/4 cup (60 mL) fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup (60 mL) icing sugar
Sweetened whipped cream or Greek-style lemon yogurt
Fresh blackberries, strawberries or blueberries
Fresh mint leaves to garnish
In a bowl, combine the all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt.
Scrub the lemon well and dry. Using a lemon zester or microplane grater (see page xx), remove the yellow zest from the lemon. Chop the zest finely and add to the flour mixture.
Roll the lemon on the counter to soften, then cut in half and juice, using a lemon reamer. Set the juice aside for the drizzle.
In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, yogurt and oil. Fold in the flour mixture and mix until the batter is smooth. Add extras like poppyseeds now.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a large 9X5-inch loaf pan. Pour the batter into the pan and smooth the top. Bake loaf in preheated oven for 50-60 minutes, or until a bamboo skewer inserted into the top of the loaf comes out clean (no uncooked batter clinging to it).
Set the loaf, in the pan, on a rack to cool. Whisk together the lemon juice and icing sugar to make a drizzle. Make more holes in the top with the skewer and drizzle the lemon mixture over the hot loaf. Let it cool completely before turning it out of the pan. Wrap tightly in foil to store or freeze. Makes 1 large loaf.
To serve as shortcake, slice or cube the loaf and arrange in dessert dishes, top with whipped cream or yogurt, and fresh berries. Garnish with mint.
Everyone’s mother makes Nanaimo Bars but at Ruth and Dean, queen of beautiful cakes Susannah Ruth Bryan, takes this ubiquitous bar to new heights, literally doubling down on the creamy custard filling. “They’re terribly unstylish, but they’re so good,” she says. Here’s her recipe.
For the base:
2 ounces (57g) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (114g) butter, softened
1 teaspoon (5mL) vanilla
4 tablespoons (60mL) pasteurized egg whites (or one large egg)
2 cups (244g) graham wafer crumbs
1 tsp salt
1 cup (74g) unsweetened coconut
For the filling:
1 cup butter (228g) butter
8 tablespoons (68g) custard powder (Bird’s Custard)
8 cups (908g) powdered sugar
¾ cup (180 mL) milk
1 tablespoon (15 mL) vanilla
2 tsp salt
For the glaze:
5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
5 tablespoons butter
Start by making the base. Place 2 ounces of chopped chocolate in a glass bowl and microwave at medium power for 2 to 3 minutes, stopping every 30 seconds to stir the mixture, until the chocolate is melted. Whisk in the softened butter, stirring until melted and incorporated, then add vanilla, egg, graham wafer crumbs, salt and coconut. Stir to combine. Line the bottom and sides of a 9x13 inch pan with parchment paper, leaving the ends of the paper hanging over the edge of the pan (this will help you lift out the bars later). Press the base mixture evenly into the pan. Chill base for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling. Cream the butter in a bowl with an electric mixture and beat in the custard powder, powdered sugar, milk and vanilla until smooth. Spread the filling evenly over the base and chill well – for several hours or overnight.
For the glaze, place the chocolate and butter into a microwave-safe bowl and microwave at 50% power for a minute or two, stirring every 30 seconds, until the mixture is melted. Whisk together well and spread evenly over the chilled custard. Use a knife to score the pan into triangular bars, cover with plastic wrap, and chill overnight.
Lift the entire confection from the pan using the parchment paper and set on a cutting board. To cut the bars, use a sharp knife, dipped into hot water and rinsed well between each cut. You can store the Nanaimo Bars in a covered container in the refrigerator for a week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
While you’ll probably want a growler of local craft beer to quaff on the patio, Canada Day also calls for a celebrity sip.
As a prairie transplant, my go-to summer cocktail is the Caesar — make it local with a super-clean Island Spirits vodka from Hornby or the Per Se vodka from Ampersand, made with organic BC wheat in Duncan. And look for Ocean Wise Walter craft Caesar mix, made in Canada with tomatoes, horseradish, spices and real clam juice, then garnish west coast style with seaweed and spot prawns.
For a classic Canadian rye whisky cocktail, I turned to A guide to Canadian Cocktails by Scott McCallum and Victoria Walsh. The Canadian is made with half of a fudgy maple leaf sugar candy, muddled into a paste with a couple of ounces of Canadian Whisky, a dash of bitters and a strip of lemon peel. Alternately, make a classic rye and ginger (Canada Dry ginger ale or Phillips’ Sparkmouth soda) with a splash of maple syrup.
Or lift a glass of BC bubbly to celebrate. Get Venturi Schulze Brut Naturel, a classic bottle-fermented sparkler, made with estate grown Pinot Auxerrois and Pinot Gris. Or try the new wines from winemaker Bailey Williamson at Blue Grouse Winery — Quill Rosé is a blend of both island and Okanagan fruit, mostly Gamay Noir, while the superb sparkler, Paula, combines Pinot Gris, Ortega, Muller-Thurgau and Pinot Blanc, and is riddled by hand and bottle-fermented for fine bubbles and an aromatic, nutty nose.