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Wow! Pow Wow! And Wow Food Too! (November 24, 2005)

For thousands of years, aboriginal people have existed on the foods truly at hand, that which could be hunted or caught, and supplemented with berries, wild fruits, greens and grains. Some of these tribes stayed nomadic, wandering deserts and the Great Plains; others settled and created stable communities. And no matter the circumstances in which they lived, at some point in the history of every community and each group, someone cooking a meal added a touch of sweet grass or fragrant wild herb, or a dab of honey smeared on grilled fish or smoked game. Basic survival food evolved into a genuine cuisine.

Now we have a chance to explore Canadian aboriginal gourmet dishes in Toronto on November 26–27 at the 12th Annual Canadian Aboriginal Festival & Pow Wow.

This huge event celebrates Native culture with gourmet food, fashion, storytelling, music and a spectacular beginning, The Grand Entry, the ceremony during which more than 1500 dancers dressed in Native regalia enter the pow wow circle to the rhythm of Aboriginal drumming.

We're going to be hungry after this fabulous opening, so we'll head for Origins Restaurant, with a menu inspired by the Origin of Aboriginal foods. All beverage accompaniments are non-alcoholic and have been specifically sourced out for their compatibility with the menu chosen by an award-winning Toronto sommelier. She hand-picked the accompanying non-alcoholic wines, and we knew you'd love to read her "wine" notes (in italics) with each dish.

Gazing at Origins menu, we might start our feast with one of these delectable appetizer combinations:

Rabbit Saddle Stuffed with Sage Bread Dressing served with Honey Candied Yam with an Ariel Chardonnay California. "This chardonnay surprises the palate with hints of honeydew melon and mire lemon. A good balance with candied yams."

Smoked Duck Breast Skewered with Vegetables and Grilled served with Orange Honey Dipping Sauce. Try the Carl Jung Sparkling: "This golden sparkler will cleanse the palate and support the smoked finish in the duck breast. As well, the fruit in this sparkling beverage will marry well with the Orange Honey."

Buffalo Tenderloin Skewered with Mushrooms and Leeks served with a Red Wine Sauce along with Becks DeAlcoholized Beer, Germany: "The hops and malt will balance the earthiness of the mushrooms and sweetness of the leek. A fine example of a well-made brew."

How about a salad? North American Spring Greens with Wind Dried Salmon and a Blueberry Vinaigrette is served with an Efferve Sparkling Lemonade France. "This refreshing palate cleanser that perks the taste buds with ripe citrus petillante. Naturally sweetened with beet sugar, this beverage will balance the aromatic vegetables of the salad as well as the richness of the wild rice in the consommé."

The main dishes really caught our eye: Venison Rib Steak and Smoked Duck Breast with Julienne Squash and Medicine Wheel Potatoes served with Rosemary-Thyme Sauce and Orange Honey Sauce. A Carl Jung Riesling (Germany) is suggested: "This fruit-forward riesling is a delightful example of how the fruit and acid in the beverage supports the protein and herb in the food. Also try the Carl Jung sparkling wine with this meal!"

There are soup, breads and lovely desserts too, and we're going to work off this meal at some of the events, story telling, native crafts and fashion, and spend some time in the Traditional Teachings Tent. It's going to be exciting and educational and yummy all in one!

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On today's menu:

Baked Salmon with Three Sisters Vegetables and Wild Rice Pilaf served with a Citrus Cinnamon Maple Sauce

You can try this at home. We love salmon and are always looking for a variation; this recipe is a rich cooler weather dish with delicious warm spices. It's perfect with the Wild Rice Pilaf! We've left the recipe as the chef wrote it, complete with some fascinating folklore about the ingredients!

Serves 4

  • 2 × 4 oz salmon loins
  • 2 oz corn niblets
  • 2 oz green beans
  • 2 oz butternut squash
  • 1 oz wild rice (makes 3 oz cooked)
  • 2 oz white rice
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 lime
  • 1 orange
  • 2 oz pure maple syrup
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • Mirepoix - onion, celery and carrot
  • ½ cup chicken stock
  • Butter
  • Salt, pepper and thyme

The salmon loin is the upper back part of the fillet; unlike the side, belly or tail part of the salmon, it maintains its shape and is not prone to flaking. However, I've always found this cut, because of its lack of fatty deposits, to be dry to the palate. I created this sauce with the intention of providing moisture and flavour for the salmon. It's a simple sauce to make, beginning with the freshly squeezed juices of lemon, lime and orange with cinnamon sticks in a sauce pan reduced by half and then add an equal amount of pure maple syrup and reduce again by a third, add cinnamon powder, thicken to a sauce consistency with a corn-starch slurry and serve over the baked salmon loins. The salmon is baked in the oven on an oiled pan with salt, pepper and a little water for moisture.

The vegetables for this dish are called the Three Sisters – corn, beans and squash – from legends of the Six Nations Confederacy. One of the legends tells of three sisters who were always fighting: one of the girls was tall and had long hair of which she was very proud, the second was of average height and had a fine athletic body and the third was a little shorter but had a beautiful face and the most beautiful eyes. The three sisters would fight about anything and everything, disrupting the entire family, the whole longhouse and sometimes even the whole village. One day they were asked to go and tend the field where the crops grew and as always the fighting began between the three. They argued over who was prettiest, who was going to do what work and who wasn't working hard enough, it was constant. When you thought they were done they found something else to fight about. It was too much and a lesson needed to be taught, so as they stood arguing they were turned into the plants of corn, beans and squash. To this day the Three Sisters are planted together in a mound in the fields. The corn provides a long stock for the vines of the beans to climb for sunlight and they both provide shade for the squash. The bean plant returns nutrients to the earth for the others to use and the leaves from the squash keep the ground moist. They are planted at the same time but ripen separately. From these three vegetables the essential amino acids are available to sustain life. From these three plants we learn how to live with and help one another.

The corn is niblet, the green beans are cut to one inch and the squash is diced to ¼ inch and they are all blanched separately al dente and then sautéed in butter seasoned with salt and pepper and garnished with diced sweet red pepper.

The wild rice has another legend, but I will save that for another time. For this dish, the wild rice is combined with a standard home-style white rice pilaf. The white rice is sautéed with the mirepoix until the butter is cooked into the white rice and then chicken stock is added and then the pot is covered with wrap and foil and baked. The wild rice is boiled on the stove in an open pot with lots of water; the wild rice is done when the rice bursts from the shell. Drain the excess water and at this point according to taste the wild rice can be rinsed a lot or not at all. The taste of the wild rice by itself can be described as woody, so how much of that taste you like or want to come through will determine how much you rinse it away. I prefer the pure taste of the wild rice and, when combined with the familiar white rice pilaf, there is a complementary taste shared while the hardy texture of the wild rice separates it from the white rice once in your mouth.

The plate is garnished with lemon, lime and a cinnamon stick.

Sommelier's Pick for the Salmon: Carl Jung Riesling, "A clear, fruity wine that is typical of this German grape. It is clean on the palate and has a long finish. The nose is reminiscent of green apples, citrus and green berries. It would go well with fowl, fish, and white meats such as pork. Excellent with salads and light sandwiches."

Tony's wine recommendation:
Or, if you want real wine, with this dish I recommend a barrel-aged Chardonnay, preferably from Sonoma or Ontario. Also good Oregon Pinot Gris or Viognier from the Pays d'Oc.


More information:
TORONTO: Canadian Aboriginal Festival & Pow Wow: Saturday, November 26, from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm and Sunday, November 27, from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm at the Rogers Centre (One Blue Jays Way). Tickets for the weekend event are $10.00 a day for adults and $5.00 a day for children of 12 years and under; the daily family price, for two adults and two children, is $25.00. Tickets may be purchased in advance through Ticketmaster at 416-872-1111, or any of the Ticketmaster ticket centres.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

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