Tractor Everyday Healthy Foods chef Ryan Mah makes an easy quinoa and squash salad
Ryan Mah has always loved vegetables. Growing up, he was surrounded by them: his parents worked in the produce industry. When the Georgia Straight asks him to name his favourite veggie, he answers without hesitation: “Beets.”
“My father is half Russian,” Mah says in an interview at Tractor Everyday Healthy Foods (1903 West 4th Avenue), where he is executive chef. He explains that his Chinese heritage is mixed. “My grandmother is Russian-Ukrainian, so I grew up eating traditional Chinese food, but I also grew up eating pierogies, borscht, cabbage rolls, and I really got exposed early and fell in love with beets.”
At the Kitsilano restaurant that specializes in fresh salads and wholesome vegetable dishes, the Vancouver-born and -raised chef hopes his love of greens will rub off on customers. He brings considerable culinary chops to the job: after graduating from the Dubrulle culinary school, Mah worked in fine dining in Toronto and England before returning to Vancouver to sharpen his skills at Joe Fortes, Wild Rice, and the now-closed Chinois. Last spring, he helped open the cafeteria-style Tractor.
“I look at it not as a step back but a step sideways. Cooking in fine dining, obviously you learn a lot of great techniques, so now I’m applying that to quick-serve-style food,” he says. “Healthy food is often brushed off to the side and no one gives two cents for it, so the challenge was to take what I learned over the years in fine dining and travelling the world and bring that into a simple dish such as a salad.”
Mah considers himself a healthy eater and lists sushi, seafood, and hearty salads as his staples. “My guilty pleasure is I do love pasta,” he admits with a laugh.
For home cooks, Mah believes that prep time and organization are the biggest obstacles to creating healthy, vegetable-based meals.
“The problem with vegetables is they always get the short end of the stick. Really, it has to do with how much work goes into it,” he says. “My advice to anybody who wants to eat healthy over the course of the week is to dedicate one day. Go out, buy your own vegetables, do all the work on that one day—peel them, cut them, cook them, and store them in good containers.”
Mah says that home cooks can prepare all of the ingredients for his winter quinoa salad ahead of time, and assemble and dress the salad at the last minute. The dish—which contains roasted squash, two types of quinoa, and pomegranate seeds—is vegan and gluten-free. Mah suggests pairing it with a glass of Chardonnay.
Ryan Mah's winter quinoa salad
1 small butternut squash
¼ cup + 1 Tbsp (75 mL) extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup (250 mL) uncooked white quinoa
½ cup (125 mL) uncooked red quinoa
1 cup (250 mL) kale, ribs removed, coarsely chopped
1 tsp (5 mL) fresh basil, finely chopped
½ tsp (2 mL) finely grated lemon rind
1 cup (250 mL) bottled or homemade balsamic vinegar salad dressing
¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
- Preheat oven to 350 ° F (180 ° C).
- Peel butternut squash. Cut in half lengthwise and remove seeds. Chop into ½-inch-square pieces and spread evenly across a baking sheet. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and roast for 15 minutes. When squash is fork-tender, remove from oven and rest at room temperature. Measure 1 cup (250 mL) for use in this recipe and refrigerate remaining squash for another use.
- Rinse white and red quinoa thoroughly together in water. Cook according to package directions.
- Cut pomegranate in half. Place half in one hand, cutside down. Hold over a large bowl. Using other hand, tap a spoon on the top side of the pomegranate to release seeds, then drop them through your fingers into the bowl. Continue tapping until all seeds have been released. Discard pomegranate shell. Repeat with other half of pomegranate.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except pomegranate seeds. Toss together using hands or large spoons until ingredients are coated in dressing.
- Transfer onto serving platter and sprinkle pomegranate seeds over top.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings.
Recipe has not been tested by the Georgia Straight.