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Out of the Box recipes feed a family of four for less than $15

When life presents you with canned salmon, pumpkin puree and chickpeas, dinner requires some out-of-the-box thinking.

So that’s just what Fairmont Vancouver Executive Chef Cameron Ballendine did, and the result — Baked Coconut Salmon Macaroni — is a surprisingly tasty and nutritious meal using items that are commonly available to clients of the city’s food banks.

And sometimes that food is just plain strange.

“The food that you get from a food bank a lot of times is canned or in a dried form, so we need to educate people on ways to create healthy meals from that,” he said.

The canned makings of Ballendine’s Iron Chef-style challenge wasn’t the cruel whim of some dictatorial TV chairman, rather they were given to him by Vancouver-based dietitian Diana Steele.

“The tins of pumpkin and chickpeas give us vegetables and fibre, while the salmon is really rich in omega-3s,” said Steele. “At the food bank you’ll sometimes find these weird vegetables that people donate. Well, what do you do with them?”

The answer is often pasta sauce and nothing is easier to pull-off with minimal kitchen skills.

“If it’s difficult to make, if it’s time-consuming, if it’s a challenge, people aren’t going to do it,” said Ballendine. “And most important we have to figure out how to make it taste good.”

The two-pot version of the meal combines whole-wheat macaroni with a coconut milk sauce that comes together in 20 minutes.

“With children going to activities, parents are picking up and driving them, everyone has a busy life,” said Steele. “So we need to make eating healthy simple.”

On a weeknight, Ballendine’s pasta dish can be thrown together casserole-style with minimal fuss and achieve the same flavours, without the added steps of roasting the tomatoes or the chickpeas. On a weekend, a few extra minutes developing flavour and crunchy texture elevates the dish.

The Greater Vancouver Food Bank recently hired a dietitian and is trying to discourage donors from giving ready-to-eat snacks and processed foods in favour of healthier options.

“We want everyone to have access to healthy food and so by giving guidance at the food bank and through recipes we can meet that goal,” said Steele.

The Out of the Box cookbook project is part of Catelli’s Help Us Feed the Hope campaign. They asked 15 chefs from across Canada to put together nourishing meals that will feed a family of four for less than $15, using ingredients suggested by local dietitians.

The cookbook can be downloaded and shared for free  —— and every time that happens, the company will donate a serving of pasta to Canadian food banks.

“The community’s increased focus on health has contributed to quality of food being a key focus for us,” said Aart Schuurman Hess, CEO of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank. “In fact, we encourage (cash donations) to support us so that we’re able to purchase fresh, healthy foods that meet nutritional standards.”

A survey of Canadian food banks found that 58 per cent found snack foods are their most-donated or second-most-donated item.

• Ballendine and Steele will perform a cooking demonstration and nutrition presentation May 23 at the food bank at 1150 Raymur Ave. at 11 a.m. Student volunteers will be on-hand to unload 10,800 boxes of pasta for food-bank clients.

Baked Coconut Salmon Macaroni

Baked Coconut Salmon Macaroni.

(By Chef Cameron Ballendine)

1 package (375 g) whole wheat macaroni

1/2 cup (125 mL) canned chickpeas

1 198-g canned pink salmon

1 medium onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 tbsp. (30 mL) olive oil

1 2/3 cups (410 mL) canned coconut milk

1/2 can (200 mL) canned pumpkin puree

3/4 cup (180 mL) flat-leaf parsley

2 cups (500 mL) cherry tomatoes, halved



Preheat oven to 350 F (175 C). On a baking tray, toast chickpeas in oven until crisp, about 15 minutes. Roughly crush with a fork. In a large saucepan on low heat, cook onions and garlic in olive oil until soft, about 5 minutes. Add coconut milk, pumpkin purée and shredded salmon. Cook until heated through. Cook pasta according to package directions. Strain and cool under running water. Add to coconut mixture and mix thoroughly. Adjust seasoning with parsley, salt and pepper to taste. Place pasta in casserole dish, sprinkle with crushed chickpeas and bake for 25 minutes. While pasta is baking, place tomatoes on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper. Roast in oven for 10 minutes. Remove pasta from oven and top with cherry tomatoes.