Maple on a plate: searching for a Canadian (food) identity

by Danielle Del Vicario

A few days ago, I asked some of my British friends to describe “Canadian cuisine”. After a fumbling silence, they all mumbled something about moose and maple syrup and my dearest roommate replying, “Maple leaves. Just maple leaves on a plate…”

Today, our societies (and our universities) seem to revolve around the idea of ethnic cuisine. As students, we eagerly await Indian night and spend more hours searching out the best sushi bar than we do studying. But, what do we eat the rest of the time? Is there such a thing as Canadian cuisine?

Canada is a country built on multiculturalism and its food scene is a kaleidoscope of pastas, curries, stir-fries and who-knows-what-else. It seems that no one quite knows what true Canadian food might be. For tourists we serve up an eclectic ensemble of poutine, maple syrup and bannock as if this could even begin to capture our country’s gastronomic identity.

In all honesty, how many Canadians actually sit down regularly to poutine or bannock, especially those who live in metropolitan centres? (And maple syrup? I for one was born and bred on Aunt Jemima’s.)

Living and studying in England has forced me to reevaluate how I understand Canadian cooking and I propose it’s time we moved away from a celebration of French fries with cheese curds and gravy. Canada is a country on the forefront of health and fitness with citizens who hike, ride and run on a regular basis. Whereas other countries can sometimes seem stuck in centuries-old traditional dishes Canadians take pride in keeping up with nutritional trends. (Dear Brits: just once could you please branch away from meat and potatoes?) Canadians take pride in keeping up with nutritional trends. You may think it’s normal to see bulk bags of quinoa, walnuts and chia seeds lining your Costco shelves, but, trust me, it’s not.

The Canadian passion for appropriating healthy international grains seems to meet its perfect match in our local agricultural gold mines lending our food a seasonal flair and making farmers’ markets the new weekend hangout of foodies and casual shoppers alike. Take a second to appreciate what each season brings to Canadian cuisine. Nothing beats locally-grown Canadian apples or North American-native cranberries—largely unavailable in the UK!

We don’t necessarily have to abandon maple syrup altogether, but let’s define our cuisine in terms of our innovation and our health. Stuck for ideas which capture the healthy and seasonal nature of the modern Canadian dish? Start with this recipe for quinoa-stuffed apples with cranberries and sage.


Quinoa-Stuffed Apples with Cranberries and Sage

4 apples (Spartans or other medium-sweet variety)

1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed

½ tsp crumbled dried sage leaves (plus more for garnish)

1¾ cups vegetable stock

¼ tsp ground black pepper (plus more for garnish)

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups fresh cranberries

mixture of 1 tbsp maple syrup, 1/2 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp water

  1. Preheat oven to 400 F.
  2. Put the two cups of cranberries on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Pour the maple syrup mixture over top and stir to coat berries. Bake for 10 minutes. Let cool on parchment.
  3. Cut apples in half and remove cores with melon baller or spoon. Hollow out the halved apples so that they are approximately one centimetre thick.
  4. Place apples on baking sheet and bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until slightly tender (but not mushy). Set aside.
  5. In medium-sized saucepan, combine quinoa, stock, sage and pepper. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for eight minutes.
  6. Add walnuts to quinoa and continue to simmer until all liquid has disappeared, about eight more minutes.
  7. Remove quinoa from heat, let stand five minutes and fluff with fork. Fold half of the roasted cranberries gently into the quinoa, saving the rest for decoration.
  8. Use a tablespoon to spoon quinoa filling into apples. Garnish with remaining cranberries, sage and freshly ground black pepper.
Quinoa-Stuffed Apples with Cranberries and Sage
Quinoa-Stuffed Apples with Cranberries and Sage