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CJ Katz takes new approach to eating what centre of the continent has to offer

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‘THE Prairie provinces are underappreciated in Canada," says food writer and documentary food photographer CJ Katz.

"We don’t rah-rah and toot our own horns, and that might be part of it."

Katz is happy to do some horn-tooting, starting with a new cookbook that celebrates the bounty of Prairie food. Taste: Seasonal Dishes from a Prairie Table

(Canadian Plains Research Centre Press, 203 pages, $30) explores a quiet regional cuisine that is starting to come into its own, especially with the new push to eat locally and seasonally. Katz offers more than 120 fresh, straight-up recipes. She has also taken 160 photos of food, along with the land and the people who produce the food.

Born and raised in Ottawa, Katz moved to Regina in 2002 when her husband found a job there. Initially reluctant about the relocation, she came to love her new home and is now a proud Prairie proselytizer. "The opportunities out West are amazing," says Katz, speaking on the phone from her home in Regina.

Katz started as the culinary host for The Wheatland Cafe, a Saskatchewan-wide CTV show, while exploring the province’s foodways for radio, magazines and newspapers. "I felt totally at home here," says Katz. "We’re friendly out here, like it says on your licence plates."

Taste concentrates on food producers in Saskatchewan, but the ingredients can be found Prairie-wide — bison, lamb, freshwater fish, wild rice, spring asparagus, summer berries, honey, barley, flax and lentils. Recipes are arranged seasonally so cooks can take advantage of farmers’ markets and gardens.

"It’s a non-traditional approach to Prairie cooking," Katz explains. "You won’t find perogies and cabbage rolls."

The starting point is Prairie produce. "It’s very ingredient-driven. I look at the ingredients and try to do something fresh."

Alberta beef becomes Korean flank steak, and tender Prairie lamb gets Middle Eastern flavours in orange-spiced kebabs. Bison, which Katz adores for its leanness and flavour, gets cooked up in a stirfry. Sweet strawberries are finished with balsamic vinegar and pepper.

Spelt and hemp give a nutritional kick to favourite cookies.

Katz adds some in-depth research into food history and cooking lore. (Fun facts: Evidence of lentils dates to a Greek cave as far back as 11,000 BCE. The saskatoon berry is also called the serviceberry.

Many of the wild mushrooms in our boreal forests end up on the tables of highend restaurants in Europe and Japan.) "I love Prairie cooking. I love the wholesomeness," says Katz. "This is the centre of Canada. This is where it’s grown." To celebrate the rich and various tastes of our prairie harvest, here are three autumnal recipes from Taste: 

 

Curried pumpkin and coconut soup

15 ml (1 tbsp) vegetable oil 1 onion, peeled and quartered 1 clove garlic 12 ml (2½ tsp) curry powder, or Indian-style curry paste 2ml (½ tsp) ground cumin 2ml (½ tsp) ground turmeric 1 ml (¼ tsp) ground cinnamon 15 ml (1 tsp) grated fresh ginger pinch cayenne powder 500 ml (2 cups) chicken stock or vegetable stock, not water 500 ml (2 cups) puréed pumpkin (do not use pumpkin pie filling) 400 ml (14 oz) coconut milk, preferably full fat toasted, unsalted pumpkin seeds, for garnish

In a food processor, finely chop the onion and garlic.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the onion-garlic mixture and lightly sauté without browning for about 5 minutes. Add the curry powder, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, fresh ginger and cayenne powder. Toast the spices, stirring constantly for 1 minute.

Add the stock and pumpkin purée. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Simmer 5 to 10 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and heat through without letting the soup come to a boil. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Ladle the soup into bowls and garnish with toasted pumpkin seeds.

Serves 4 to 6.

Tester’s notes: Easy, fast and really good. Chopping the onion and garlic in the processor makes the soup very smooth.

 

Sliced beets with warm chèvre

8 medium fresh beets, tops and bottom root ends removed, and peeled

olive oil, for drizzling

salt and pepper, for sprinkling

250 g (½ lb) log of creamy chèvre (goat cheese), sliced into 2 cm (¾ in) thick rounds

1 egg

15 ml (1 tbsp) water

125 ml (½ cup) ground hazelnuts or walnuts vegetable oil, for frying

15 ml (1 tbsp) hazelnut or walnut oil

30 ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil

15 ml (1 tbsp) cider or malt vinegar

5 ml (1 tsp) maple syrup salt and pepper, to taste

2 oranges

250 ml (1 cup) arugula, frisee lettuce, or pea shoots

Beets: Preheat oven to 200C (400F). Place the whole prepared beets in a shallow oiled pan. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake about 1 hour, or until fork tender. Cool slightly. Slice each beet into 1.5 cm (½ in) thick rounds. (The beets can be prepared in advance and gently reheated before serving.) Chèvre: In a small bowl, whisk the egg with 15 ml (1tbsp) water. Place the ground nuts in a separate small bowl. Dip each round of sliced chèvre into the egg mixture and then into the ground nuts.

Turn to coat completely. Set aside. (The chèvre can be prepared to this point and refrigerated until ready to cook.) Preheat a large fry pan over medium heat. Pour in just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Fry the nut-coated rounds until golden brown and heated completely through; the centre of each round should be soft to touch.

Dressing: Whisk together the hazelnut or walnut oil, 30 ml (2 tbsp) vegetable oil, cider or malt vinegar, maple syrup, and salt and pepper. Set aside. (The dressing can be prepared in advance.) Oranges for garnish: With a sharp paring knife, remove the rind from the oranges; make sure to remove all the bitter white pith. Carefully remove individual orange segments by sliding your paring knife on either side of each segment’s membrane. Set aside. (The oranges can be prepared in advance and refrigerated until serving time.) To serve: Depending on the size of the beets, lay 3 to 5 beet rounds, each overlapping slightly, in the centre of an appetizer plate. Top the beets with 1 or 2 rounds of warm chèvre, then a small handful of arugula leaves. Top with several orange slices and a drizzle of dressing. Serves 4 to 6.

 

Tester’s notes: I found making the chèvre rounds was a little fiddly (but worth the trouble). A terrific blend of tastes and textures.

 

Apple cake with caramel glaze

500 ml (2 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour

5 ml (1 tsp) baking soda

5 ml (1 tsp) kosher salt

10 ml (2 tsp) cinnamon spice mix (see below)

3 eggs 10 ml (2 tsp) pure vanilla extract

250 (1 cup) granulated sugar

250 ml (1 cup) vegetable oil

750 ml (3 cups) finely sliced, peeled and cored apples

185 ml (¾ cup) raisins

 

Caramel glaze:

125 ml (½ cup) brown sugar

60 ml (¼ cup) salted butter

5 ml (1 tsp) vanilla

60 ml (¼ cup) heavy 35 % cream

Preheat oven to 180C (350F). Butter and flour a standard Bundt or tube pan.

 

Scoop the flour gently into the measuring cups. Level the top with the flat edge of a knife and transfer the flour to a medium bowl. Add the baking soda, salt and 10 ml (2 tsp) of the cinnamon spice mix. Whisk to combine and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs by hand for about 1 minute. Whisk in the vanilla extract. Whisk in the sugar gradually, followed by the vegetable oil in a slow steady stream. Add the flour mixture all at once and stir with a spatula until just moistened. Fold in the apples and raisins.

Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before removing cake to a wire rack to cool. Cool completely.

Caramel glaze: Melt the brown sugar and butter in a saucepan. Add the vanilla and cream. Bring to a boil and simmer for 1 to 2 minutes. Let cool to the consistency of molasses before drizzling on the cake.

 

Cinnamon spice mix:

30 ml (6 tsp) ground cinnamon

12 ml (2½ tsp) ground ginger

15 ml (3 tsp) ground coriander

5 ml (1 tsp) each ground nutmeg and ground allspice

Combine the cinnamon, ginger, coriander, nutmeg and allspice in a bowl.

Store the extra mix at room temperature in a jar.

 

Tester’s notes: This is a moist, dense cake packed with raisins and apples.

The caramel glaze is fab. (Keep the recipe around to use on ice cream, pound cake — anything really!)

 

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