Exploring Kosher and Cree Cuisine Through Canadian Cookbooks

Lamb chops with beets from Tawaw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine

Lamb chops with beets from Tawaw: Progressive Indigenous Cuisine. Photo: Ben Ehrensperger

Two new Canadian cookbooks, kosher and Cree, take on tradition, heritage and, heck, a bit of fun as part of our national fabric. And don’t forget the cocktails!

Over a recent bowl of excellent matzo ball soup, I got to thinking,” writes the Canadian author Amy Rosen, in her new cookbook, Kosher Style: Over 100 Jewish Recipes for the Modern Cook, “this generation is in real danger of losing the Friday-night-dinner memories and a giant piece of our collective heritage.” Reading Rosen’s words got me to thinking, too, about all of our collective heritage. We’re ever speeding ahead and sometimes forgetting traditions, especially the special moments through food that many of us still try to hold dear. “The dishes for celebrations and the ones for every day,” Rosen continues — though in Jewish homes, she says, food is always a celebration. “Obviously, I’m not the only one who feels this way, as most people love the food of their people,” she goes on. “But a lot of those people also happen to love the food of my people.”

“Kosher Style” by Amy Rosen

Rosen’s not alone in her mission to preserve a people’s heritage. In Tawâw: Progressive and Indigenous Cuisine, chef Shane Chartrand, who is of the Enoch Cree Nation in Alberta — with influences from a Métis, Mi’kmaq and British upbringing — re-examines his usual European cooking techniques, paired with his journey through his food heritage and how best to bring it together and demystify the cuisine. How is contemporary Indigenous cooking different from mainstream Canadian cooking, he asks? “The more I explore my Indigenous roots and develop my own version of progressive Indigenous cooking,” he writes, “the more people from all walks of life are excited about what a First Nations perspective brings to the plate.”

True North ingredients such as Saskatoon berries, squash, pumpkin, gourds, beets and beans all star along with seafood and shellfish, and game. With more than 75 recipes, the book is divided by the seasons.

“Tawâw” by Shane M. Chartrand

Speaking of seasons, ’tis the season, to eat, drink and be merry, and Geoff Dillon of Dillon’s Small Batch Distillers, based in Beamsville, Ont., has his own idea of just how to do it — and staying true to what’s in our own backyard. In Craft Cocktails: Seasonally Inspired Drinks & Snacks From Our Sipping Room, Dillon along with Whitney Rorison breaks down the drinks and nibbles through the four seasons. “Ingredients play the single largest role in our spirits,” he writes. That search for quality, he adds, “is what led us to our home in the Niagara region of southern Ontario.” And just like Rosen and Chartrand, he’s all about sharing it with family and friends. “We have included large-batch recipes that are meant to be enjoyed with a group,” hence our pick of Dillon’s Holiday Pomegranate Punch (for recipe, go to www.everythingzoomer.com/craft-cocktails).

“Craft Cocktails” by Geoff Dillion and Whitney Rorison

Of course, we couldn’t resist asking Rosen for her recipe for chicken soup, which she refers to as Jewish Penicillin, the ultimate comfort food at this time of year (her roasted salmon with horseradish sauce and pickled onions would make a hearty meal for a group, too). But perhaps it’s the simple notion of the title of Chartrand’s book that says it all: Tawâw is Cree for “Welcome, there is room.

Here, a recipe from Chef Shane Chartrand to complete the meal on a high note. 

Chocolate beet cake recipe
Photo: Cathryn Sprague

Chocolate Beet Cake with Saskatoon Berries

“In June and July, when there are too many zucchinis coming out of the garden, we shred them for chocolate zucchini cake. In the winter, I make a different version with shredded beets. The earthiness of the beets goes great with dark chocolate. This cake is delicious topped with saskatoon berries pulled from the freezer and coated with sugar. As the berries thaw in the sugar, you get a nice syrupy fruit topping. (This recipe is adapted from [English food writer] Nigel Slater’s chocolate beet cake.)”

2-3 red beets (about 8 oz/225 g total), unpeeled, tops trimmed
½ tsp salt (2.4 ml)
1 cup all-purpose flour (250 ml)
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
(45 ml)
1-1/4 tsp baking powder (6 ml)
¼ tsp sea salt (1 ml)
7 oz dark (70%) chocolate (200 g)
¼ cup hot water (60 ml)
¾ cup plus 2 tbsp (175 + 30 ml) unsalted butter (7 oz/200 g), at room temperature
5 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
1-1/4 cups granulated sugar,
divided (310 ml)
2 cups saskatoon berries (500 ml)

♦ Arrange an oven rack in the centre position. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).* Grease a 9-1/4- by 5-1/4-inch (23.5 by 13 cm) loaf pan. Set aside.
♦ Place beets in a saucepan with the salt and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes or until you can easily slide a sharp knife into the centre of the beets. Drain and rinse under cold running water until cool enough to handle. Using your hands, rub off the beet skins (wear rubber or latex gloves to avoid staining your hands). Using the large holes of a box grater, grate beets (you should end up with about 1-1/2 cups (375 ml). Set aside.
♦ Sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
♦ Break or roughly chop the chocolate into about a dozen pieces. Transfer to a microwave-safe bowl (large enough to later accommodate the egg yolks and beets) and heat in a microwave at 50 per cent power for 4 minutes. Keep an eye on it and take it out just as the chocolate melts. Alternatively, fill a pot with a few inches of water and set a stainless steel bowl on top to create a water bath (the bowl shouldn’t touch the water). Bring the water to a boil and then add the chopped chocolate to the bowl. Heat, stirring until the chocolate has completely melted.
♦ Add the hot water to the melted chocolate and stir to combine. Cut the butter into pieces and stir into the chocolate mixture until completely incorporated. Let cool 5 minutes.
♦ Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl until frothy. Stir them into the cooled chocolate mixture. Fold in the shredded beets until well combined. Set aside.
♦ Either by hand or using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. Reduce the speed to low and then slowly pour in 1 cup (250 ml) of the sugar. Mix until well combined.
Using a spatula, fold the chocolate-beet mixture into the egg whites just until combined. Fold in the flour mixture just until combined.
♦ Scrape the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted into the middle of the loaf slides out cleanly.
♦ Meanwhile, remove the saskatoon berries from the freezer and put them in a shallow dish. Sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup (60 ml) sugar and set aside.
♦ When the cake is ready, remove the pan from the oven. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Once cool, carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate. Cut into thick slices and serve with a generous heap of the syrupy saskatoon berries. Makes 1 loaf
* If using a conventional oven, either bake the cake a little longer or increase the temperature by 25 F (4 C).

A version of this article appeared in the November/December 2019 issue with the headline, “Feast,” p. 45.