Every day, we count our blessings to be living here in the Cowichan Valley on Vancouver Island. This is a food zone and an agricultural oasis. Our neighbours have farm stands, cows amble in nearby pastures, tractors slow down Herd Road traffic and grapes course through vineyards framed by mountains and mist. Bounty-filled farmers’ markets can be found all over the valley but during these pandemic times, lines are endlessly long due to Covid protocol.
Luckily for those of little patience, we can shop online at the wondrous Cow-Op where an incredible catalogue of local items, from kale to duck liver paté to garlic seed bulbs are posted for purchase.
Due to the immediate freshness of these orders, local vendors update the site weekly with prepared, frozen or just-harvested items which go live on the site every Thursday until midnight Monday. Orders can be picked-up in Duncan and Victoria, or delivered.
Once we’d picked up our first order, David and I were hooked. Thursday trips to Hope Farm in Duncan were a charm. The farm is littered with ramshackle chicken yards and coops, mountainous rows of kale and Brussels sprouts and a large, empty, funky old barn where we pick up our order.
In June, we walked off with a box spilling over with luscious heads of green butter and red oak lettuce from Lenora Bee Apiary and Farm, bags of freshly milled rye, Einkorn and Neepawa flours from True Grain and small bundles of chèvre and Tomme de Vallée from Haltwhistle Cheese Company. After sourcing my order from freezers and refrigerators scattered through the cavernous barn, a Cow-Op staff pointed to a tray of heirloom tomato starts on the ground nearby. “Take me home” said the sign and I walked away with a slightly forlorn, but not forsaken Mountain Merit heirloom tomato seedling that is still producing on my back porch.
While Thursday afternoon Cow-Op pickups have become the highlight of this foodie’s week, I don’t always remember to put in my order by the previous Monday night deadline.
Last week I not only remembered but found food goddesses by my side as I gently defrosted a package of frozen Halibut Cheeks from Drift Meat and Seafood.
I had curry on the brain. It started with stained fingers after grating fresh turmeric then ginger. Fragrant wafts of onion and garlic filled the kitchen, heightened by whole cumin and fennel seeds thrown into the mix. I found two ripe Mountain Merit tomatoes and another opportunity for my tomatillos that are growing like a rash through my beds right now.
Even though I’ve de-husked a hundred this fall, each and every tomatillo makes me smile. Once their papery wrapping is off, these little green orbs have a sticky coating that adheres like glue until rinsed off. Tomatillos taste like unripe, green tomatoes with a twist of lime, perfect for these soft halibut parcels infused with the flavours of the Cowichan Valley. Thank you Cow-Op for bringing it all to the table.
Halibut Cheek Curry
Inspired by my purchase of frozen halibut cheeks at the Cowichan Green Co-op, this curry is also perfect for tilapia, sole, spot prawns, shrimp or scallops. The trick to great seafood is to cook it ever so lightly until just done.
2 tbsp coconut oil
2 tsp whole cumin seeds
2 tsp whole fennel seeds
¼ tsp cayenne
1 large onion, chopped
1 tsp ground turmeric or 2-inches fresh, finely grated
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 inch fresh ginger, finely grated
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
4 tomatillos, chopped
2 fingerling or small potatoes, chopped
1 cup water
4 halibut cheeks, aprox
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
¼-1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat oil in a large saute pan at medium high. Add cumin, fennel and cayenne, cook 1 min. Add onion, turmeric, garlic and ginger and continue cooking until the onions soften. Add tomatoes, tomatillos, potatoes and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil then gently simmer, covered for 10-15 min or until potatoes are tender. Add more water if the sauce seems dry. Add fish and gently simmer/poach covered until just cooked, about 3-5 min. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Garnish with chopped, fresh cilantro.