Connecting the Garden to the Table

Written by Imelda Lee & Queenie Hewitt, Friends of Planted

A Rocha Canada has been organizing bimonthly healthy eating & living workshops at Tenth Church’s Oasis Café’s lunch community. The goal of these workshops is to continually engage eaters around food and gardening over the winter months, bridging the gap between fall harvests and next spring’s growing tasks at ‘The Healing Garden’ on site at Tenth Church.

The third Tuesday of January was the first workshop of a series on cooking grains. We demonstrated how to make a simple dish, polenta, using cornmeal. Did you know corn is considered a grain and not just a summer vegetable that is delicious on the BBQ? Polenta refers to a cornmeal-based porridge traditional to Northern Italy that can be served directly, baked, or fried. Cornmeal is prepared in many different ways around the world and one of our guests recognized the similarity of the dish to “grits”, a Southern US variant made with a coarser grind of corn, known as hominy.

The demo was neatly integrated into the meal as our finished polenta was served for the community lunch, topped with a tasty chickpea tomato stew. For the demo, we

Set up a portable electric stove on a table
Set a large saucepan on top, boiling water in it (optional soup stock)
Adding the cornmeal and seasonings

In a few minutes the cornmeal thickened and we stirred in ground sage and basil, allowing our participants to modify the balance of herbs according to their preferred taste. We experimented with instant chicken broth to the first batch and found it overpowering, so we simplified it more and just added salt to later batches. People were curious, and they wandered over to the demo table. We had lots of grins and smiling faces, hopefully, inspired and empowered, learning how simple it is to cook this inexpensive grain with a plethora of serving options.

Guests and volunteers also had the option of taking home a baggie of cornmeal and herbs ready to try at home! Of course, we sent them home also with a recipe for the same tomato chickpea stew they ate at lunch, to make it a complete plant-based protein and nourishing meal!

Next workshop will be on the first Tuesday of February, and cooking rice to go with a curry dahl topping. By March, we’ll be starting vegetable seeds and experiment with growing tasty microgreens.