edible VANCOUVER & WINE COUNTRY
Member of Edible Communities THE SPRING ISSUE
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Who knew you could pop sorghum like popcorn? See Helena McMurdo’s simple recipe on page 32.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
PRO TIPS ANCIENT GRAINS By Helena McMurdo
FIRST BITES BAKING MIXES By Helena McMurdo
THE DISH CHEF MARK PERRIER: DOING IT HIS WAY By Joanne Sasvari ON THE FARM FEED COMMUNITY AFTER THE FLOODS By Michelle Superle LAST BITE MINDFUL MEALING By Lou Dahl
NOTABLE EDIBLE FRESH ROOTS URBAN FARM By Jennifer Cole ON THE WATER SKIPPER OTTO: COMMUNITY SUPPORTED FISHERY By Cinda Chavich
IN SEASON CONGEE COMFORTS By Sophia Hsin
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ABERDEEN MALL • 20 _ 1320 TRANS CANADA HWY WEST, KAMLOOPS 1423 CONTINENTAL ST, VANCOUVER | 1650 MARINEDRIVE,WEST VANCOUVER | 15127 HWY 10 , PANORAMA, SURREY 15930 FRASER HWY, FLEETWOOD, SURREY | 4330 NORTHLANDS BLVD,WHISTLER freshstmarket.com
PUBLISHERS Justin Faubert Laurie Kizik EDITOR Tara Simpson
from the edito r
EDITORIAL CONSULTANT Jennifer Campbell
Do you have a dish or a meal that comforts you when you’re sick, homesick, hungover or need a pick-me-up? A survey of staff in our virtual office shows that we favour starchy potatoes in their many forms. Scalloped potatoes with ham or mashed with roast beef and lots of gravy remind a few of us of Sunday dinners spent with family. French fries are a deeply satisfying, salty, crispy fix that make others feel content. What about a beautiful bowl of congee like the one Sophia Hsin photographed for the cover of this issue? A decade or two before this pandemic and its many stay-at-home orders, I commuted to work. I usually meandered slowly through Vancouver’s residential streets, making my way to Marine Drive and the Arthur Laing Bridge on the way to my Richmond office. But one morning, I picked up my colleague, Eddie, from downtown, which re-routed us to Granville Street. We were having one of our lively conversations when I made the mistake of looking his way as he spoke. I didn’t see that traffic had quickly stopped, and although I had some distance to avoid the bumper in front of me, the rain and oil-soaked road forced me directly into it. It was my first (and only) car accident, so I was a little shocked. As I was busy exchanging insurance information and calling a tow truck, Eddie called another colleague, Paul, to pick us up. With little discussion, Paul drove us straight to a restaurant on No. 3 Road in Richmond and ordered three bowls of congee. We ate out together often and had many regular spots — Spicy House Szechuan near City Hall and a Vietnamese noodle house near Aberdeen Centre — but never congee. I hadn’t even heard of it before, so I was surprised when he ordered it for us, and a bowl of rice porridge was delivered. At first, I was unsure of the taste and texture, but I didn’t want to criticize Paul’s choice after he came to our rescue and treated us to a meal. It took me a while to realize that this was his comfort food, Eddie’s too. Someone who had cared about them had likely offered a soothing bowl of congee to help them feel better. At the time, it was a good distraction. Now, a bowl of congee reminds me of Eddie and Paul, of lots of laughs and many shared meals. It’s a fond memory — and that’s the promise of comfort food. Tara ara Simpson Editor
PROOFREADER Viktoria Cseh CONTRIBUTORS Cinda Chavich Jennifer Cole Lou Dahl Jete Devisser Sophia Hsin Helena McMurdo Joanne Sasvari Michelle Superle Mark Yammine
ADVERTISING email@example.com Laurie Kizik, Sue Smith SUBSCRIPTIONS firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mix it Up WORDS AND PHOTOS BY HELENA MCMURDO
Whip up something delicious with the help of these local baking mixes. They’ll have you making traditional and versatile Indigenous food, providing gluten-free ancient grain alternatives and doing your bit to combat food waste. What the…
adding that she wanted to make sure her son and the rest of her family weren’t sacrificing taste and that her son didn’t feel excluded by having to eat something different from everyone else. And while trying to solve a problem for her own family, and never planning to have a food company, she soon realized that other families were faced with the same issues. What the Flour was born and the line now includes a flour bend, pancake and waffle, muffin and chocolate chip cookie mixes, the latter with dairy-free chocolate chips.
The name expresses the frustration Danielle McKenzie felt in trying to find a flour she could use to make family favourites such as pancakes that could be eaten by her young son, who faced a host of food intolerances. What started out as an experiment, resulted inWhat the Flour, a flour blend and line of baking mixes made from a combination of sorghum and millet, both ancient grains that are high in fibre, protein and micronutrients. It’s gluten-free and contains no nuts or rice (often a component of other gluten-free flours), which were unsuitable for her son. “I just baked my heart out,” McKenzie says of the trial and error process of coming up with the flour blend. “It was also really important to me to find something everyone wanted to eat,” she says,
What The Flour wtflour.com | @wtflourco
Traditional With a Twist Paul Natrall is a trained chef and owner of the first Indigenous food truck, Mr. Bannock, where he uses traditional ingredients from the Squamish First Nation — such as juniper berries, smoked wild salmon and meats — and traditional methods, such as clay and stone baking, to offer up what he calls Indigenous fusion cuisine. He grew up in the kitchen, surrounded by his mum and grandmothers, and was influenced by watching his uncle, a traditional hunter, cook deer, elk and moose. Natrall trained at Vancouver Community College’s culinary school, where he studied classic French cooking techniques and traditional Indigenous cuisine. During the pandemic, with less business for his food truck, Natrall “had to find ways to keep hustling.” Mr. Bannock’s Classic Bannock Mix has proven to be popular among his customers — so much so that it has sometimes been hard to keep up with demand. Natrall is enthusiastic about the versatility of bannock. “We use it in the truck in various ways, from fried to baked. I’ve made pizza with it, even bannock calzones,” he says. He offers tips for those who want to try it at home, recommending more water for fried bannock and a more sticky dough, while baked bannock takes a bit less water. He also recommends additions such as blueberries for a sweeter bannock.
Hold my Beer Back in 2019, Marc Wandler and Clinton Bishop, co-founders of Susgrainable, had come up with a creative solution for tackling food waste by turning the spent grain from local breweries into delicious cookies and breads they sold locally. Now bakers can work with Susgrainable’s innovative spent grain flour at home. The company has launched bags of upcycled barley flour and a range of quick at-home baking mixes, including chocolate chip cookie, waffle and banana bread. “One of the reasons we work with local craft brewers is that the quality of the grain they use tends to be higher,” Wandler says. After brewers extract the sugars from malted barley to make beer, what’s left is spent grain that contains fibre, proteins and minerals, but none of the sugar. Susgrainable takes this mixture and dehydrates it to make a shelf-stable product that can be used for baking. Wandler, who has a background in exercise and nutrition, sees Susgrainable’s products as tackling both the issue of food waste and its environmental impacts as well as helping to add fibre to our diets.
As if beer wasn’t great enough.
Susgrainable Health Foods Inc. 1507 Powell St., Vancouver, B.C. susgrainable.com | 604.262.9165 | @susgrainable Find it at: Organic Acres (Vancouver), Coho Market, Jarr, Fulfill Shoppe (online)
Mr. Bannock 226 lawa Dr., West Vancouver, B.C. mrbannock.com | 604.718.5148 | @mrbannockfood
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SPROUTING YOUNG URBAN GARDENERS Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society is filling the gaps between classroom learning and real-world experience to teach high school students how to grow their own produce and take on responsibility. WORDS BY JENNIFER COLE
T he start of the growing season and a harvest of kale, tomatoes, radishes, peas, potatoes and everything in between — that’s what spring means to Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society. A non-profit organization advocating good food for all, its members say that communities coming together to create a locally sustainable food system is as important as the food itself — and the first step is education. Fresh Roots operates commercially viable farms at Vancouver Technical Secondary School, David Thompson Secondary, Suwa’lkh School in Coquitlam, and works in tandem with the Delta School District at its eight-acre Boundary Bay farm. The organization offers field trips to its many sites for kindergarten through to Grade 12 students, including after-school groups such as Scouts or Guides. Its outdoor field classes use farming and food as a catalyst to teach a variety of topics that complement the current B.C. school curriculum. Educators correlate indoor learning, such as the biology of plant re-production, to the real-
life experience of watching bees busily pollinating plants in the farm fields. Other classes invite students to use grocery store items to make dishes. They learn where the food came from, the complexity of the global food system and how these same items could have been grown locally. Alexa Pitoulis, executive director of Fresh Roots, says it’s the ability to fill the gaps between classroom learning and real- world experience that makes the organization unique. Grade 7 teacher Gaye Dalla-Zanna agrees that with the state of the world today, specifically climate change, we need to find ways to be resourceful and knowledgeable about our food sources. Students need to learn how to treat the earth so we can reap the rewards of its gifts, she says.
It all began in 2009. Gray Oron, Ilana Labow and Marc Schutzbank were friends and urban agricultural enthusiasts
Youth enrolled in the program quickly learn that for a farm to succeed, they need to work together to accomplish tasks. They form a tight-knit community involved with all aspects of growing and selling the produce to the public at Fresh Roots weekly farmers’ markets from June through October. Through real world experience, participants begin to understand the connections between land, food, community and how they can make a positive difference in the world. Fiona Sutherland, a SOYL mentor, says the program helps prepare young people for the workforce, but it also gives them valuable information about the outside world and how to stand out among their peers. SOYL teaches them to make positive change to society, no matter how big or small. Fresh Roots’ founders believe good food for all is a right, not a privilege. Today, Fresh Roots educates and empowers youth with awareness that the community they create while growing food, and the support and needs of a broader community, connect just as the food they’re growing relies on them for harvest. They learn that when the cycle works, food brings people together and is a mobilizing force for good.
who wanted to see how much food they could grow for their families, friends and community in East Vancouver’s urban environment. Little did they know that a garden fence shared with Queen Alexandra Elementary School would change ev- erything. The school asked if the gardeners on the other side of the fence would help them transform its fallow garden into something that would help provide produce for its farm-to- school program. According to Oron, the administrators asked for a parcel of land in exchange for any help they’d give. Work- ing together, parents, teachers and community members re- stored the school’s garden and an edible schoolyard sprouted. Four years later, Fresh Roots was working with the Vancouver School Board, offering professional development food-literacy seminars to B.C. educators and operating a market-scale educational farm at Vancouver Technical Secondary School — the first in Canada. Along with other fundraising initiatives, such as Giving Tuesday, Fresh Roots uses a community supported agricultural (CSA) model to subsidize farm costs. Yearly shares or memberships are sold in the farms. Investors profit by being provided a weekly box of fresh produce during the growing season.
Fresh Roots Urban Farm Society 5050 Wales St., Vancouver, B.C. freshroots.ca | 778-764-0344 | @freshrootsfarms
Jaclyn Wallace, a CSA box member since 2016, says Fresh Roots is the definition of supporting local.
Jennifer Cole is a Vancouver-based writer and an avid urban gardener who’s hoping to grow bigger heads of kale.
She first learned about the CSA boxes and the farms when she went on a field trip with the high school she was working with at the time. She and the students spent the day at DavidThompson learning about farming and Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership (SOYL), a six-week summer work program for secondary school students run on Fresh Roots farms in partnership with local school districts.
“I joined the CSA that day and have been a member ever since,” Wallace says.
SOYL becomes more than just about growing food for the young people enrolled in the program. They learn that for a farm to succeed, they need to work together. Cameron Zahn, a 2021 SOYL youth participant, summed it up. “You have to do your part,” Zahn says. “Other people have to do their part. But if other people slack on their part, you have to pick up and do their part for them. And that kind of happens with everybody. Everybody has days where they’re good and bad. And everybody has days with less work and more work. So, it’s kind of a work experience and also a community experience in the way that everybody eventually helps each other.”
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ON THE WATER
COMMUNITY SUPPORTED FISHERY Skipper Otto has created the country’s first “community supported fishery,” much like the popular community supported agriculture baskets. WORDS BY CINDA CHAVICH
Skipper Otto’s Sonia Strobel has introduced her Canadian customers to Inuit ice fishers Darryl Siusangnark (shown here) and Simon Qamanirq and the nuances of the lake- caught Arctic char they pull from frozen northern lakes. Photo by Erik Boomer.
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T he thick coral fillets of wild Arctic char are the earliest to arrive at Skipper Otto for the 2022 season. The fish comes all the way from Nunavut, pulled from frozen lakes by Inuit families using nets suspended beneath the thick blue ice, then driven by snowmobile to the community of Naujaat, where it’s flown to Winnipeg and trucked onward to Vancouver, eventually to land on West Coast plates. This is the first connection Skipper Otto, a community- supported fishery, has made with fishermen outside B.C., and the first Indigenous fishery to join forces with this unique enterprise, dedicated to keeping small independent fishing alive and selling fish directly from fishers to consumers. Sonia Strobel started Skipper Otto with her husband, Shaun, to help Shaun’s father, Otto, get a fair price for his fish. They created Canada’s first community supported fishery (CSF) in 2008, inspired by farm-based community supported agriculture (CSA). But unlike the typical weekly vegetable box, CSF members pay upfront at the beginning of the season, then use their credits to shop for seafood as it arrives from Skipper Otto’s harvesters. Because the fish is sold before it’s caught, the model removes the uncertainty faced by these fishers — they know the price they will be paid for the fish they catch, and that there is a guaranteed market for it. Skipper Otto began with a handful of small-scale B.C. fishers and has expanded to include 40 fishing families and 7,700 members, distributing a wide variety of local fish and shellfish — from salmon and halibut, to hake, prawns, mussels, oysters and wild B.C. pink scallops — across the country. The members-only online store lists what’s available to buy before its monthly distribution dates. Most of the product is sold frozen and shipped to partner grocers in several cities for pick up, but Vancouver customers can also get fresh seafood at Skipper Otto’s False Creek wharf “home port.” It’s a way to put a face on your food and send dollars directly to Canadian fish harvesters, or, as Strobel likes to say, it’s a way to “help communities build resilient food systems.” From sales to saviours There’s no doubt this CSF model offers benefits to producers and consumers, with shorter, traceable supply chains, reduced waste and a focus on seasonal, conscious consumption of sustainably caught seafood. But in the process of building Skipper Otto, Strobel has become the de facto voice for many small, independent fishing families in B.C., addressing issues from licensing and quotas to government regulations that often favour large corporate and offshore fishing companies over smaller owner-operators.
fishery, threatened by a sudden decision by DFO (the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans) to ban the long-time practice of tailing and freezing spot prawns at sea in the 24-ounce plastic tubs typically used for a pound of prawns. Strobel realized the ban would devastate the local spot prawn industry, prevent small harvesters from selling prawns directly to Canadian customers and effectively destroy some family businesses entirely, many that rely heavily on the income from this valuable fishery. She convened a spot prawn task force to address the issue, organized petitions and lobbied the federal government, resulting in a reprieve for prawn fishermen in 2021. The problem resurfaced just before Christmas last year, with another untenable proposed change to tubbing regulations from DFO. But Strobel sprung into action again, noting the proposed much smaller containers would “require more labour, fuel, plastic and other costs for fishers, driving up the cost of prawn tails to the public and driving many harvesters to abandon selling their prawns in domestic markets.” And after another round of petitions, letter writing and meetings with politicians, Fisheries Minister Joyce Murray announced in January that “tubbing and freezing prawns at sea in our typical one-pound containers will be permitted for this season and beyond.” “I have taken up leadership roles on a bunch of advisory com- mittees and groups — that is my own work as an activist, as a social change agent, somebody who wants to bring about a better world,” she says. “But it’s also connected to the Skipper Otto the- ory of change, which is that we can’t produce a just and equitable seafood system if government doesn’t deliver on its promises to support coastal communities and good middle-class jobs. Listening 101 To that end, Strobel used the pandemic to launch a project she’s dubbed “a year of active listening.” She wanted to hear from more marginalized corners of the fishing community and understand Indigenous/non-Indigenous fishing relations. That discussion can be a thorny one among fishers, especially with dwindling fish populations, limited quotas and large-scale closures, whether the topic is West Coast salmon or East Coast lobster. Strobel says she embarked on her quest to understand the issues from both sides, after watching the violent confrontations between Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous commercial fishermen unfold in Nova Scotia last year. “As we were watching — actually horrified watching — the violence and destruction of property, people started asking us, is there a parallel on this coast?” she recalls. “Are there Indigenous/ non-Indigenous conflicts in fishing on this coast? Could that happen here?”
The latest cause to cross her path involves the B.C. spot prawn
Celine Terfloth (top right)and Sonia Strobel (bottom left) help Skipper Otto members pick up their orders. They created Canada’s first community supported fishery (CSF) in 2008, inspired by farm- based community supported agriculture (CSA). But unlike the typical weekly vegetable box, CSF members pay upfront at the beginning of the season, then use their credits to shop for seafood as it arrives from Skipper Otto’s harvesters.
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Unable to answer that question herself, Strobel began a process of talking to as many different people as possible. “I started by reaching out to harvesters who had worked on the East Coast. I wanted to hear their opinions, hear their experience fishing on that coast,” she says, “and dug a little deeper as to what were their experiences on this coast, for Indigenous and non-Indigenous harvesters working together. “I spent months listening, doing interviews, and realized there was so much more to learn, there was just so much to listen to.” Her active listening involved connecting with the five groups in her own fishing “community” — fishing families, members, governments, the Skipper Otto team and other shoreside businesses, along with academics, regulators, community leaders and Indigenous elders. The basic idea, she says, is that “real social change can happen when people come together with a shared objective.” “We designed Skipper Otto to confront entrenched problems in the seafood system,” Stobel writes in an online post. “We knew that our greatest strength lay in the personal, meaningful relationships we’d built in our community, and that we had an important role to play in building bridges between diverse groups of people.” “Through the work of active listening, we realized that, although members of our community come from diverse backgrounds with different perspectives, we share the common objective of building a just and equitable seafood system.” Along the way, Strobel also gained valuable perspective and skills related to conflict resolution. “I was really surprised, actually delighted, how much people wanted to talk — and wanted to be heard,” she says. “Of course, we all want to feel heard, ultimately, and often conflict arises because people don’t feel heard in the first place. “We spend so much time, in our culture especially, talking and not listening,” she adds. “We fight so hard to make our opinion known, instead of stopping to listen and really put in that effort to understand an opposing position first.” She has heard from many people who felt marginalized in fishing and has brought many new people into the CSF. There are now 10 new Tseshaht and Hupacasath First Nation fishing families from Port Alberni selling their “economic opportunity” fish through Skipper Otto, and eight Vietnamese Canadian fishers joining the roster of B.C. harvesters. Economic opportunity (EO) fisheries allow small-scale Indigenous fishers to sell salmon from certain runs in B.C. The EO openings are distinct from the FSC harvest (the Indigenous right to fish for food, social or ceremonial purposes) as EO catches cannot be harvested with modern equipment, but rather are landed by hand from small boats.
“This is what we do at Skippper Otto,” she says. “We actively listen, and we actively look for ways to innovate and to bring about justice and equity and new opportunities to connect people in really meaningful ways, and to repair relationships that are typically broken apart by the industrial systems that we live under.” Indigenous connections Beyond the Indigenous fishing families on the B.C. coast, Strobel has forged new connections to Inuit fishermen in the North. Skipper Otto partnered with an Iqaluit-based social enterprise called Project Nunavut and its Lake to Plate project, designed to help fishermen from Naujaat sell their wild-caught Arctic char to southern Canadian customers for fair prices. The goal is to create sustainable incomes for fishing families and maintain their traditional way of life. Strobel has introduced her Canadian customers to Inuit ice fishers Darryl Siusangnark and Simon Qamanirq, and the nuances of the lake-caught Arctic char they pull from frozen northern lakes. This is a unique fishery as the char is not caught in nets while migrating from the ocean and into the rivers, but rather in the remote Arctic lakes that are their final destination. The fish freeze instantly as they hit the -40 C ambient air. And, according to these Inuit harvesters, the fish from each lake has a unique taste. But they all have a sweet “slightly briny” taste, rich with natural oils and reminiscent of salmon in colour. Like the other fishermen in the Skipper Otto roster, there’s a story behind their catch and it introduces consumers to the people, their traditions and their communities. “By selling their fish to southern consumers at fair prices, Inuit fishermen are able to make a living doing what they love,” says Strobel, “using knowledge passed down from their elders to thrive on the land and provide for their families and communities.” Expanding the model The beauty of the CFA model is that, like CSAs, it cuts out several layers of the supply chain, allowing consumers to know exactly where their fish is coming from, when it was caught and by whom. Skipper Otto literally puts a face on your meal — every package arrives bearing a photo of the fisherman or woman who caught the fish, and details about where and when it was landed. The photo builds a new bridge to the local food system, and confidence in the power of your food dollars to effect for social change. The company’s comprehensive website is easy to navigate for shoppers and filled with information and insights — from recipes to Strobel’s ongoing blog, profiling fishing families and highlighting the issues they face.
But Skipper Otto is the first, and one of the only successful
CSF operations in the country, in part because there has been little information and technology to support this style of producer-to-consumer retail system. Until now. This year, Skipper Otto received a B.C. Agritech grant to build a unique software platform to help connect food producers and consumers using the Skipper Otto model. Strobel says she will roll out the software in early 2022, “to proliferate our model for building innovative, just and equitable food systems throughout Canada and around the world.” The software was created by developers in Vancouver, based on the system the Strobels created for Skipper Otto, but with much more efficiency and ease of use. Strobel says the “buy down” model can be used by other seafood and meat producing groups who want to grow direct sales. “We’ve had great talks with folks in local B.C. farms and ranches, CSFs in the U.S., Inuit hunters in Nunavut, as well as folks in Europe, Nicaragua and beyond about how our model and our software might help them innovate food security solutions in their communities,” she says. One of the first organizations they’ve chosen to “on board” with the new software is the Hunters and Trappers Association of Taloyoak (formerly Spence Bay) in Nunavut, which is working to provide wild harvested “country food” to the community’s 1,100 residents. “They won a $500,000 innovation prize this year to help them develop a more efficient way to share traditionally harvested meat within their community — so that’s caribou and whale and muskox and things like that,” says Strobel, explaining that the prize will fund a small processing facility to cut and package the locally harvested food, while the software system will let community members “prepay into a pot to help fund those hunters and fishers, to go out and harvest these culturally relevant meats.” To infinity and beyond Skipper Otto is growing exponentially — the number of members more than doubled in 2021, with pickup spots as diverse as Victoria and Edmonton and Canmore, Alberta, and Estevan, Saskatchewan. As the membership grows, Skipper Otto will be able to buy a larger share of its harvesters’ catch, improving wages and working conditions for fishing families of all kinds. The price for this direct-to-consumer Canadian seafood is not low — you may find better bargains from large-scale fishing companies, wholesalers and supermarkets — but because the supply chain is short, more of the money you spend ends up with the fishers. “The goal is not to grow Skipper Otto to be the biggest fish company in the world,” Strobel says. “The goal is to proliferate the model in other communities so people can be connected to their local producers, wherever they are.”
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Skipper Otto 202 – 1965 West 4th Ave., Vancouver, B.C. skipperotto.com | 604.790.1215 | @skipperotto
Cinda Chavich thinks knowing where her food comes from— and having a story to tell about it —makes cooking and eating more fun.
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THE COMFORT OF CONGEE Here’s how to make a simple congee — a staple of good health and comfort — and dress it up. WORDS AND PHOTOS BY SOPHIA HSIN
The ways to eat congee are endless. The common one is a bowl of unsalted rice porridge to go with any topping you have on hand. Popular toppings range from pickled vegetables, eggs (poached, fried, scrambled and preserved), chili oil, pork floss (dried and flaked pork), tofu braised in five- spice, soy sauce and brown sugar. Or try adding turmeric to the basic Chinese congee recipe and top with sautéed greens, toasted hazelnuts, toasted garlic and a fried egg.
F or many Asian families, congee is the epitome of comfort food. Food is memories, food is medicine, food is a love language passed from generation to generation. In Taiwan, we eat congee on many occasions — when we get the flu, when the weather is cold, when we’re homesick or when we’re hungover. It’s available at most breakfast shops, topped with a stick of salty donut, pickled vegetables and green onions, served with a cup of fresh soy milk to wash it down. We even have designated restaurants for congee called “ ” meaning “light congee, little dishes.” Every Asian country has its own version — Japan, Korea, the Philippines — but the Cantonese shine with their creative versions of savoury and sweet congee. In Taiwan, root vegetables such as sweet potato and taro, and proteins such as century egg and pork are often added for taste. For those new to congee, it’s basically rice, boiled in stock or water many times its weight until the rice breaks down and becomes a thick, white porridge. It’s a dish consumed every day and during festivals by villagers and emperors alike. The ways to eat congee are endless. The common one is a bowl of unsalted rice porridge to go with any topping you have on hand. Popular toppings range from pickled vegetables, eggs (poached, fried, scrambled and preserved), chili oil, pork floss (dried and flaked pork), tofu braised in five-spice, soy sauce and brown sugar. The suggested health benefits of congee are numerous. It aids digestion and boosts one’s chi or “vital energy.” Depending on what base and toppings you use, there are combinations that, according to Chinese medicine and family wisdom passed on for generations, are used to cure ailments and keep you in good health. Millet is an ancient grain that aids digestion. Mung beans are said to detox and cool the body. Adzuki beans are particularly good for women — they warm the body and help replenish blood. Black beans are calming and nourish the kidney. Garlic and ginger aid digestion and support the gut. Red beans offer a warming winter soup and jujube dates are the most popular ingredient for those looking for general health benefits.
thing to remember is the 1:10 rice to water ratio. For a thicker consistency, use 8 cups of water. For runnier congee, use 12 cups. And if you're like me, make something in between.
1 cup white rice, rinsed until the water runs clear 10 cups water or stock of choice 1-inch knob of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced 2 whole cloves of garlic, peeled ½ teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
To a large pot over medium heat , add stock, rice and ginger. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Stir occasionally so the rice doesn’t burn at the bottom. Simmer the congee for about 1 hour or until the congee is thickened and creamy. Add salt to taste. Serve straight from the pot. Cooking tips Choose starchy, short-grained rice. I like jasmine for the flavour; basmati will be on the dry side. It’s important to add all the water at the beginning, which will result in a smooth, creamy congee. Don’t throw out the rice gruel that rises to the top during the cooking process. It is said to be good for upset stomachs and the flu.
Congee thickens as it cools. If not consumed all at once, add stock or water to create the desired consistency.
Sweet potato congee Serves 2 to 3
This sweet potato congee is a classic recipe in Taiwan. The map of Taiwan is shaped like a sweet potato and the Taiwanese take pride in what we call our “sweet potato spirit,” meaning a spirit determined to take root and bear fruit wherever we are planted. The whole sweet potato plant is edible, from the roots to the shoots, and known to boast many nutritional benefits.
Here is a basic Chinese congee recipe to get you started.
This recipe is mild, and most commonly served with savoury items for breakfast.
Basic Chinese congee Serves 2 to 3
1 cup rice (short grain or jasmine) 10 cups water 1 medium-sized sweet potato
This is a simple stovetop recipe for Chinese congee. One
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pickles, furikake, roasted peanuts or nuts, spicy chili oil, sa- voury stir-fried or sautéed greens.
Rinse 1 cup of rice until the water runs clear. Soak for 1-hour or overnight. Drain and set aside.
Purple rice and coconut congee Serves 2 to 3
Peel and chop 1 medium sweet potato into 1-inch pieces. Set aside.
This purple rice coconut congee is a stunning classic for all seasons. In summer, you’ll find this recipe chilled and served with a dollop of coconut cream at Chinese and Southeast Asian restaurants. In winter, it’s incredibly comforting served warm like a rice pudding. Chinese medicine beliefs say the stomach is an organ that likes to be kept warm. This winter dessert is perfect for that. Purple rice replenishes chi and is rich in iron and minerals. Red jujube dates are added heremore for nutrition than taste. Known as the beauty fruit of Asia, these dates are consumed daily and added to most soups. You can omit them if they’re not a pantry staple.
Bring 10 cups of water to a boil, add the rice and bring to a boil again. Adjust the heat to simmer and cook for 45 min- utes to 1 hour. Stir regularly to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the rice is soft, but still retains its shape. Add the sweet potato and bring it to a boil for 5 minutes. Cover the pot with a lid, turn off the heat and let it sit for 20 minutes. The heat from the rice will cook the sweet potato while keeping its shape. Don’t let it get mushy.
Serve and enjoy the congee while it’s hot. It keeps in the re- frigerator for 2 to 3 days.
1 cup purple sticky rice (found in most Asian markets)
Breakfast topping ideas: fried egg, ramen egg, vegetable
7 cups water 3 to 5 red jujube dates, rinsed Rock sugar to taste (substitute cane or brown sugar) Coconut milk, for serving Soak the purple rice overnight in water. If you are in a hurry, soak in hot water for one hour. This will soften the grains and ensure an even cooking process. In a medium pot, add the soaked purple rice and seven cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to a low simmer. Add the red jujube dates and simmer for one hour. In the last 20 minutes, stir regularly to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. The grains should easily break apart and have a porridge- like consistency.
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Add the rock sugar to taste and stir to dissolve. Serve warm or chilled, with a generous dollop of coconut milk.
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Cooking notes The congee will thicken as it cools over time. If it becomes too thick, add water and adjust to your liking.
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ANCIENT GRAINS WORDS AND PHOTOS BY HELENA MCMURDO
As opposed to modern wheat and corn, which have been bred and modified over the years, ancient grains have remained largely unchanged over their history. Compared to modern wheat, they tend to have higher nutritional value, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine. We also tend to use them as whole grains and some have reported that they are easier to digest than modern wheats. Here are some you may or may not have heard of and how to use them.
Khorasan wheat Frequently seen on store shelves marketed as Kamut™, this hearty, chewy ancient grain is a star in salads. It requires a good soak overnight and a long cooking time. Many people find the gluten in Khorasan wheat easier to digest. Barley In terms of global production, barley ranks number four, after wheat, rice and corn. Pot barley has the most nutrition. It has had its inedible husk removed, but is less refined than pearl barley, which has been polished. Barley is a hero because it gives us beer, beef barley soup and even a mushroom “barlotto.” Einkorn The name comes from German and means “first wheat.” It is considered the most ancient of all wheats. It has a soft texture and can be used as a flour in baked goods, or cooked like emmer in salads and soups. Spelt Typically used in baked goods and cereals, spelt is an ancient cousin of wheat that is often grown organically. It has a high protein content and there is evidence of
it being grown in Germany since 500 AD. We know it from its use in artisan breads, but spelt berries can also be used in salads. Dinkelbrot is a rich hearty German bread made from a mixture of spelt and rye flours and studded with whole spelt berries.
Emmer wheat If you’ve never heard of emmer,
you may know farro, a delicious nutty grain used in salads and soups. In Canada, most farro is emmer wheat, although the term farro can also refer to spelt and einkorn.
Sorghum Technically a form of millet, sorghum is a staple food in much of the world, including India and Africa. It grows well in drought conditions. It is gluten-free and can be used to make flours, flatbreads or a porridge when boiled. Quinoa This seed that we know as a superfood has been grown since pre-Columbian times by the Indigenous peoples of the Andes. Today, we grow it here in Canada and have joined the world- wide craze. Canadians use it as a source of protein in salads, make it into ‘burgers” and use as a more nutritious replacement for rice. Quinoa contains saponins — bitter compounds that must be rinsed before cooking. Millet Classified as a cereal grass, millet is a staple in many parts of the world, including China, South America, India and Russia. Like sorghum, millet grows well in dry conditions. Try using millet in a similar way to quinoa. It can also be used as a gluten-free flour for things such as roti. Amaranth A pseudo-cereal eaten by the Aztecs since prehistoric times, amaranth’s seeds and leaves can be consumed. The seeds have a nutty flavour and lend themselves to cooking in porridge, but can also be popped (like corn and sorghum.) Amaranth flour is typically for baking, as part of a gluten-free blend. Popped Sorghum Sorghum can be popped just like popcorn. Well, almost. Let’s face it, these tiny popped seeds are a lot cuter. The procedure is also a little more delicate because the seeds are smaller, so watch them carefully and use a large pot. A pot with a glass lid is ideal as it allows you to cover the pot and keep an eye on what’s going on.
1 teaspoon grapeseed oil ¼ cup sorghum Pinch of salt
Heat on high a tall heavy-bottomed stockpot. Add the grapeseed oil and sorghum, stirring to coat. Cover the pot. The second the seeds start to pop, reduce the heat to medium and lift and shake the pot to stir up the seeds and prevent them from burning. Once all the seeds have stopped popping, pour into a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Press play on your favourite movie and enjoy.
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