More of us than ever are coming to understand the links between the food we eat and its impact on the planet. Eating a diet rich in legumes and organic vegetables, with a reduced emphasis on meat, is recognized as being better for us and the planet.
Organic fruits and vegetables are direct sources of nourishment, take less land and water than animal production, and are grown free of pesticides that can damage soil. When grown as part of a regenerative farming system, they contribute to sustainable agriculture, biodiversity, and soil improvement.
Nitrogen-fixing leguminous plants, including lentils, peas, and beans, have deep roots and require less irrigation and tillage than other crops. When used as part of a crop rotation system, the nitrogen these plants leave behind in the soil can be passed on to other crops, reducing the need for fertilizers, which, in turn, results in efficient production and less residue for the soil and the food we eat.
Where and when our food is grown is also important. “Buying local” supports local economies and may mean fewer transport emissions, just as shifting our attitudes toward selecting seasonal items can result in positive impacts for the environment as well as more variety in what we eat.
The magic is that what’s good for the earth is also good for us. Legumes are great sources of fibre and protein, and leafy greens are packed with vitamins C and K. Diets rich in vegetables, including antioxidant-packed leafy greens, are associated with lower cancer risk. Read on to discover delicious recipes that will help you include more sustainable ingredients in your meal plans.
Small black beluga lentils, so called because of their resemblance to caviar, hold their shape well, making them perfect for salads. If you can’t find beluga lentils, use French Puy lentils, which have similar properties. With lentils, young spinach, spring peas, and herby dressing, this salad welcomes spring.
Creamy pinto beans and earthy black beans stand in for kidney beans and help make a hearty chili along with some smoky poblano peppers. A pinch of cacao in this chili enhances the slightly sweet flavour of lean bison. If you prefer a less spicy chili, feel free to reduce the amount of powder, or add it in stages.
Perhaps nothing signals the arrival of spring better than delicious rhubarb. The tart vegetable (yes, you read that right) that we think of as a fruit lends itself to gentle poaching to coax out its flavour. It’s just waiting to be combined with a host of herbs and aromatics to make it even more luscious.
This article was originally published in the April 2022 issue of alive.
Get J-C Poirier talking about food, and the word “honest” will be sprinkled throughout the conversation like the Diamond Crystal kosher salt the Michelin-starred chef uses in the kitchen of his Quebecois bistro, St. Lawrence, in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Honest food Poirier’s favourite food is “honest food.” As a culinarian, and one paying homage to his French-Canadian heritage, he’s all about “being honest with his food.” But unlike the opaque marketing buzzword that “honest” has become in the food world, Poirier applies it with earnestness to the cooking that inspires him and that he hopes to encourage in others, including with his recently released cookbook, Where the River Narrow s (Appetite by Random House, 2022) . “What I mean is, you’ve got to be attentive to yourself as a chef or as a cook. It comes by knowing yourself and your background, and where you come from,” Poirier says. “Being honest is offering a part of who you are. That’s how I know the difference between good cooking and great cooking.” Honest roots Poirier comes by his greatness at cooking, well, honestly. All apron strings lead back to his bon vivant mother, who was as convivial as she was creative in the kitchen of the family’s Saint-Jérôme, Quebec, home. She bought local and stretched a dollar. She also pushed boundaries with the young taste buds around the table, exposing Poirier to quinoa before it became a household grain and making her own tofu. Honest training The magic of cooking and gathering over a meal compelled Poirier to eventually enrol in culinary school. He spent a year training in classical French techniques before putting them to the test in the storied Les Remparts in Old Montreal. Poirier was drawn to the physical aspect of cooking, but like many young people forging their own path, he was eventually lured away from the place that reared him. Vancouver beckoned. After stints at Rob Feenie’s Lumière, and even in his own Italian-inspired dining rooms and eateries, a meal in Paris inspired Poirier to get back to his roots in the kitchen. In 2017, he opened St. Lawrence, a cozy 40-seat space that’s like “entering my grandma’s house.” “It’s being authentic to myself,” he says. Honest legacy Poirier retraces his professional journey and personal growth in < Where the River Narrows > using recipes that channel timeless and foundational French and Quebecois cooking techniques, and a more relaxed Poirier at home. If he’s being honest, Poirier hopes the book will be a legacy to share with his two young daughters, Aïla and Florence. It also serves as a business card for a restaurant that’s earning prestigious accolades, including Chef of the Year and Restaurant of the Year by Vancouver Magazine . Last fall, dining authority Michelin bestowed one of its coveted stars upon St. Lawrence, too. Honest values That success can be linked to the professional values Poirier upholds in addition to raw talent. He leads by healthy example, eschewing alcohol, especially on the job, and espousing work-life balance by opening St. Lawrence only four days a week. He also offers employment benefits, including four weeks of vacation every year. His staff stay, and success follows honestly. Looking ahead, Poirier knows only that he will stay true—to himself and his craft. “I’ll just keep going forward and try to be me,” he says. “And my team? Try to be better and better every day at what we do, and the rest will come.” Key ingredients Quality over quantity is as much a mantra for J-C Poirier as honesty, especially when it comes to ingredients. That’s why he encourages home cooks to splurge on premium options. They make a significant difference to the end result, he argues, and because of their quality, you’ll need less of them, too, extending their value. Poirier’s essential top-shelf ingredients grass-fed, cultured butter organic all-purpose flour for baking; whole wheat, buckwheat, and Red Fife flours for bread making top-notch oils for a variety of purposes, including grapeseed oil for cooking, first-pressed canola oil for salad dressing, and extra-virgin olive oil for finishing dishes Diamond Crystal kosher salt for seasoning food and Maldon sea salt for a finishing touch to add texture high quality vinegars, including red wine, balsamic, and apple cider Cooking for the health of it French food doesn’t always conjure healthy eating. After all, the French eat four times as much butter and 60 percent more cheese than the average American. There are health-conscious ways to stay true to both your inner gastronome and the cuisine, however. For J-C Poirier, it’s cooking with emotion, logic, and love, and remembering the following. Less is more “I don’t need a 10 ounce piece of beef. I need maybe four or five, and a really high quality,” Poirier says. “I pay the price for it, but I just eat less.” Eat the seasons “In the summer, I will buy all the vegetables from the farm,” he explains. “When it’s asparagus season, we eat asparagus. In the winter, we eat potatoes and parsnips and sunchokes.” Cook for yourself—and from scratch “A lot of people buy processed food, and that has a higher amount of salt or sugar than if I start from scratch and control what I put in there.” Watch your fat Use high-end, pure versions of butter and cooking oils rather than refined options or those cut with other ingredients that could negatively impact health. “It’s being a little more aware, I think, of what people are buying,” Poirier says. Excerpted from < Where the River Narrows: Classic French & Nostalgic Québécois Recipes From St. Lawrence Restaurant > by Jean-Christophe Poirier. Written with Joie Alvaro Kent. Copyright © 2022 Jean- Christophe Poirier. Cover and book design by Jennifer Griffiths. Photography by Brit Gill, except page 148. Photo on page 8 by Amy Ho. Photos on pages 2, 5, and 6 courtesy of the author. Published by Appetite by Random House, a division of Penguin
Tourtière is, for me, the dish that best represents Québec. It can be traced back to the 1600s, and there’s no master recipe; every family has their own twist. Originally, it was made with game birds or game meat, like rabbit, pheasant, or moose; that’s one of the reasons why I prefer it with venison instead of beef or pork. Variation: If you prefer to make single servings, follow our lead at the restaurant, where we make individual tourtières in the form of a dome (pithivier) and fill them with 5 ounces (160 g) of the ground venison mixture. Variation: You can also use a food processor to make the dough. Place the flour, salt, and butter in the food processor and pulse about ten times, until the butter is incorporated—don’t overmix. It should look like wet sand, and a few little pieces of butter here and there is okay. With the motor running, through the feed tube, slowly add ice water until the dough forms a ball—again don’t overmix. Wrap, chill, and roll out as directed above.
My love of artichokes continues with this classic recipe, one of the best ways to eat this interesting, underrated, and strange vegetable. Frozen artichoke hearts are a time-saving substitute, though the flavour and texture of fresh artichokes are, by far, much superior and definitely preferred.