Vancouver Island B.C.: Food and Wine Lovers’ Paradise

Map of Cowichan Valley, Vancouver Island

For Alaskans tired of the monotonous winter landscape, a quick trip to Vancouver Island, British Columbia provides great relief. It’s vibrantly green, punctuated by spectacular ocean vistas, and easily accessible from Seattle via high-speed ferry.

Several years ago, I took a spring trip to Vancouver Island with my sister. We visited wineries, ate delicious food prepared by creative chefs, and enjoyed the sun as we randomly walked and drove country roads.

While in Victoria, the Island’s main city, we reminisced about our annual visits there as kids. We talked our way into the motel room where our family always stayed and laughed about lemon curd on toast; a taste treat we associate with the Island.

In recent years, artists and wineries clustered in the Island’s Cowichan Valley have attracted a new wave of visitors. Cowichan, a First Nation word meaning “land warmed by the sun,” has a micro-climate well-suited for growing grapes. The wines we tasted were surprisingly good.

Hilary's Cheese, Photograph by Hilary's Cheese

Hilary’s Cheese on Cherry Point Road was one of the trip’s highlights. Because we were there off-season, Hilary had time to give us a tour of his cheese making facilities. He explained his production methods and gave us tastes of wonderful Trappist and Camembert-style cheeses.

At Hilary’s, in addition to cheese, I bought a jar of dukkah (or duqqa), a Middle Eastern spice and nut mix I learned about from my Egyptian friend Nawal. When I interviewed Nawal for Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, she told me to dip bread in olive oil and then in dukkah. I followed Nawal’s instructions with the dukkah I bought from Hilary’s, and immediately enjoyed the combination.

Judging from Internet ads, dukkah is quite popular in Australia, though I’ve never seen it sold in Alaska. So when my Canadian dukkah was gone, I investigated how to make my own. I studied Nawal’s recipe, went through my cookbooks, and researched dukkah online. I discovered there are as many recipes for it as there are cooks.

Any kind of nut is fine for dukkah; hazelnuts or almonds are frequently used. Sesame, coriander, cumin, and black pepper are in most dukkah recipes, but the proportions of each vary widely. Some recipes include mint, thyme, red pepper, turmeric, caraway, cinnamon, or clove.

It took me three tries before I came up with a combination I loved. After finalizing the recipe, I found myself grabbing pinches of dukkah for a mid-afternoon snack and using it to perk up simple roast vegetables. Dukkah is amazingly addictive and versatile.

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:


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