Montreal has always been among our favourite cities, that we like to visit whenever we get a chance. We have had plenty of opportunities to travel to Montreal the last four years while our son Varun was a student at McGill University. The drive to drop him off at school every fall invariably turned into an extended trip to the Gaspé, Charlevoix, or the Eastern Townships.
This past week was therefore one of mixed emotions for our family, for while it was a very proud moment for us when Varun graduated, it meant that in future we will have one less excuse to travel to Quebec. We seized this moment to get together in Montreal for one nostalgic weekend to attend his graduation ceremony and celebrate all that the city has to offer.
Montreal has a wonderful cosmopolitan feel that you experience as you walk along the sidewalks overhearing snippets of conversations that rapidly alternate from English to French and back. From the bohemian Latin Quarter around St. Denis street to the designer shops of St. Catherine street, there is something for everybody and every budget.
One of the must see areas for any foodie visitor to Montreal is Jean Talon market - a vast, bustling marketplace featuring fresh produce, smoked meats, artisanal breads, cheese, sausages and lots of little restaurants and bakeries. It's a wonderful place to explore and nibble your way through!
One of the joys of being in Montreal is to stroll into a boulangerie and have fresh baked flaky croissants and crusty baguettes or walk into any patisserie and enjoy many varieties of delectable pastries that are guaranteed to ruin your appetite for dinner! Patrice Patissier, Maison Christian Faure, A la Folie, Mamie Clafoutis are just some of our favourite pastry shops where we enjoyed spectacular macarons and other goodies.
Montreal has the highest number of restaurants in Canada, ranging from food trucks on the street to high end restaurants owned by celebrity chefs and everything in between! Names such as Au Pied de Cochon, Joe Beef, Toqué, Maison Publique and Maison Boulud have proudly put Montreal's restaurant scene on the map and made it well known around the world.
We had Varun's celebratory graduation dinner at La Salle à Manger, a restaurant specializing in delicious, creative, local cuisine. The chef excelled himself bringing out platter after platter of smoky house cured meats, fresh seafood and innovative mains until we were so full, we could barely leave room for dessert - a white chocolate tart topped with apricot compote and raspberry coulis. It was a perfect ending to a perfect weekend!
Montreal cuisine is an intriguing mix of French and Quebecois influences with an emphasis on fresh local ingredients. Dishes such as Tourtière (meat pies), Pouding Chômeur (cake baked with maple syrup), Montreal style smoked meats, Bagels and Poutine are quintessentially Quebecois and definitely should be tried at least once when you visit. Also worth tasting is Montreal's ethnic cuisine which reflects its well established communities of Moroccan, Algerian, Lebanese and Jewish immigrants.
This French style Navarin (stew) of lamb is delicious with tender Spring vegetables and needs just a light white wine to bring out it's delicate flavours. Varun has shared his recipe here and has often made this delicious lamb stew for us at home. He likes it's simplicity of preparation, fresh flavour and the fact that it tastes better the next day and the next! He would often make a large pot of it in university and enjoy it for the rest of the week! Varun recommends serving this navarin with warm crusty bread or garlic mashed potatoes and a salad.
Navarin Of Lamb With Spring Vegetables
800 gm boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat, cubed into 2 inch chunks
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
3 tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
6 small each: carrots in assorted colours, peeled and cubed into 1 inch pieces; potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 stick celery, chopped
2 small turnips, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 each, fresh: sprigs of thyme, bay leaf
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp each: all purpose flour, Worcestershire sauce
1/2 tsp herbs de Provence
2 cups beef or chicken broth
1/2 cup frozen peas
Season lamb with salt and pepper and mix in 1 tbsp oil.
Warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep heavy skillet set over medium high heat. Add lamb in 2 batches, searing till brown, about 5 min., turning once. Transfer to a deep bowl and reserve.
Add onions to the skillet and brown for 5 min. Add garlic, carrots, celery and turnips, reserving the potatoes for later. Cook for 5 min, then add wine. Cook till wine bubbles, about 2 min.
Add fresh herbs, tomato paste, flour, Worcestershire sauce, herbs de Provence and broth. Mix well, cover pot and bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
Uncover pot, add potatoes, cover and cook again 1 hour, stirring now and then. Add peas, cook 15 min.
If you still have a thin sauce at the end of this cooking time, uncover pot, turn up the heat to medium high and cook off some of the sauce. You should have a thick stew with very tender lamb and vegetables by this time. Garnish with parsley if desired.