I go through a lot of cookbooks. It comes with the job, right? And it’s not just recipes that draw me in but stories about the land and people. This is a peek into my story, along with three of my family’s favourite Canadian dishes…made with an Indian flair.
My husband and I moved to Canada more than 17 years ago. In that time we have explored the country from Toronto to Tofino, moved multiple jobs, cities and provinces and had a couple of kids on the way. One of the most enjoyable parts of our travel has been the stops we made along the way. Exploring small towns, meeting people, grabbing a bite to eat at gas station cafes and truck stop diners, fun things that can only ever be found on the road in Canada.
Despite the travel and research and EATING in the name of research, I’ve often wondered, “What is Canadian food?”
The kids are always quick to respond, “Poutine,” unequivocally! A mess of fries, fresh cheese curds and gravy – what’s not to like?
My friends in Calgary say a typical Canadian meal is “Alberta steak and a Caesar.” The latter is a Canadian take on a Bloody Mary and was invented by a restaurant owner in Calgary.
And for everybody else? “Maple Syrup, maybe?”
Food Makes Memories
Food is a big part of who I am, and it’s not just because of the work I do. A lot of my memories during my childhood and youth in India have been created around the dinner table, and I continue that tradition even today on the other side of the world. With the pandemic, our gatherings have become smaller but the desire to make memories around the diner table, that’s as big as it ever was.
Disclaimer: This post has been commissioned by Canola Eat Well as part of their #MakeItCanola campaign. The narrative and opinion is mine.
Contemporary Canadian Food
Indian cuisine is regional and heterogeneous, and much like the country, it is rooted in thousands of years of tradition. Canadian food, in contrast, is a mish-mash of influences and people from all corners of the world. Its richness and diversity comes through in the history of First Nations people to early colonialists to the colourful immigrant population of today. The recipes and cooking techniques were perfected over generations in far corners of the world and then brought here by people like me. And nowhere is the transformation of Canadian food more obvious than at my dinner table.
That’s how my food story came to be. My cooking is influenced by the techniques and recipes I learned in India and my travels since. I use local Canadian foods along with spices that bring big flavour and aroma, all to recreate wholesome, delicious dishes that my family and friends love. These 3 dishes – salad, lentils and salmon – feature regularly on my “special” menu. Simple ingredients, Canadian-raised and grown, made with Indian spices and techniques, all cooked in Canola Oil.
A little bit about Canola
Much of my cooking is done in canola oil. It has a high smoke point and mild flavour, both of those characteristics work very well to show off the spices I cook with. And when designing a contemporary Canadian menu of course I cook the dishes in Canadian oil.
A Contemporary Canadian Menu
Vegetables are often considered the side, right? Something to be tackled before you get to the main. Not this Cucumber Curry Salad. This dish shows off the flavour of local vegetables like cucumber and peppers and retains all the crunch. Topped with turmeric and crunchy peanuts, the bowl feels like a warm summer’s day. See recipe here.
At first glance, you would think a squash curry would be a misfit on a Canadian menu. This recipe is my version of a traditional dry Indian curry that I have recreated for my Canadian kitchen. The dish uses local farm squash, cooked in canola oil along with green lentils that are grown in the prairies of Canada. The ingredients coupled with the aroma of Indian spices, this dish feels Canadian and Indian all a the same time, just like me. See recipe here.
Salmon is quintessential Canadian food. It crosses regional barriers from West to East, is robust and delicious, and it can be made in a myriad of different ways. My version of pan-fried Salmon with spicy onions and lime lets the fish really shine. I marinate it briefly with whole, smoky Kashmiri chillies, dry-roasted coriander seed and cumin powder. See recipe here.