Healthy Cooking Secrets from Sooke Harbour House

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Sooke Harbour House, a sustainable inn, restaurant, and spa, is located just an hour east of Victoria on Vancouver Island.
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Cranberry Lavender Sorbet with a Hazelnut Wafer, garnished with Spanish lavender, is an excellent finish to any meal.
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Seasonal, organic food enjoyed in an oceanfront setting is sustenance for body, mind, and soul.
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Sauté of Kale with Wild Rice and Roasted Garlic is a hearty winter side dish.
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Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Apple Pear Compote is rich and creamy without added dairy.
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Steamed Sablefish with Squash-Fennel Bulb Purée and Roasted Beets is garnished with a sprig of purslane.

You might expect lunch at a spa to consist of a wedge of tofu on a lettuce leaf, but not every place takes such a restricted view. Sooke Harbour House, a country inn and spa on Vancouver Island’s southern coast, has a definition of health that’s as farsighted as its ocean vistas. On its good-for-you checklist: exercise in nature, eat a balanced diet of nutritious seasonal foods, enjoy meals at a leisurely pace in an oceanside setting, rejuvenate with massage and natural skin care, and tailor your lifestyle to nurture yourself and the planet.

This eco-conscious Canadian inn, restaurant, and art gallery overlooks the Strait of Juan de Fuca, habitat for sea lions and orca whales. In addition to co-owning Sooke Harbour House, Sinclair Philip is Canada’s national Slow Food representative and a wine connoisseur. (Slow Food is an international movement that encourages people to enjoy traditional and artisanal cuisine, encouraging foods that are regional, seasonal, and organic.) Healthy eating is more than just counting calories or cutting fat and carbs, Philip says.

“If you know how to cook, and you take time to appreciate food’s sensuality while enjoying the camaraderie of being with other people, then you’ll be healthy,” Philip states. And it doesn’t hurt that the cuisine served in his restaurant has all the right ingredients. The menu features fresh, organic fruits and vegetables (many from the inn’s garden); plenty of freshly caught wild seafood; lean, naturally raised meat; and yes, even local organic tofu.

Sooke Harbour House relies on local fisherman, farmers, ranchers, native people, winemakers, and cheesemakers to supply foods at the peak of their flavor and nutrition–and most of them are organically produced on Vancouver Island’s fertile farms. Even executive chef Edward Tuson, whose flavorful recipes are featured here, gets involved. When he’s not creating magic in the kitchen, he’s busy growing organic apples and raising pigs for bacon, sausage, and ham.

The other part of the healthy equation is eating foods that are locally in season, not shipped from across the globe. The temperate microclimate on Vancouver Island’s southern coast means Sooke Harbour House’s gardens flower year-round. Raised beds under cold frames bolster the winter food supply, and the staff pickles, cans, and dries the fall harvest.

Inspired by nature

The cuisine at Sooke Harbour House is influenced by the ocean and the traditional foods of the native people (called First Nations in Canada). Small-scale, sustainable operations net seafood, and mineral-rich seaweed figures into the menu almost daily–in a sauce or raw in a salad.

Taking a lesson from the local First Nations, Sooke Harbour House incorporates many forest foods into its cuisine. The tips from spruce and fir trees can be used in everything from the main course to dessert. It’s not uncommon to taste the exotic flavors of wild roses, cow’s parsnip, Indian celery, fireweed shoots, and thimbleberry, cranberry, or soapberry.

Puréed, roasted squash becomes naturally creamy without adding fat-laden dairy to this satisfying winter comfort food. (You can substitute pumpkin for butternut squash for equally delicious results.) The compote provides a dash of fruity flavor; pears should be firm but not overripe.

Steamed Sablefish with Squash-Fennel Bulb Purée and Roasted Beets

Sablefish, or black cod, is common in Vancouver Island waters, but you may substitute any flaky fish, including halibut, salmon, or snapper. (Choose a species that’s sustainably fished. British Columbia sablefish populations are abundant and fisheries are well managed.) High-protein, low-fat fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which help maintain cardiovascular health.

Sauté of Kale with Wild Rice and Roasted Garlic

Get cholesterol-reducing fiber from this hearty, winter-vegetable dish featuring kale, a robust green that grows year-round.

Cranberry Lavender Sorbet with a Hazlenut Wafer

Cranberries for dessert? Natural sweeteners and a touch of brown sugar soften the tarty berries, which provide vitamin C. Because the sugar content is low, the sorbet has a firm texture.

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