Eric Akis: Two hearty recipes using food bank staples

Eric Akis

Readers routinely ask if I have, or could create, a recipe for a dish they would like to try. Sometimes, it will be something they had in a restaurant or saw on a cooking show. Other times, it will be more about mastering a technique, such as cooking the perfect steak.

A recent query, though, by Times Colonist reader Sid Tafler, was more of a friendly challenge than a personal request. Tafler is a fundraiser and one of the many volunteers at the Food Bank at St. John the Divine Anglican Church in Victoria. He wondered if I could come up with a recipe or two that used foods stocked at that food bank.

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I can understand why he thought it could be a challenge. Unlike how I normally create recipes, where just about any ingredient at a food store is a potential ingredient, in this case, I would mostly be limited to the three dozen or so staple foods stocked at the food bank.

I took up Tafler’s recipe challenge, and to learn what foods I would have to work with, I went to the food bank and met him and another volunteer. Her name is Gerry Melville and she’s responsible for using monetary donations to purchase food for the food bank.

Melville said the food bank at St. John the Divine, which is funded entirely by individual community members, opened its doors in 1995 to aid folks that at that time were affected by deep cuts made to B.C. welfare rates.

“It was only meant to be a temporary thing,” Melville said. “But here we are, all these years later.”

The lingering effects of the 2008 recession and our region’s high cost of living are some of the reasons that is so. Melville said that between 50 and 70 people use the food bank each day it’s open, which is usually Tuesdays and Fridays.

“About 65 per cent of the people seem to be men, but we get families, too. People can use the service once a month,” Melville said.

When people come to the food bank, Melville said, rather than give them a pre-packed bag of food items, clients get to review what’s available and make a list of up to 15 items, for individuals, and 20 items, for families, they would like.

Letting people choose what they want is a better idea, Melville said. “They may already have a bag of rice. Why would we give them another one?”

Beyond rice, other items stocked include pulses, such as lentils, peas and chickpeas, canned soups, canned tomato products, canned fish, canned vegetables and fruit and boxed macaroni and cheese. The food bank also has freshly ground peanut butter and, sometimes, small packs of spices available, provided at a discounted price by local bulk-food retailer For Good Measure. The also have bread donated by Wild Fire Bakery and fresh produce, such as potatoes, carrots and onions, and some dairy items, supplied by local food retailers and others.

After seeing what was available, I went home, made a list of recipes I thought I could make with them, and then cooked up two of them for today’s column. One is hearty vegetable chowder, the other is a rib-sticking, tasty and filling chili made with the 18-bean soup mix they stock at the food bank.

If you would like to help raise funds for this food bank, while listening to some great music by the dynamic Victoria Soul Gospel Choir, attend the Concert for Mother’s Day to benefit the Food Bank this Saturday at 7:30 p.m. That concert takes place at St. John the Divine Anglican Church, 1611 Quadra St. Tickets are $20 per person and can be purchased online at Tickets are also available at Ivy’s Bookshop, Munro’s Books and the church’s office.

Cream-style Corn, Carrot and Potato Chowder

Make a meal of this hearty vegetable chowder by serving it with some nutritious and delicious whole grain bread. You can buy bread like that at Wild Fire Bakery ( in Victoria, which donates bread to the Food Bank operated by St. John the Divine Anglican Church.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: About 20 minutes

Makes: Four servings

2 Tbsp vegetable oil, butter or margarine

1/2 medium onion, diced

1 medium garlic clove, chopped (optional)

2 Tbsp all-purpose flour

• a few pinches dried thyme, sage or other herb

3 cups chicken or vegetable stock or broth (see Note)

1 (14 oz./398 mL) cream-style corn

1 medium to large baking (russet), white or yellow-fleshed potato, peeled and cut into small cubes

1/2 cup grated carrot (about one small-to-medium carrot; see Eric’s options)

• salt and pepper, to taste

• sliced green onion, to taste (optional)

Heat the oil, or melt the butter or margarine, in a pot set over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic, if using, and cook until softened, about four minutes. Mix in flour and thyme (or sage or other herb) and cook two minutes more.

While stirring, slowly pour in one cup of the stock. When the mixture is thick, slowly pour and mix in the rest of the stock. Mix in the corn, potato and carrot and bring the soup to a simmer.

Simmer the soup, stirring it occasionally, 10 to 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Thin the soup with a bit more stock (or broth) if you find it too thick. Season the soup with salt and pepper.

Serve bowls of the soup topped with a sprinkling of green onion, if desired.

Note: The stock needed for this recipe can be homemade, or be canned or boxed store-bought stock, or be stock or broth made from powdered stock or bouillon cubes.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a grater, simple chop the carrot as finely as you can. Fresh milk, or milk made from powdered milk, could replace the stock called for in this recipe.

Simply Good 18-Bean Chili

The 18 types of dried beans simmered in this simple yet flavourful chili make it rich in protein and other good things. You can serve it as is, or top servings of the chili with items you might have on hand, such as hot pepper sauce, grated cheese, dollops of sour cream, yogurt or even spreadable cream cheese, and sliced greens. You could also serve the chili with the bread noted in the chowder recipe above, or with tortilla chips, for dunking.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: Two hours and 10 minutes

Makes: Four servings

2 cups (400 grams)18-bean soup mix (see Note)

1 medium onion, diced (cut into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes)

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can tomato sauce

1 (14 oz./398 mL) can diced tomatoes

1 1/4 cups vegetable or chicken stock or broth (water could also be used)

2 Tbsp chili powder

1 large garlic clove, chopped (optional)

• salt and pepper, to taste

Place the beans in a bowl, rinse with cold water, drain and then examine them, removing any damaged ones or unwanted materials you come across. Place the beans in a tall pot and add eight cups cold water.

Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring beans to a boil. Now remove from the heat and let beans soak and soften in the hot water one hour.

Drain beans well, and then fill the pot with eight cups of fresh cold water. Set pot over medium-high heat again and bring beans to a gentle simmer. Lower the heat to maintain that gentle simmer (small bubbles should just break on the surface of the water).

Simmer the beans until just tender, about 40 to 45 minutes.

Drain the beans well, and set them back in the pot. Mix in the onion, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, stock (or broth), chili powder and garlic, if using. Return the beans to a simmer and cook, uncovered, 30 minutes, or until chili has thickened and is nicely flavoured by the chili powder. Taste the chili and season with salt and pepper, as needed.

Note: 18-bean soup mix, which contains such things as lentils, black-eyed peas, kidney beans and split peas, is sold in bags at some supermarkets. I used Dan-D Pak brand and bought it at Peppers Food Store (

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks.

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