(Left to right) Potsothy (Pots) Sallapa, Adam Zimmerman, Danny Zimmerman at
4 Life Natural Foods
Everyone knows him as Pots. His full name is Potsothy Sallapa. This popular, kind, soft-spoken man has found his roots — literally and figuratively.
His dream is to build a rooftop greenhouse above his store 4 Life Natural Foods on Augusta Ave. in Toronto’s downtown Kensington Market. These are the literal roots.
The figurative roots are spiritual. Pots arrived from Sri Lanka as a Tamil refugee in 1986 at Toronto Pearson International Airport and applied for asylum then and there. He was granted his wish and is now a Canadian citizen.
His home country was torn by civil war. He describes it as “a dangerous political situation — thousands of people were killed and displaced.” Two members of his family were murdered.
He came from a northern part of Sri Lanka from a farming family. His farm used pesticides. Living in Toronto, he was diagnosed non-Hodgkins lymphoma — a cancer that he links to the toxic pesticides. He took a year off. He gets checked every year; he doesn’t have the disease.
Now we get to the other happy news. Pots lived near Kensington Market. He only eats organic food. In 2002, he opened a compact store called 4 Life Natural Foods selling organic food – mostly produce, mainly local and seasonal – at the corner of Augusta Ave. and Nassau St., in the heart of Kensington.
He attracted a loyal clientele, including me. Kensington Market is Pots’s home and his family. He says, “Culture is the charm. Within walking distance, you can have any country.” He adds with a smile, “I won’t fit in any other place in this city. There’s no place like it.”
I’ve lived in the Market for about 40 years — I echo his words. It’s my roots, my home and my family.
A chance came for Pots in January, 2105. They say, “When one door closes, another door opens.”
Zimmerman’s Discount Store — a vintage supermarket selling food, dry goods, clothes and famous for suitcases — closed after 60+ years when the founder Zoltan Zimmerman finally retired. He was one of the original Jewish merchants in Kensington. Listen to my podcast with his son Danny recorded just before his family’s store closed.
Pots rented the 7,000-square-foot space at 208-212 Augusta Ave one day after Zimmerman’s closed. He has applied for the permit to build a greenhouse on the rooftop to grow organic vegetables and herbs. He is still waiting.
Zoltan Zimmerman died on September 4th, 2019. Danny, his son, took over the former Zimmerman’s and a few other buildings in the Market. Zoltan was a Holocaust survivor. He is on video in Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation talking about his experience. Together, Danny and his father went to Auschwitz and the latter’s former Slovak village.
Danny started working at the store in 1974 when he was 13. He says with a smile, “My dad didn’t trust anyone but he trusted me at 13 years old.” The father and son were close. Danny lists his dad’s values: “Hard work. Love what you’re doing. Appreciate what you have. Family. Strong belief in God.”
Danny was glad when Pots wanted to take over the store. “I found a tenant who cares about the community. I knew Pots loves his customers.” Danny says his dad and Pots are similar. “Both grew up on a farm. Both came as immigrants. Both ended up in Kensington Market. Both sold and fruit and vegetables. Both had a larger vision they were proud of.”
Pots has overhauled and renovated the store. He has done electrical work with overhead, subtle lighting above the elegant display counters and built a sparkling, state-of-the-art professional kitchen at the back.
He is a people person. During the pandemic, he misses chatting with farmers and customers. But 4 Life Natural Foods is his baby and he nurtures it. The store will survive and thrive. Kensington Market’s feisty cycle will continue.
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Enter Adam Zimmerman, Danny’s son, one of triplets and one of six Zimmerman male offspring.
At age 26, Adam has a degree in biology. He spent five years working in Toronto restaurants. He lived and worked in Tel Aviv for two-and-a-half years. “I chose Israel,” he says, “because I am interested in Jewish history. The Jews are spread around the globe and their food is a food of survival.”
When I spoke to him in the kitchen at 4 Life Natural Foods, he had just made 100 pitas — all hand-rolled, whole-wheat combined with an ancient grain called emmer wheat. It’s a three-day process beginning with a sourdough starter and includes two proofings. He says “genetics of plants” got him into baking. He bakes five days a week in 4 Life’s well-equipped kitchen. He bakes bagels, gluten-free seed bread and hermit cookies among other things. I’ve tasted the bagels, pitas and hermits – they are excellent. He sells them at 4 Life and he sells them to a few restaurants.
About Kensington Market, Adam says: “It’s home for me. My father and grandfather worked in the store for more than 60 years.” He adds, “I used to work here on weekends — worked for a few hours and then used to hang out.” He’s happy to come back: “The Market has changed over the years but it’s still a community — people look out for each other.”
★ ★ ★ ★ ★
4 Life Natural Foods is the ideal place to buy organic vegetables. This is my outline for roasting them. Be creative. I sometimes add a can of diced tomatoes at the end of roasting, put them in a earthenware casserole, add crumbled soft goat cheese on top and return them to the oven.
I make a big batch — two big roasting pans — at one time. They keep well in the fridge. I roast harder vegetables like potatoes, carrots, rutabaga, cauliflower florets, squash etc. separately. I roast softer veg like bell peppers, mushrooms, cherry or plum tomatoes, onions etc. separately. I parboil the potato chunks (peeled or, if they have thin skin, unpeeled) for 3 minutes before roasting.
I slice the veggies in big chunks (1 to 2 inches in size) and toss them in a large bowl with vegetable oil (olive, canola or grapeseed oil) with salt and pepper. Sometimes I add dried thyme or other herbs. Sometimes I lay fresh sprigs of rosemary and/or thyme on top of the veggies before roasting.
I always roast veggies at 425F on baking sheets in a single layer for about 25 to 40 minutes. I sometimes drizzle balsamic vinegar over them after roasting. I often toss them with canned diced tomatoes and about 1 cup of vegetable and/or chicken stock and I re-heat them in the oven before serving. I often put crumbled goat cheese on top and put the veggies under the broiler just before serving.
There you have it – roasted vegetables are the bomb!
Here’s a colourful and tasty vegetable dish I love to make at any time of year, especially at local harvest season — late summer and early fall. I humbly say I’ve perfected this dish.
I vary the veggies according to season and use ripe fresh tomatoes in season (cherry and grape tomatoes also work well), canned ones in winter. You can substitute a 28-oz/796 mL can of diced tomatoes for fresh. By “big chunks” I mean about 1½-inch/2 cm in size – don’t go smaller or the veggies will go mushy.
To peel and seed tomatoes (a nice touch), place in large saucepan of boiling water about 10 seconds. Transfer to bowl of cold water, peel off skins and discard. Squeeze out seeds. Chop tomato flesh.
About ⅓ cup olive oil
1 medium eggplant, cut in big chunks
3 medium zucchini, cut in big chunks
1 or 2 sweet red peppers, cut in big pieces
1 or 2 sweet yellow peppers, cut in big pieces
2 medium red onions, peeled, cut in chunks
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme or 1 tbsp dried
6 garlic cloves, peeled
4 or 5 large ripe tomatoes, stem end removed, cut in chunks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 350F.
Toss eggplant chunks with 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil (just enough to coat), salt and pepper in large bowl. Add to large heavy skillet over medium-high heat; cook, turning once or twice, until nicely browned on all sides but not soft, about 5 minutes. Transfer to ovenproof dish. Repeat with zucchini and peppers.
Heat remaining oil in skillet. Add onions, thyme and garlic. Cook, stirring, about 4 minutes or until softened and a bit caramelized. Add tomatoes; cook about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add mixture to ovenproof dish. Do not stir.
Cover; bake in oven 20 minutes. Remove lid. Cook about 10 minutes more or until vegetables are tender but not mushy. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.
Makes about 6 servings.
This recipe is inspired by Arlyn Zimmerman, Danny’s wife. “I’ve been making Chicken Schnitzel ever since I got married 35 years ago. My husband had been eating his mother’s schnitzel forever and I adopted my own version based on hers. I have altered my recipe over the years. Sometimes I mix Panko with European breadcrumbs. I always make schnitzel for Jewish holidays, birthdays and some Shabbat dinners. I also make it for Passover using just egg and matzo meal.”
I prefer Panko to regular breadcrumbs and so does Arlyn. She serves it with mashed potatoes or fries or spaetzle and coleslaw. I sometimes smear the pounded chicken with Dijon mustard before dredging in flour. I use seasoned Panko, sometimes more than the recipe calls for. I put leftover schnitzel in sandwiches or layer pasta sauce and Swiss cheese or mozzarella on top to make oven-baked Chicken Parmesan. I sometimes serve it with sauce, e.g. Mushroom Sauce (below).
2 lb/1 kg (4 to 6 depending on size) boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Salt and pepper
½ cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
½ tsp paprika
1¼ cups breadcrumbs or Panko
Vegetable oil for frying
If chicken breasts are large, slice horizontally at the thickest part. Pound them with a meat mallet or a rolling pin between two sheets of parchment paper or plastic wrap until thin (about ¼ inch thick) and/or cut in serving-size pieces. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Prepare a dredging station: Select three shallow dishes or plates big enough to contain each piece of chicken. In one, combine flour with salt, pepper and paprika. Place eggs in another one; lightly beat. Place breadcrumbs or Panko in the third one.
Lightly dredge chicken with flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs or Panko, shaking chicken after each dredge. Heat about 3 tablespoons of oil in large heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When a pinch of breadcrumb is placed in the oil and it sizzles, the oil is hot enough. Fry chicken in batches. Place two or three breaded chicken pieces in skillet without crowding. They’re ready to turn when lightly browned on one side, about 2 or 3 minutes each side. Add more oil to each batch if needed. If serving schnitzel later, place on wire rack in a 325F oven for about 15 minutes.
Serve the schnitzel with lemon wedges and/or Mushroom Sauce (below).
Makes about 6 servings.
This sauce is versatile and useful. It can be made with chicken, beef or vegetable stock. I often serve it with steak or roast chicken. You may add less or more stock if you like the sauce thinner or thicker.
3 tbsp vegetable oil
8 oz/250g mushrooms, brown (cremini) or white, sliced
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
3 tbsp all-purpose flour
¼ cup dry sherry, port or brandy or a mixture
2¼ cups stock (chicken, beef or vegetable)
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms, onion and thyme until mushrooms and onion are nicely browned, about 7 to 8 minutes. Stir in flour; cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Whisk in sherry; cook about 1 minute, scraping browned bits from the bottom of the skillet. Whisk in stock and Dijon mustard. Reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer until thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Makes about 3 cups. (Store any leftover sauce in the fridge or freezer).