Photography courtesy of Stan Switalski Credits: Photography courtesy of Stan Switalski
Rose Murray: Canadian food (both cooking habits and palates) have changed tremendously over the last 50 years due to immigration from diverse parts of the world and our own travelling and eating around the globe. We are now more experimental and embrace new flavours. We also appreciate fresh, good ingredients such as local produce cooked properly (no overcooked vegetables).
Early Canadians grew vegetables and raised livestock to provide sustenance; now we have the luxury of experimenting with ingredients and see the exciting flavours we can obtain from adding various herbs, spices, etc. and by cooking them in a variety of ways. There has been a bit of a roller coaster in terms of local produce, however.
In the years before air travel, freezers and modern storage facilities, we did enjoy the fleeting pleasure of seasonal cooking and looked only to local foods. Now, there is a trend once more to eat foods grown locally. We have to be realistic since there are many wonderful ingredients we would miss if we didn’t embrace some imported foods, especially when we set about making an exciting dish brought by a newcomer to Canada.
CL: We know you love to garden and grow your own food. Can you tell us a little about how your love for writing about vegetables came about?
RM: I grew up on a self-sustaining farm where we grew all our own fruit and vegetables and raised all our own meat. My mother and I tended our huge garden, harvested it and preserved much of it in the fall. When our own children were young, I was lucky enough to have a vegetable garden at a friend’s farm. I would have my children help me plant, weed and harvest it so that they knew carrots did not grow in plastic bags. When we moved to Cambridge, Ont. I had no place for a home garden, but discovered the good things I needed at the Cambridge Farmers’ Market , where I talk to vendors about what they grow and how they cook produce.
CL: Is there an unusual way to cook a certain vegetable that you’d like to share with our readers so they might be tempted to try it at home?
RM: I discovered that roasting asparagus stalks gives them an extra depth of flavour, which is why I love making oven-roasted asparagus with a hazelnut vinaigrette.
CL: The A-Z Vegetable Cookbook is an updated and modernized version of your original 1983 cookbook, Rose Murray’s Vegetable Cookbook . How did you adapt the recipes for this new version?
RM: I took out some of the recipes that were too long and complicated or used too much cream or butter. In a number of the recipes I kept in the book, I reduced the quantity of such ingredients to make them lighter.
There are 100 new recipes in the book. I wanted to stress the versatility of vegetables, so I added more appetizers and a whole new chapter on vegetarian main dishes that has everything from tomato and cheese tart to vegetable lasagna.
I also wanted to reflect Canada’s tremendously rich cultural influences from around the world with recipes like French pumpkin brûlée, curried harvest vegetables with lentils, caldo verde and Thai pickled cucumber slices.
CL: Is there a common misconception about cooking with vegetables? Or a myth you’d like to dispel?
RM: Although there are many ways to embellish vegetables with the addition of sauces, etc., there is no need to fuss over vegetables if they are fresh and properly cooked. Sometimes just a knob of butter, a squirt of lemon juice and salt and pepper will do.
CL: Your cookbook talks about the basics of cooking a variety of vegetables. What’s the one piece of advice you find essential when cooking them?
RM: Rule number one is don’t overcook them. This robs them of nutrients, colour and flavour.
CL: Is there a particular vegetable you think Canadians should cook more at home?
RM: Upscale restaurants are showing people how wonderful beets can be these days: imagine a beet and goat cheese terrine with layers of that lovely crisply cooked red vegetable and creamy white goat cheese. However, home cooks don’t want to get their hands red in the process. It is a shame to miss the earthy taste of nutrient-rich beets for this reason. There are golden beets and stripped red and white beets that don’t colour out, but most often you will find the rich dark red roots.
My advice is to look for beets with healthy fresh tops at your farmers’ market; the tops are even more nutritious than the roots. I usually just steam them, toss them with butter, salt, pepper and lemon juice or vinegar.
Inspired to cook with more vegetables? Try 6 of our best vegetarian barbecue recipes .