Pulse recipes from The Pantry: a Carolyn Best legacy

by Marisa Romano

shepherd pie
Lentil shepherd’s pie
Photo: marisa romano

The first thought that surfaced when I heard that The Pantry was closing its doors for good was “… and what about all those recipes?”

When my grandparents closed their restaurant in Italy back in the seventies, the many families that used to enjoy their meals under the pergola shading them from the Tuscan sun were not the only ones who lost their favourite homey dishes. With no record whatsoever of the tricks that my grandmother used to prepare some of the restaurant’s defining recipes, and with her disabled by a stroke, our large extended family was also left with sad mouths. With this in mind, I felt the need to ask Carolyn Best if she was contemplating the idea of collecting her most popular recipes in a cookbook.

I sat with her for a chat in my living room on an unseasonably cool morning in July, after the last meal order was served and the doors of The Pantry locked, after cups and dishes were packed and stored in Best’s sister’s garage for sorting out, and after the old family dining table dear to so many regulars at the restaurant was returned to the family.

“I wrote down all my recipes a while ago,” revealed Best. “It took me the whole summer, but then I was too busy with the restaurant and family so I left the collection aside. Yes, maybe I could do something with it. I would need to revise my notes and include the dishes that were added to the restaurant’s menu later.”

Some of the recipes on The Pantry’s menu came from Ilse Kyssa. Best became familiar with them when working for Kyssa, before taking over the business. Others were her creations that stemmed from her love for delicious, nourishing and carefully prepared food that she inherited from her grandmothers. “A family heritage,” said Best. Some were inspired by her culinary experiences abroad. Back in Ottawa after spending two years in Mexico, she introduced cilantro to her kitchen: that was the time when cilantro was unknown to Canadian households. Best also experimented with corn and beans, the two basic ingredients so masterfully mixed in many dishes of Mexican cuisine.

“What is your favourite recipe?” I asked. “Wild leek soup,” she answered with no hesitation. She prepares it from pungently aromatic leeks that she forages from the same patch every year, during their short growing season. “Foraging?” I asked, curious to know more. “Yes,” she replied. “The curried fiddleheads (enjoyed by many who visited The Pantry in spring) were also foraged.” The idea of preparing them with curry was inspired by her experience in India where women prepare dishes rich in Best’s favoured flavours.

“One last question, Carolyn, what are you cooking for supper tonight?”

“I am going to a picnic and I am planning to prepare stuffed shell pasta in spicy tomato sauce,” she answered with a smile, then proceeded to describe in detail how she was going to go about it.

Before leaving my place, Best jotted down some notes in her notebook, and left them with me to pass along to all of you. Thank you, Carolyn!

Thai red lentil soup

One of The Pantry’s most popular dishes; the key for this dish is the spicy mix prepared with equal amounts of garlic, ginger and jalapeno. Put all in a blender and cover with water. Puree and store in a jar in the fridge. It keeps well for many future uses.

Rinse and cook 1 cup of red lentils in 4 cups of water. Add cut up vegetables to the cooked lentils: ½ cauliflower, or 2 cups of green beans, or Swiss chard. Add sea salt and the spicy mix to taste. Add ½ cup coconut milk per cup of cooked lentils, and just before serving, add lots of chopped fresh coriander.

Lentil shepherd’s pie
(I confess, I asked for this one)

Spread in an oiled casserole dish (I used a 9 x 9 inch dish):

Bottom layer:  1 cup of green lentils, rinsed and cooked in 3 cups of water until tender; then mashed and flavoured with 2 Tbsp of tamari and 1 Tbsp of dried basil.

Middle layer: creamed corn from a can or 1 package of organic frozen kernels, pureed in the blender

Top layer: 6 potatoes, cooked, mashed and flavoured with butter and sea salt.

Sprinkle potatoes with paprika and bake at 350 F for 30 minutes.


Marisa Romano is a Glebe resident and former scientist working with Pulse Canada to spread the word about pulses, the dry seeds of legumes, during 2016, the International Year of Pulses.

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