Just Can’t Get Enough Vegetables

The food: delicious vegetarian dinners

The story:

If someone had told me a year ago that about now, I would be practising, for the upcoming concert of the rock choir I’ve joined, the 1981 Depeche Mode song, “Just Can’t Get Enough”, I would have said, a) Me, singing anything, let alone rock? Yeah, right, and b) Depeche who?

Yet I am, this week, zestily practising that song, along with other rock selections that were hitherto unknown to me, or if known, hitherto unloved. I’ve also been basing a number of my meals on colourful fruits and vegetables. I could pretend I did so in honour of Earth Week, but the real reason is because they taste so good and healthy and spring-like, even when root vegetables are involved.

Take, for example, the meal shown above, inspired partly by (Toronto’s) Delux restaurant chef Corinna Mozo’s recipes featured in the May issue of Canadian House and Home magazine and partly by a recipe that appeared in The Guardian from Yotam Ottolenghi, chef and patron of the Ottolenghi food shops in London, England, one of which I wrote about in a previous post about vegetable-centric meals.

In the annoying way of most home cooks, I tweaked all three of the recipes, but was still happy with the results: the combination of an orange, watercress and avocado salad dressed with lemon vincotto vinegar, some rice and black beans flavoured with onion, red pepper and cumin, and a mash of boiled carrots, sweet potato and celeriac sweetened with butter and maple syrup was delightful.

Another day, navel oranges and olives juiced up my dinner plate, accompanied by strawberry tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and chopped fresh basil, a salad that E whipped up of spinach, cooked squash, walnuts and chopped figs, and some oven fried, Panko-and-egg-coated zucchini strips.

I just can’t get enough of vegetables, indeed.

Queen Much?

The food: good pub grub at the Queen & Beaver

The story:

Considering that:

1) I’m a show tune queen if ever there was one,
2) I’ve been madly practising the Queen song Bohemian Rhapsody for the upcoming concert of the rock choir I recently joined (I’m particularly good at singing the immortal line, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no!”), and
3) my son just completed (whew) his 2nd year at Queen’s University,

a lunch visit to the welcoming and unpretentious Toronto gastropub The Queen and Beaver, located in a still-charming Victorian-era house tucked away in the otherwise mean streets of downtown Toronto, was definitely in the cards.

E and I both wanted the fish and chips (always and often) but for variety’s sake, I order the mushroom pithivier (a mushroom and potato pie) with green salad and we agreed to split both plates.

The food was delicious – the earthy mushrooms complemented the thin layers of creamy potatoes in the puff pastry-wrapped pithivier ($16), and the salad greens were a refreshing mix of bitter and mild leaves with pickled onions in a light vinaigrette.

The fish, meanwhile, tasted fresh and sweet in a crunchy yet light batter, the fresh-cut chips were thick with crisp edges and soft interiors, the way I like them, and the house-made ketchup and tartar sauce were a classy and artisanal touch that elevated the dish.

Such fare, fit for a queen who sings Queen songs and has a son at Queen’s, will bring me back to the Queen & Beaver, for sure, in September, when I’m looking for something to eat near Yonge & Dundas during TIFF, and sooner, too.

Queen and Beaver Public House on Urbanspoon

Lunch at Lee

The food: Prix fixe lunch at Lee

The story:

Lured by news of a new $28 prix fixe lunch being offered at Lee, a downtown Toronto boite that’s part of Susur Lee’s restaurant empire, E and I made a weekday reservation (totally unnecessary, the large room was near empty) and went on down.

E opted for the prix fixe lunch and chose the Singaporean Style Slaw to start, the Caramelized Black Cod with citrus butter sauce and potato croquette as his main, and the Molten Chocolate Cake to finish.

The slaw (see pic above), a signature dish of Susur Lee’s, is a beautiful, richly textured combination of raw vegetables, edible flower petals and peanuts topped with a cloud of crunchy, deep-fried slivered taro root, the whole lot dressed in a light, tangy dressing. It looked and tasted superior to the version of it I ate at Lee several years ago, though as pretty as it was, the deluxe edition served at Lee’s restaurant in New York, Shang, appears to be prettier.

(Or it was when Gael Greene ate it, anyway.)

E’s cod and potato croquette was also delicate and finely flavoured, but for a main course, the portion was a little small.

I somewhat contrarily ordered the Lee burger & spiced French fries ($16), which came with avocado, homemade pickles, miso mustard (and for $2 more, blue cheese), and was regular-sized.

The blue cheese was nicely mellow and creamy, but I found the meat overspiced and overcooked, I would have preferred Boston lettuce to iceberg, and while the dusting of sesame seeds and ground spices (cumin and coriander?) on the fries made them taste different, different did not equal great.

Every element of the molten chocolate cake dessert, however, was lovely: the chocolate hazelnut crumble on the plate added crunch, the dice of caramelized jackfruit within the premium melted chocolate interior was a sweet surprise, and I, who do not much care for ice cream, only wished for more of the vanilla bean homemade variety that came with.

Lee on Urbanspoon

Gobo Mama

The food: Kinpira gobo

The story:

Gobo is the Japanese name for burdock root, a somewhat nasty looking vegetable that becomes strangely addictive when traditionally prepared – after being peeled and slivered – with similarly peeled and cut carrots, in a braise of soy sauce, mirin (sweet cooking wine) and sugar. The finished dish, dusted with toasted sesame seeds, is called kinpira gobo.

In the past, I’ve been lucky to eat kinpira gobo courtesy of my stepmother Betty, who does a far better job than I do of julienning the carrots and burdock, but I never made it myself until this week, when a birthday dinner for my niece that featured a full homemade Asian menu, not including gobo, inspired me to go foraging at a Japanese grocery store.

I forgot to take a picture of the roots I bought, which were the same shape as the one in the picture below, but had a considerably darker and hairier skin, and came, the grocer informed me, from a farm near Windsor, Ontario.

To make my gobo, I peeled and sliced lengthwise 2 carrots and 3 burdock roots, then soaked the burdock root pieces in cold water for 15 minutes (they still looked unappetizing after the soak, being white and fibrous in appearance, with discoloured dark edges).

After drying off the root strips, I sauteed both them and the carrot strips in 1-2 Tbsp. of canola oil over medium high heat until they were lightly browned, then stirred in equal parts mirin and soy sauce (about 3 Tbsp. each) to cover, plus 1 Tbsp. of sugar. I let the liquids come to a boil, turned down the heat to simmer and covered the skillet, and let the vegetables cook for another 5-10 minutes until the liquids had evaporated and the vegetables were tender and ready to be sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Kinpira gobo can be eaten warm or at room temperature and certainly tastes healthy as well as tasty, though I can’t swear it will help soothe your aching joints as some herbalists apparently believe, unless, of course, you eat it after (or while!) dancing to Baby Bash and Sean Kingston’s “What is it?” featuring a catchy Go, Mama, Go (bo) chorus. Do that and you’ll feel better, fo’ sho’.