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Recipe Swap: Dinner on the dry Prairies

My dad seldom spoke of the dust bowl this part of the world became in the 1930s, but his younger brother told stories. That long dry spell finished off the farm as well as the family, Ray would say. He remembers the brothers dispersing, one after another, after the last cow was sold. I’m fascinated by family-farm survival stories of the 1930s.

One I especially appreciate is told in a cookbook. Author Habeeb Salloum, writing in Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead: Recipes and Recollections describes life as a child of Syrian parents, who made their way from one dry, wind-swept part of the world to another when they came to Canada and homesteaded at Val Marie in southern Saskatchewan in the 1920s.

Drought and poverty saw many of their neighbours depart their parched farms as the ’30s set in. But the Salloums stuck it out. It had a lot to do with how they ate and the nourishing family meals they were still eating while others could barely get by. The Salloums’ meals included chickpeas and lentils, and burghul (a parboiled wheat) and yogurt. They made kishk, a type of cheese, from yogurt and burghul, and once a year butchered a cow, preserving some of it as qawarma, an Arab method of preserving cooked meat in fat. They raised a few sheep that could survive on what little grass there was in the valleys.

Yet, even as these food traditions were well suited to their harsh environment, where, as Habeeb writes, the soil blew “back and forth like the deserts of Arabia,” they kept this diet to themselves. They worried it set them that much more apart from their neighbours. The children were encouraged to “Canadianize” their diets.

Arab Cooking on a Saskatchewan Homestead was published to great success in 2005. Time changed everything. Today the flavourful dishes of the Middle East and Asia are growing popular among North Americans eager to embrace not only other cultural cuisines, but a more sustainable diet for the planet.

One hot, 30 C-plus day has followed another this month. Climate experts say we get about a dozen days of these kinds of temperatures right now, but by century’s end, if warming predictions prove correct, we could see as many as 70 days of it. Imagine summer on the farm then. Kind of makes you wonder how more of us will be eating then too. My guess is dinner may be more be like those Habeeb remembers.

The recipes of Arab Cooking include many of the vegetables Canadian farm families commonly eat, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkin, onions, potatoes, but also the healthy pulses more of us should try to eat more often. Here’s a few recipes selected from Pulse Canada’s website that draw from diverse cultural food traditions while embracing healthy, wholesome chickpeas, beans, peas and lentils as their foundational ingredient. These recipes are neither complicated nor call for hard-to-find ingredients. I encourage you to try one, and if you enjoy it, you’ll find many more recipes on Pulse Canada’s website.

Chicken And Chickpea Stew

  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 c. low-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 c. spaghetti sauce
  • 1 19-oz. can (540 ml) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1 19-oz. can (540 ml) white kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1-1⁄2 c. dry short tube pasta (tubetti)
  • 1⁄2 tsp. pepper
  • 8 skinless, boneless chicken thighs cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
  • 1⁄2 c. grated fresh Parmesan

In large saucepan heat oil over medium heat. Add celery, carrot and onion and sauté until tender. Add garlic and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add broth, spaghetti sauce, chickpeas, kidney beans, pasta, pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low-medium and simmer until pasta is tender, about 10-12 minutes. Add chicken to pan and cook 5-8 minutes until chicken is done. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Makes: 6 litres of stew. Prep time: 30 minutes.Cooking time: 35 minutes. Note: Cut this recipe in half for fewer servings or freeze leftovers for easy meals.

Zucchini and Yellow Split Pea Saute

With so much zucchini available in August here’s a tasty side or main dish for using it in a slightly different way.

  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1 c. dry yellow split peas, prepared according to package
  • 2 medium tomatoes, sliced
  • 1 c. reduced-fat cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 red onion, sliced in rings
  • Dash garlic powder, light soy sauce and pepper

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Sauté green onions and zucchini slices until slightly tender, about 5 minutes. Add cooked yellow split peas. Stir gently. Layer tomato slices over top and sprinkle with 2/3 cup shredded cheese. Layer onion rings over mixture and add remaining cheese. Sprinkle garlic powder, soy sauce and pepper over top. Reduce heat to low, place lid on the pan and heat ingredients for about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Mil’s Burgers

Many of us are trying burgers made with a mix of meat and pulses these days. This recipe makes a delicious ground beef burger that’s mixed with lentils to provide you with 2 g (8 per cent daily value) fibre.

  • 1/2 lb. lean ground beef
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp. honey
  • 1/4 tsp. fresh or ground ginger
  • 1 c. cooked or canned lentils
  • 2 tbsp. reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 egg
  • 10 sprigs parsley, chopped
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 c. bread crumbs

Put all ingredients except for bread crumbs into a food processor and pulse until well blended. Transfer mixture into medium bowl and mix in bread crumbs with a spatula.

Form into 6 equal patties. Spray pan or grill lightly with non-stick spray and cook patties for about 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through.

Need to feed a really large group?

In 2012 Pulse Canada partnered with the Saskatoon Health Region to develop a large-scale recipe manual for use in their long-term care facilities. An online survey of 60 dietitians working in Canadian health-care institutions was completed in advance. Then types of recipes, batch and portion sizes, cost and nutritional targets (such as more fibre and less sodium) were created. Thirteen recipes were developed to feed groups of 50, 100, 250 and 500. These recipes were tested in both long-term and acute-care facilities in Saskatoon. They were taste tested by residents and staff. All are suitable for use in any institutional or commercial food-service establishment.

If you have a large group to feed, and would like to consider one of these recipes for your menu please visit this page on Pulse Canada’s site.


About the author


Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.



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