As we emerge from a fraught year – and one unlike any year before it in recent memory – we may have relied on the comfort of rich and fatty foods at home to sustain not just body, but soul.
With a new year rolling in, it seems that its initial months, at least, will be dark ones. But rather than rely on those same heavy comfort foods, perhaps a change of routine could jazz up what your normal restaurant take-out patterns are and add a bit of light (and we all need some light!) to the way you eat – and the restaurants you support – in 2021.
Therefore, find here seven lighter-fare dishes from a few restaurants and food businesses around Waterloo Region.
Goat Cheese Salad, Elixir Bistro Cambridge (Galt)
From his long-standing restaurant amid the architectural beauty of downtown Galt, Elixir Bistro’s Pirooz Jafari cooks with a passion for good food as he blends his love for French-based cookery with a unique approach to introducing a range of different cuisines. When he can, he buys local and organic.
“For this salad, I use fresh organic beets and peel and boil them and preserve them in their own juices,” he explains.
The salad is served on mixed greens with dollops of goat cheese, the crunch of pecans and the crisp, slight bite – and visual architectural beauty – of watermelon radish. “The salad is dressed with mango-balsamic oil vinaigrette, so it’s very healthy,” Jafari says.
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Buffalo Cauliflower Bites à la Air Fryer, Relish Cooking Studio Kitchener
If you’d like to cook yourself, Donna-Marie Pye, Relish co-owner, touts new air-fryer technology, and counter-top convenience, that uses only a small amount of oil and a process that results in a crispy finish on the food.
“Hot air circulates around the food causing it to cook quickly, evenly and to a crispy perfection,” says Pye. “By using an air fryer you are slashing the oil and eliminating a lot of calories and fat. You can virtually use a tablespoon of oil versus the quart you’d use in traditional deep frying.”
Pye suggests the air frying method for her Buffalo Cauliflower Bites with Blue Cheese Dip (from her new cookbook). “Cauliflower florets are dipped in a seasoned mayonnaise (or “veganaise”) mixture then lightly dusted with a seasoned flour mixture and air fried for 12 minutes. A spray of oil before they are air-fried gives the florets a crispy finish,” she says.
Serving suggestion includes a creamy two-ingredient blue cheese dip: blue cheese crumbles and mayo/veganaise or light sour cream in proportions to your taste. Easy peasy.
Little Island Poké Bowl, Poké Box Waterloo
Poké loosely translated is “slice or cut” in Hawaiian. You can always build your own poké bowl à la carte at this small take-out restaurant virtually next door to Wilfrid Laurier University, but the Little Island is a good vegetarian option that’s flavourful and filling: tofu medley, ginger honey, edamame, kale, togarashi and more.
Choose a base from sushi rice, zucchini, mixed greens or their house-blend of black, red and brown rice. (Note: you can request “less sauce” be added to your poké bowl.
Chicken Souvlaki with Rice, Sip & Bite Elmira
A popular family-style restaurant and diner in Elmira, Sip & Bite is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner takeout. In general, Greek dishes are packed with flavour: Sip & Bite’s skewer of chicken souvlaki is a classic preparation with straightforward ingredients for straightforward flavour profile, according to owner Naide Schnider.
“It’s a basic marinade of spices, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice,” says Schnider. “We grill it and it makes a nice light meal that’s flavourful too.”
The dish can be served with rice and a light tzatziki. The dish is gluten free and light on the budget too at $11.
Chicken Wrap, Morty’s Pub & Patio Waterloo
What does Morty’s owner Jay Taylor say about a lighter bite at his popular Waterloo pub – an anchor venue since 1981? “Our chicken wrap is made with fresh chicken tenders cooked to order on our flat top,” Taylor says.
The wrap also has some crisp lettuce and a zip of acidity from tomatoes and a ranch dressing, adds Taylor. “The chicken wrap is accompanied by our house Caesar salad that features our home-made croutons and in-house smoked pork belly.” (But you could hold the pork belly – if you really wanted.)
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Chick’n Bao, Wildcraft Grill + Long Bar Waterloo
The range of Charcoal Group brands offer a healthy selection of plant-based dishes to consider – in some restaurants as many as 14.
Wildcraft’s Sichuan “chick’n” bao dish is four plant-based steam buns – light, fluffy morsels enveloping plant-based chick’n marinated in five-spice hoisin sauce and roasted. The crisp pieces are accompanied by green-mango slaw, scallions and gochujang, the fermented Korean red-chile paste.
Pan-seared Salmon Provençal, Blackshop! Cambridge
Always satisfying, salmon is delectable and light. Blackshop!, located on busy Hespeler Road in Cambridge, cooks a New Brunswick salmon fillet and serves it with a ragoût of baby spinach, tomato, red onion, and fingerling potatoes.
A sauce of white wine and a light fresh-herb beurre blanc, along with marinated fennel, keeps the dish bright and robust.
Blackshop! executive chef Dan Potter draws on Provence and its rich culinary traditions for the preparation of this dish and its east-coast protein component.
“In general, the south of France highlights onion, garlic, tomato, olive oil and white wine, among other ingredients,” Potter says, adding that the touch of butter he adds gives the dish a smooth, but not heavy, sauce.
“So, that’s what we’ve got with this salmon dish. It’s light and vibrant and of course has some herbes de Provence too.”
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Andrew Coppolino is a writer-broadcaster, and is a food columnist with CBC Radio in Waterloo Region. Following a stint as a cook at a restaurant in Kitchener, Andrew chose to work with food from the other side of the kitchen pass. As a food writer, he is dedicated to promoting and nurturing culinary businesses and advocating for local chefs and restaurants. Andrew’s work has been published in newspapers and magazines across Canada, the United States and England. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.