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A love note to the Prairies, Calgary food writer’s debut cookbook brings the region’s flavours together

Dan Clapson has lived in the Prairies all his life and wants to celebrate the seasonal ingredients they have to offer

Dan Clapson has always had the idea to write a cookbook dedicated to the Prairies, but he only started on it a few years ago. // Submitted

A Calgary food writer has written a love note to the Prairies with his new cookbook, Prairie.

Dan Clapson is a restaurant critic for The Globe and Mail and co-founder of the food media and events company Eat North.

Born in Saskatchewan, Clapson has always had a deep love for all things Prairies. He has lived his adult life in Calgary but has spent plenty of time in Manitoba as well.

“I've really fallen in love with the region as a whole as I've gotten older,” he says. “I think as you get older, you really appreciate what's around you.”

Through his cookbook, Clapson wanted to celebrate the amazing ingredients that exist in the Canadian Prairies.

“One reason why we wrote the book is that we found there weren't really a ton of people with a unifying voice of all the Prairie provinces,” he says.

“Someone might write something about Saskatchewan or might write something about Manitoba or Alberta, but it’s really uncommon for someone to pull it all together and remind everyone why the whole region itself is special.”

Creating the cookbook

Clapson has been working on the cookbook for about two and a half years, or what he says felt like “four million years.”

He has always had the idea to write a cookbook dedicated to the Prairies, but he only got started on it a few years ago.

Most recipes in the book were generated by Clapson and his co-author Twyla Campbell. However, there are recipes by other industry professionals peppered throughout the book.

“Something that we really tried to do with the book was take dishes that people really associate with the Prairies, like borscht or perogies, and do them in a more contemporary way,” Clapson says.

Borscht is a hearty beet-based vegetable soup, sometimes made with beef. The soup is typically made the same way across recipes, but Clapson modified the soup for his cookbook.

“We puree the soup instead of serving it chunky, which is not very common,” he says. “Then you top it off with some charred cabbage that you roasted in the oven.”

He says it tastes the same as regular borscht, but has a unique and more visual impact.

Who can use the cookbook?

Clapson says that for competent cooks, Prairie will be easy to follow, as most recipes in the book are not overly complicated.

However, he says home cooks will need to have a stocked pantry. That’s where the “Staples” chapter in the book will come in handy—it will help ensure your pantry is ready to keep you cooking all year long.

Some recipes will help adventurous cooks explore new flavours, he adds. Numerous recipes are seasonal, meaning you may need to attend a local farmers market to find specific ingredients sold primarily in that season.

Overall, Clapson says the cookbook was created with approachability in mind so anyone can make and appreciate the flavours of the Prairies.

Prairie love

The Canadian Prairies are known for their agriculture, however, not all locals are in touch with the seasonal ingredients that exist. Additionally, they may only utilize the ingredients that exist in their own province instead of exploring their neighbouring Prairie provinces.

“I feel like, in this book, we're trying to get people excited about living in the Prairies in general,” he says.

Another goal Clapson has with the cookbook is educating those who live outside the Prairies about what the provinces have to offer.

“Every part of Canada is beautiful in its own way,” he says. “In PEI, they have a totally different food culture from the Prairies… and I feel like that is what we’re trying to celebrate.”

Prairie’s Calgary launch

Clapson’s cookbook launches on Aug. 29 and can be ordered as a hardcover or eBook.

To celebrate the launch, Clapson is holding a dinner event on Aug. 31 at Carter Cadillac’s upper-level event space. He will be cooking alongside Tracy Little, owner and chef of Sauvage in Canmore, at the event.

“The most exciting thing will be serving some dishes that are inspired by recipes in the book and hopefully people enjoy them.”

Clapson looks forward to cooking alongside Little. The perfect cook for the event, Little grew up hunting and foraging with her father in northern Alberta, making her an expert in local ingredients.

Included in the ticket for the launch party are a signed copy of Prairie, a welcome cocktail and canape, and a four-course dinner.

While he cooks, Clapson will also discuss his approach to creating recipes for the book.

“I actually don’t cook in a proper dinner setting too often, so I am both excited, and I joke, but slightly nervous,” he says.

Tickets for the Aug. 31 event are still on sale so be sure to grab yours now.

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