Healthy Summer Gourmet: Stalking Ontario’s Local and Seasonal Cuisines

There are few things as exciting to a foodie as the start of the outdoor farmers’ market season. It’s the promise of warm weather, tasty treats and the kids enjoying live music and face painting. The gardening workshops and heirloom seedlings help us city folk connect back to our food source. Early summer is a special culinary season, full of local and precious exotic treats that we can only get for such a short time such as the mild, sweet onion flavour of ramps (also known as wild leeks or asparagus), rhubarb (a hot commodity at the markets, so get there early), and if you’re lucky, the first hint of local strawberries.

Shopping at the Withrow Park Farmers’ Market has been a great experience. Now in its third season, Riverdale neighbours have started to catch onto this perfect spot tucked in beside a well-equipped children’s playground.

Another popular and well-stocked market is Evergreens’ Brick Works Farmers’ Market; it could be the lure of walking trails close to the Don Valley or the fact that it takes place in a huge, covered open-air hangar that allows everyone to have a great time, rain or shine. Be sure to go early to avoid disappointment, because most of the spring produce will sell out by 11am. There is a shuttle service from Davisville station and Broadview station if you are going by transit.

As a nutritionist, I cook with healing in mind, and have developed a liking for bitter greens, such as dandelion, and herbs such as burdock. The task of making good food taste gourmet was a lower priority for me because my palette is wired for health, not taste. All of this is about to change.

Down at the Brick Works Market, I had the pleasure of meeting Ezra Title, chef and owner of Chezvous Dining. He uses locally grown and organic ingredients to create gourmet meals for his clients and market attendees. Paul McConvey and Mike Ward of Kaleidoscope Entertainment thought the two of us would make a winning combination. And so they have cast Ezra and myself in a new cooking show debuting on the Viva channel (sister channel to the W network) called Healthy Gourmet.

In each episode, I will be defending the “nutrition” corner, while Ezra will ensure the “taste” corner wins. We will go head-to-head over each recipe, with the goal being to help people find the right balance between food that is healthy for the heart and tasty for the tongue. I think this nutrition-oriented gourmet cooking show is long overdue, and I’m looking forward to showcasing healthy ingredients that can be found in many health food stores and markets around the city.

The following are some of our healthy gourmet recipes that incorporate special June ingredients from local farmers that deliver both huge flavour and health benefits!

Ezra Title is the co-host and chef on “Healthy Gourmet” on the Viva channel, and Chef/Owner of Chezvous Dining. Ezra likes to use only the freshest, locally grown and organic ingredients, sourced from select growers and suppliers of the highest quality products. Ezra meets with each client, creates every exceptional menu and attends all of his events. Check out www.chezvousdining.ca for more details.

The Healthy Gourmet show premieres Saturday, July 4 at 7:30p.m. on VIVA. Please visit myviva.ca for more information.

  • For a list of farmers’ markets in Ontario, check out Vitality’s 2008 Guide to Organics . And stay tuned for Vitality’s 2009 Guide to Organics, to be published in the upcoming July/August issue. Or, for detailed maps of farmers’ markets near you, check out: http://www.localeating.ca/maps/map-search/
  • To learn what is available by season, look for the seasonal food chart researched by Maureen Kirkpatrick-Cassis at: www.thebigcarrot.ca
    The Big Carrot natural food market is located at 348 Danforth Avenue in Toronto, tel: 416-466-2129. www.thebigcarrot.ca
  • Chezvous Dining offers catering by Ezra Title. From intimate dinners and cooking classes to cocktail parties and small plate tastings, Ezra brings sumptuous cuisine and personalized service to home kitchens and venues throughout the GTA. He looks forward to creating an unforgettable experience for you and your guests. To contact Ezra, email: ezra@chezvousdining.ca, or call 416-347-3609
  • Visit Ezra at the Artscape Wychwood Barns Farmer’s Market Saturday Mornings from 9am – 12pm, located at 76 Wychwood (S. of St Clair at Christie). This former TTC maintenance barn has become a community centre with arts and culture, environmental leadership, a greenhouse and affordable housing. The local and mostly-organic market features fresh produce, honey, artisan cheese, prepared foods, mushrooms, wild foods and more. For information go to: greenbarnfarmersmarket.org
  • Evergreen Brick Works Farmers’ Market is open Saturdays, 8am–1pm; Bus. Bike. Walk. Very limited parking. Leave your car at home! Take their shuttle bus or the TTC. Located at 550 Bayview Avenue, off the Bayview Extension between the Prince Edward Viaduct (Bloor/Danforth) and Pottery Road. Just north of the Bayview exit from the Don Valley Parkway. The Farmers’ Market features a fabulous assortment of fruits, vegetables, wild fish, meat, cheese, milled flours, eggs and oils—all from local farmers. www.evergreen.ca/rethinkspace

Ezra’s Herbed Barley Risotto with Squash Puree, Spring Garlic, Asparagus and Pickled Wild Leeks

Asparagus is an excellent source of vitamin K, the B vitamin folate, vitamin C and vitamin A. It is a very good source of numerous B vitamins — including vitamin B1, B2, B3 and B6 — as well as dietary fibre, manganese, copper, phosphorus, potassium and protein.

Barley and other whole grains are a rich source of magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including those involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion. Barley contains a whopping 13.6 grams of fibre per cup. That is four times higher than brown rice!

Ingredients

  • 1 tsp pure olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 stalks spring garlic, chopped
  • 1 cup pearl barley
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp squash puree or soup
  • 10 asparagus spears, blanched
  • ¼ bunch parsley, chopped
  • 5 basil leaves, chopped
  • ¼ bunch chives, chopped
  • 10 pickled wild leeks

1) Using a small shallow pot, heat olive oil on low and sauté onions and spring garlic until translucent, approximately 2 minutes.

2) Add barley and stir to coat in oil. Turn heat to medium-high and add white wine to pot, stirring constantly. Once the wine has evaporated, add stock, bring to a simmer, turn to low and allow to cook for approximately 15 minutes.

3) When barley is cooked, check seasoning, add squash puree, asparagus and fresh herbs. Garnish with wild leeks and serve immediately.

Pickled Wild Leeks

Leeks reduce total cholesterol and LDL — the “bad” cholesterol. This can be important for preventing atherosclerosis and heart disease. Allium vegetables have also been shown to lower high blood pressure, another risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound cleaned wild leeks
  • 1 tsp fenugreek
  • 4 tsp coriander
  • 2 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 Thai Chili
  • 3 tsp fennel seed
  • 1 litre rice vinegar
  • 1/2 litre water
  • 2/3 cup honey

1) Place spices in pan and roast them on a medium heat until fragrant. Add toasted spices to rest of ingredients and bring to a boil.

2) Place wild leeks into a clean container and pour pickling liquid over them. Cover with a lid and allow them to cool at room temperature.

3) Put pickled leeks into the fridge for one week and then begin using them with everything and anything.

4) (Note: Ramps are tiny wild leeks, available in the springtime only for a short time. The vendor who sold me a bunch told me this is her first year harvesting the wild leeks. It was the second week of selling them, and she didn’t know how long they would last.)

Ezra’s Wild Salmon with Escabeche of Vegetables, Avocado Puree & Salsa Verde

Wild salmon is an excellent source of Omega-3 fatty acids, which protects the heart and raises your HDL (“good” cholesterol). Omega-3 is necessary for the function of almost every cell in the body, especially cells of the nervous system, brain, eyes and immune system.

Ingredients

  • 1 litre water
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 4 dill sprigs
  • 4 thyme sprigs
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1 head garlic, split in half
  • 2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 4 6-8 oz salmon filets

1) Combine all ingredients, except salmon, in a wide saucepan or skillet. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Pass liquid through a fine mesh strainer and return it to the saucepan.

2) Reduce heat to low, add wild salmon and cook until just opaque in the centre (about 6 minutes).

3) Gently remove salmon from the liquid and arrange in one layer in a small casserole dish. Pour enough poaching liquid to cover and place salmon into the refrigerator to cool.

Escabeche

Fennel contains anethole, which is shown to reduce inflammation and help prevent the occurrence of cancer. By shutting down the signaling process of Tumer Necrosis Factor (TNF), the anethole in fennel prevents activation of a potentially strong gene-altering and inflammation-triggering molecule called NF-kappaB.

Cauliflower contains vitamin C, folic acid, carotenes and fibre. This vegetable group also contains indole-3-carbonyl (I-3- C) that aids the liver in detoxification and hormone balance.

Ingredients

  • 1 red onion
  • 3 medium carrots
  • 3 stalks celery
  • ½ head cauliflower
  • 1 bulb fennel
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 lemons
  • Salt and pepper

1) Using a slicer attachment of a food processor or a mandolin, slice vegetables. Heat a frying pan on low with half of the extra virgin olive oil and place garlic cloves in pan. Beginning with the onion, add vegetables to pan and season with salt and pepper.

2) Continue adding oil, little by little, to ensure vegetables are getting coated. Add thyme and rosemary and cook until vegetables are softened but still have a significant bite.

3) Remove vegetables to a shallow dish and sprinkle with vinegar and lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Cool in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Avocado Puree

Avocados are an excellent source of glutathione, an important antioxidant in preventing aging, cancer and heart disease. The potassium content and calories of an avocado are three times that of a banana. Other essential minerals are iron and copper for the blood, plus phosphorus and magnesium.

Ingredients

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • juice from 2 limes
  • hot sauce (to taste)
  • salt and pepper

1) Remove flesh from avocados into the bowl of a food processor. Squeeze lime juice, add a few drops of hot sauce, and season with salt and pepper.

2) Puree until a smooth, velvety texture is achieved. Taste and adjust seasonings as required.

Salsa Verde

Ingredients

  • ½ bunch parsley (chopped)
  • 1 bunch chives (chopped)
  • ½ bunch thyme (chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic (minced)
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

1) Combine herbs, garlic and lemon zest in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and stir. Add enough olive oil to make a paste.

Julie’s Gluten-free Strawberry Rhubarb Bumble

Strawberries are a rich source of phenols called anthocyanins that provide their flush red colour. They serve as potent antioxidants which help prevent oxygen damage in all of the body’s organ systems. The anti-inflammatory properties of strawberry include the phenols’ ability to act like Cox 2 inhibitors, reducing joint pain.

You may think the cinnamon in this recipe is overkill but studies show that ¼ to ½ teaspoon of cinnamon powder a day, taken over a 40-day period, can reduce blood glucose, triglyceride and LDL cholesterol.

Ingredients

  • Fruit Mix:
  • 6 cups fresh or frozen strawberries, hulled (halved, if large)
  • 4 to 5 firm stalks rhubarb, trimmed and sliced (enough to make 4 cups)
  • 1/2 cup honey (cut to a 1/4 cup if you prefer it less sweet)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • Topping:
  • 1 cup brown rice flour or almond flour
  • 2 cups quinoa flakes or pre-cooked quinoa
  • 1/4 cup chopped hazelnuts* (*If you are allergic to hazelnuts, increase the pumpkin seeds and/or sunflower seeds by a 1/4 cup as a substitute.)
  • 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 4 tablespoons cold coconut butter, cut into 8 pieces

1) Set the oven at 325 degrees.

2) In a bowl combine the strawberries and rhubarb. Add honey, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. Toss thoroughly and transfer to a baking dish with an 8-cup capacity.

3) In a mixing bowl, combine the nuts, seeds, flour, sea salt and spices. Place the butter and honey on top of the flour mixture and mix until the mixture looks like coarse meal. Gently fold in the pre-cooked quinoa or quinoa flakes.

4) Sprinkle the topping evenly and loosely over the fruit mixture, leaving fruit visible in a few spots for the juices to bubble up.

5) Transfer to the oven. Bake the crisp for 45 to 50 minutes or until the top is brown and the fruit juices are bubbling at the edges. Crisp for 45 to 50 minutes or until the top is brown and the fruit juices are bubbling at the edges.

 

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