When it comes right down to it, (and like most Canadians), I’m pretty happy living in this country. Oh, sure, I complain about the health care system and the excessive taxes, but secretly I’m proud. When I went to Europe, I openly displayed a Maple Leaf on my backpack (in those days, only actual Canadians did that). I don’t mind the stereotype that we’re all hockey-and-beer obsessed (both of which I can’t stand), since it seems to be balanced by another stereotype, that we’re the peacekeepers of the world.
Over the years, I’ve also appreciated the fact that, as opposed to a “melting pot,” we here in Canuk Country offer a “multicultural mosaic.” Because Toronto is one of the most multi-cultural cities in the world, its denizens contribute generously to that multi-faceted, multi-colored variegation. A quick mental tally tells me I’ve taught students from six continents and almost 70 countries over the years.
In an English class a few years back, I received a collection of essays from students who’d immigrated to Canada. They told stories about landing at the Toronto airport on December 25th, wearing only a T-shirt and shorts; or having an in-house bathroom (with running water!) for the first time; reuniting with siblings they hadn’t seen for a dozen or more years; or being introduced to “Canadian” food (ie McDonald’s). They also told stories about the information pamphlets they’d received from the government before they arrived.
These days, they informed me, our multicultural populace is no longer referred to as a “mosaic.” In fact, these days it seems Canada is more than just a peaceful, tolerant, polite country.
Canada, you see, is a salad.
Yep, that’s how the Canadian government, in all its gubernatorial solemnity, describes our great land. Does this sound suspiciously like an episode of Rick Mercer’s Talking to Americans? Would that it were. You see, a salad is presumably the perfect metaphor for our diverse population: just as with a colorful tossed salad, people from all around the world are welcome to join us in this big bowl o’ Canada. Once squished together in that ol’ Salad Bowl of the North, we mingle and mix, yet the separate elements each retain their individual characters, colors, and flavors–a harmonious coexistence, the sum greater than the individual parts; yet we never meld into each other. As Doug and Bob McKenzie might say, Beauty!
So when I came up with this idea for a salad to contribute to Lisa and Holler’s No Croutons Required event, I immediately thought of this Canadian metaphor. Not only is the salad a fusion of different colors and flavors, it’s also filled with items hailing from countries around the globe–Swiss “cheese,” mangoes from Southeast Asia, basil (originally) from India, balsamic vinegar from Italy–and perfect for a Canadian salad. In my mind, I envisioned a newfangled version of Caprese salad , except with a twist–the combination of mango and tomato offering an unexpected contrast in both color and flavor alongside the mild cheese and perfumed basil. (In this case, of course, the cheese in question would be “Un-Cheese,” the “Mostarella” from Joanne Stepaniuk’s Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook). Since Holler was asking for salads with cheese, this seemed the perfect occasion to finally try one of the “block” cheeses in the book.
The “Mostarella” started out well: I ground some oats and mixed them with nutritional yeast, soymilk, and a few other ingredients. And while the mixture did appear a little too soft when I spread it in the mold, the recipe had cautioned that it needed overnight refrigeration to set, so I popped it in the fridge and waited.
To my horror, the next morning it was still more like cheese sauce than cheese. Oh, well, back to the cutting board. Attempt number two: this time, I used a recipe for mild Swiss “cheese.” With 5 tablespoons of agar, I had a feeling this one would set. And set it did! It produced a mild, firm yet soft, slightly tangy cheese with a hint of that acerbic zing characterizing most Swiss cheese. I cut it into cubes and prepared the salad.
Based on this recipe (and switching basil for the cilantro), the salad sounded as if it would be a perfectly compatible match for the cheese. Unfortunately, this international vegetable bowl didn’t produce the same harmonious result as a tossed Canada. The mango and tomato competed for gustarory prominence, while the dressing seemed out of place against the sweet mango and basil. In fact, I must admit that the only part of this salad I truly enjoyed was the “cheese.”
I know the event asked for salad with cheese, but I just wouldn’t feel right recommending this salad recipe. However, if you’d like to try some homemade vegan Swiss cheese, here’s a terrific choice. I know: just eat it in Toronto, Canada, and you can pretend it’s surrounded by tossed salad.
Vegan Swiss Cheese
This cheese is lighter than dairy cheese, and not as filling (so you can eat more!). It holds its shape perfectly, so it can be sliced, cubed, or grated–and it lasts up to 5 days in the fridge.
1-1/2 cups (375 ml.) water
5 Tbsp. (75 ml.) agar flakes
1/2 cup (125 ml.) chopped raw cashews
1/4 cup (60 ml.) nutritional yeast flakes
3 Tbsp. (45 ml.) fresh lemon juice
2 Tbsp. (30 ml.) sesame tahini
1 Tbsp. (15 ml.) onion powder
2 tsp. (10 ml.) dijon mustard
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) garlic powder
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml.) dry mustard powder
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) ground coriander
1/4 tsp. (1.5 ml.) salt, or to taste
Lightly oil a 3-cup (750 ml.) plastic storage container and set aside.
Combine the water and agar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring often, until dissolved, about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a blender and add the remaining ingredients. Process several minutes until completely smooth, scraping down the sides of the blender jar as necessary. Pour into prepared container and cool uncovered in the refrigerator. When completely cool, cover and chill several hours or overnight. To serve, turn out of the container and slice or cut into cubes. Store leftovers in the refrigerator. Will keep 5 to 7 days.
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