Monday, May 05, 2014

Prairie Kitchens - Chickpeas and Spinach

Imagine surviving the winter in a sod hut with no electricity, no hot running water (well, any running water) and no fresh vegetables. By early May, you would be anxious to get gardening.

Many of the pioneers who settled Saskatchewan brought their favourite seeds with them from the Old Country. Tomatoes and melons from Russia, chickpeas and lentils from Syria, sweet corn from the United States. Some of their seeds did not fare well in our short northern growing season, however, those that did prosper were saved and shared with neighbours.

For instance, gardeners would note the first tomato to ripen and save its seeds for the following year. By attentive selection, new heritage varieties were created such as the Russian Saskatchewan Tomato and the Cream of Saskatchewan Watermelon.

However, it would be a mistake to think gardening started with the pioneers. During the fur trade era, the Hudson Bay Company distributed wheat, barley, oats, potatoes and garden seeds for planting at fur trade posts such as Cumberland House and Fort Carlton. These early gardens were often tended by M├ętis, who were the "green thumbs" of the Northwest Territories.

Perhaps the strangest seeds grown in pioneer times were those of settlers from the Middle East such as chickpeas and coriander, which were used in recipes like this one.

Chickpeas and Spinach
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
3–4 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups finely chopped spinach
1/2 cup finely chopped coriander leaves
2 cups cooked chickpeas
2 cups stewed tomatoes and their juice
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in a deep skillet. Cook onion and garlic until soft. Stir in spinach and cook for a few minutes. Add remaining ingredients, seasoning with salt and pepper to taste. Simmer on low heat for 20 minutes. Serve hot or cold.

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(This article first appeared in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix.)


Tom Wilson said...

Enjoyed this post. We're very interested Saskatchewan's ethnic gardening traditions and in growing old heirloom favourites that tell a story. We'll be growing many Russian tomato varieties again this year, and we're going to hope for a hot summer for our Cream of Saskatchewan watermelons. We'd love to find and grow some original Doukhobor garlic that never left SK.

Amy Jo Ehman said...

Thanks, Tom. I recently connected with a company growing 20 kinds of heirloom garlic. It's Meadowlark Farm at Elbow. Maybe they have what you're looking for?? 306-854-2600.

Faye Kiss said...

I look forward to trying the recipe this week. Thank you for focusing on how much the early pioneers shaped our saskatchewan culture. They brought many tastes that enhance our food experience.

Amy Jo Ehman said...

Thanks, Faye, it was a delight to lean more about Hungarian cuisine from you and Ted. More to come!!