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BC on a Plate: Winter

With Surrey’s urban landscape wrapped in wintery shades of brown and grey, it is understandable that general interest in seasonal vegetables pales at this time of year. Someone who always finds inspiration in BC’s remarkable variety of homegrown vegetables, however, is Executive Chef Rajeev Arora. An enthusiastic champion of locally grown food, he’s using his profound creativity and international cooking experience to elevate those rather less glamorous vegetables, such as parsnips, carrots, turnips and rutabagas, to positions of prominence on the buffet table and plates of Civic Hotel’s business guests.

No matter what he’s cooking, his passionate respect for the innate qualities and potential of these seasonal, local vegetables drives his approach to each and every preparation. “We try to keep the vegetables in their natural form. I don’t like to lose the flavour by trying to make it look or taste like something else. If I’m putting a vegetable on the plate, I want to let it taste like itself and bring out its best flavours and textures. Sometimes, roasting one of them with a bit of salt and pepper and then glazing with maple syrup gives an incredible taste.”

Where others may fear to tread, Arora delights in taking on vegetables like the parsnip, for example, a potassium and fibre-rich root vegetable most often served boiled and salted. Rather than falter in the face of what many consider an uninspired plant food, he declares that “people are surprised at our parsnip and turnip dishes because they don’t expect them to taste delicious. They say ‘what is this?’ and I have to explain. It’s all in how you prepare them.”

He favours cooking techniques like braising or roasting that draw out amazingly subtle flavours and textures. When enhanced by the simplest of herbs or glazes, they give these vegetables the warmth and heartiness that typify the preparations offered in his winter menu. Examples include his parsnip soup, the recipe for which is provided below. “I can assure people that they will be blown away by this recipe!”

Parsnip, Pear and Bacon Soup

Ingredients

Cooking Instructions

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the bacon and render the fat until bacon is cooked and crispy. Remove bacon and most of the fat from pan and place aside on a tray. To the bacon fat remaining in the saucepan, add the onion, garlic, thyme and cook, stirring for few minutes or until the onion is soft. Add whole parsnips, potatoes and stock to the pan. Increase heat and bring to the boil. Let simmer for 15 minutes or until parsnip and potatoes are tender. Set mixture aside to cool.

Once cooled, place the mixture in the jug of a blender and blend in batches until smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and place over low heat to cook for 10 minutes. Add whipping cream and stir for 2 minutes. Ladle the soup in the serving bowls and garnish with the bacon cut into lardons, diced pears and snipped chives. Serve with toasted baguette.