This vegetarian version of poutine retains all the flavour and substance of Canada’s most-loved dish. Homemade thick-cut fries are covered in a rich, hearty mushroom gravy, topped with gooey cheese curds and fresh chives.
Country Number 33: Canada
Oh Canada. What a fantastic nation. So many great things have come from this place. Maple syrup. Justin Bieber. Beautiful landscapes. Poutine. Politeness. It also happens to be the nation that both my mother and my boyfriend are from. So really, I have a lot to thank the country for. I’ve been lucky enough to visit Canada a handful of times, and my love for the country grows with every visit.
Two years ago, I managed to convince a group of my Kiwi friends (including Floss) to spend Christmas in a log cabin in Canada. After an international flight to Vancouver, it took us a casual five hours on a bus and five hours in a car to reach this cabin. I will never forgot that drive. It was dark, snowing, and none of us had driven on the other side of the road before. All of us were starving, and the whole drive, we were hanging out to find absolutely anywhere we could get food. Every single town we drove through seemed to be completely deserted. We couldn’t even find a gas station open to buy snacks.
Four hours in, we finally spotted a light coming from a timber-lined building in a very sleepy town. We stumbled inside and found the most quintessential Canadian bar imaginable. Taxidermised moose lined the walls, lumberjack shirts were worn by most patrons and hockey filled every TV screen. A super-friendly waitress approached us, politely informing us that the kitchen was closing but we could still order some “appys”. We all looked at the lady as though she spoke a different language. It was in that moment we learnt some very important Canadian lingo. “Appys” is short for appetizers. It seems obvious now. Over the next hour, we were presented with various deep-fried “appys”, luke-warm tea and one of the worst cocktails I’ve had the displeasure of tasting. It may have been a terrible introduction to Canadian food, but we were more than grateful to have food in our bellies.
History of Canadian Cuisine
Originally, Canada’s cuisine derived from four roots- First Nations, English, Scottish and French. This meant there were drastic regional variations in the cuisine depending on the roots of the region. These days, Canadian cuisine has become a little more universal. Thanks to the waves of immigration in the past two centuries, the across the nation the cuisine has been influenced by Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and inevitably, the USA.
Each region and province in Canada still has its own unique local dishes. British Columbia’s food most resembles British cuisine, with notable influences from Asia and Eastern Europe. The region grows a lot of its own fruit and vegetables and is also famous for its wine production. Alberta, on the other hand, is best know for its beef. It is commonly served with meat and potato or in stew. Similar to BC, Ontario has been influenced by the British from its colonial days. Traditionally, the region focuses on food made with local, seasonal produce. However, Ontario is now very multicultural and is influenced by a wide spectrum of cuisines. Food in Quebec is a fascinating mix of French, Irish and aboriginal influence. It is the birthplace of a few particularly famous Canadian dishes such as tourtiere (a meat pie) and poutine (fries with gravy and cheese curds).
The traditional indigenous cuisine of Canada was based on foraged foods, wild game and agricultural products. Maple syrup was also first collected and used by the aboriginal people. Nowadays, Canada is the biggest maple syrup producer in the world and it is used to sweeten many typical Canadian desserts. Other than maple syrup, Canadian foods generally consists of a lot of starch, breads and game meats. Typical Canadian cuisine is a little limited when it comes to vegetarian dishes. Having said this, the country itself is very vegetarian-friendly these days, particularly in the bigger cities.
Popular Canadian Vegetarian Dishes
- Poutine– Known as Canada’s national dish, Poutine was invented in Quebec and has now become popular across the world. It consists of French fries topped with cheese curds and gravy.
- Nanaimo bars– This sweet, no-bake bar is a popular treat consists of three layers- a wafer crumb base, custard-flavoured butted icing and chocolate top layer.
- Butter tart– Small flaky pastry is filled with a sweet butter and egg filling and can be found across the country. They also sometimes come filled with raisins or pecans.
- Montreal-style bagel– Unlike their New York counterpart, Montreal-style bagels are always cooked in a woodfire oven, and tend to be smaller, thinner and sweeter as they are boiled in honey-sweetened water prior to baking.
- Ketchup chips– Ketchup chips, particularly those made by Lays, are a very well-loved Canadian snack. You won’t find this flavour of chip anywhere else in the world.
Vegetarian rating of Canadian Cuisine:
Making Vegetarian Poutine with Mushroom Gravy
It wasn’t hard to decide what to make for our Canadian dish. Poutine was love at first bite, so we couldn’t wait to recreate it at home. Believe it or not, that first bite was on a mountain in Australia of all places. After a long day of skiing, we stumbled upon an apres-ski bar that happened to be celebrating Canada day. Of course, poutine was on the menu as the special of the day. Nothing has ever hit the spot after skiing so much as this bowl of crunchy chips topped with warm gravy and melted cheese.
The problem with poutine
The problem with poutine (at least for vegetarians) is that the gravy is often beef-based. For this recipe, we determined to make a vegetarian-friendly gravy that emanated the same heartiness and depth of flavour as the OG. Cue one of all-time favourite vegetables- the mushroom. Mushrooms must be God’s gift to vegetarians. In our opinion, they are the best vegetable substitute for meat both flavour and texture wise. Hence why they play a starring role in many of our recipes, including this one. We were pretty pleased with how our mushroom-based gravy for our poutine turned out. Even our resident Canadian gave the tick of approval.
The mystical cheese curd
The other key ingredient to poutine is the mystical cheese curd. If you don’t know what a cheese curd is, you’re not alone. We didn’t either. We have since discovered they are essentially curds of young cheese that haven’t been aged. The result is fresh cheese that has a springy, squeaky texture. For whatever reason, they work wonders when paired with fries and gravy. The heat of the gravy allows them to slightly melt and become a little gooey, while still retaining their form. Unfortunately, cheese curds are not easy to find in New Zealand. The closest substitute we could find was mozzarella cut into chunks, which worked well in the dish.
How to make Vegetarian Poutine with Mushroom Gravy
Poutine is easy to make, and coming together quickly in just a few steps.
- Cut and pre-soak potatoes for at least an hour before making the poutine.
- Make gravy by sautéing diced onions then mushrooms for a few minutes. Add in seasonings and cook for 5 minutes until mushrooms are brown. Add in vegetable stock and corn starch and cook for another 5 minutes. Total cooking time for the gravy should be around 16 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat oil in deep pan and fry potato slices for 5 to 8 minutes. Then remove from oil, increase temperature and cook for another few minutes until brown. If you are adding mushrooms on top, fry these up in a small pan whilst the fries cook.
- Remove fries from oil, top with warm gravy, cheese curds and optional sauteed mushrooms and chives and serve immediately.
Ingredient notes for Vegetarian Poutine with Mushroom Gravy
- Cheese curds- If you are like us and can’t source any cheese curds, you can substitute for mozzarella cut into chunks.
- Vegemite/ marmite/ miso– We included vegemite in our gravy to add a savoury, salty flavour. However, we realise if you aren’t from Australasia this probably isn’t something you’d have in your pantry! You can also use marmite, miso paste or soy sauce for the same flavour effect.
Serving suggestions for Vegetarian Poutine
Poutine really is marvellous in its simplest form- namely fries, cheese and gravy. However, we can never resist adding a few extra garnishes, so we topped our poutine with sauteed mushrooms and fresh chives. Spring onions, vegetarian bacon or pulled jackfruit would also make great additional toppings.
Other potato dishes to try:
Vegetarian Poutine with Mushroom Gravy
- 4 tbsp butter
- 1 onion (minced)
- 1 cup mushrooms (minced)
- 1 tbsp vegemite/ miso paste/ soy sauce*
- 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce (optional)
- Salt & pepper (to taste)
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- Vegetable oil
- 6 large potatoes (cut into 1/2 inch thick sticks and soaked in cold water for 1 hour)
- 1 1/2 cups cheese curds or mozzarella (cut into pieces)
- 1 tbsp chives (chopped)
- Sauteed mushrooms (optional)
Make mushroom gravy:
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and add minced onion. Sauté for 3 minutes until turning translucent. Add mushrooms,
- While fries are baking, prepare gravy by heating a rimmed skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add oil (or water) and shallots. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add chopped mushrooms, vegemite or miso paste, balsamic vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. Increase to medium high and cook for 5 minutes or until the mushrooms are brown.
- Add corn starch and stir to coat. Lower heat to low and slowly add the broth while whisking.
- Cook for 4-5 minutes, or until gravy has thickened and reached desired consistency. Blend if you’d like a smooth gravy or leave as is for a chunkier gravy.
- Keep warm on lowest heat until ready to serve, stirring occasionally.
- Heat vegetable oil in deep pan to 150˚C (300˚F).
- Remove potatoes from water and blot with paper towel to remove excess moisture.
- Batch at a time, put fries into the oil and cook for 5 to 8 minutes until potatoes are starting to cook but not fully browned.
- Remove fries from oil and onto wire rack. Increase oil temperature to 190˚C (375˚F) and return potatoes to pan. Cook until golden brown. Remove to paper towel-lined plate.
- Top fries with warm mushroom gravy, cheese curds or pieces of mozzarella, chopped chives and optional sauteed mushrooms. The cheese should start to melt from the heat of the gravy, however, if it doesn’t, pop dish under grill for a few minutes.
Did you make this recipe? We’d love to know! Tell us how it went in the comments below or tag us (@gourmetvegetarians) in your photos on Instagram.
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