Now serving: maple leaves

November 13 2014

If there's one thing you can expect from autumn - besides colder weather, Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie spice becoming ubiquitous - it's the falling leaves.

However, while most of us are armed with rakes and leaf blowers to clean up the mess, one chef in Ontario has chosen to cook them instead.

According to The Star, the maple leaves are picked while green and pickled. Then they're deep-fried before being served up with artisan beets, puffed amaranth and a mulled wine vinaigrette.

The new dish is part of the Taste Ontario menu at Canoe - one of Canada's best restaurants. Situated in the TD Tower, the restaurant is known for its spectacular views, beautiful decor and delicious food.

Executive chef John Horne says that the fried leaves taste 'almost' like kale chips.

The dish was inspired by the changing seasons, and chef Horne says he thought it would be "really cool" to work with the leaves. 

First he checked with a foraging expert to ensure that maple leaves are safe to eat.

Jonathan Forbes of Forbes Wild Foods said: "People can eat some tree leaves, but most are inedible." For example, maple, linden basswood, young beech and hawthorn leaves are okay for eating, but birch is not, he explained.

Chef Horne experimented with a number of different cooking techniques - salting, dehydrating, drying and even preparing a mixture similar to kimchi. 

The best results came when he pickled the leaves, so he set about preserving them in a brine that included apple and maple vinegar, as well as sugar, cinnamon, star anise and cloves.

The leaves have been on the menu since September. Chef Horne says his customers are usually a bit uncertain when they're first presented with the leaves, but he's quick to point out that the leaves seem to be going down well - once diners get past the initial surprise. 

"It's usually one of the first things they pull of the plate and I've never seen one come back," he says.