Each nation, tribe, band, clan—even individuals and families—has given culinary gifts to the greater native culture and mainstream society.
Ethnic diversity makes our lives interesting. Our ancestors ate what the Earth provided, not yet knowing what was in their neighbor’s kitchen.
Over time, Indian communities shared different dishes and recipes, and later restaurants and cookbooks brought new tastes to people—even those who live in very remote places.
I grew up in the northeast, totally unaware of other Native cuisines. Sparkles lit up my world when I discovered southwest cooking; it was love at first bite.
If you enjoy southwestern cuisine as much as I do, I recommend keeping some ingredients on hand for when the craving strikes. The first of these is tortillas, flour or corn. Homemade tortillas are irresistible, but those available in the supermarket taste fine, and they are freezable to use when you need them. They come in a variety of flavors, such as spinach, sun-dried tomato, whole wheat and more. Prepare quesadillas in the skillet with grilled or sautéed chicken, chopped bell peppers, mushrooms and a little Monterrey Jack and mild cheddar cheese. Pair it with a fresh salad for a delicious and simple meal.
Fresh cilantro is a key herb in southwestern fare. Garlic powder, chili powder and cumin are good staples for the spice rack.
I also stock up on small cans of chopped jalapenos, corn varieties like hominy, and refried beans. Chilies and peppers add intense flavor to most southwestern dishes. To reduce the heat, remove the seeds from jalapenos or Serrano peppers, or reach for the sour cream for relief—not water.
Soft Turkey Tacos
1 pound ground turkey
1 chorizo sausage, cut in small pieces
1 yellow summer squash, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 dash cayenne
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat sour cream
6 to 8 tortillas, warmed
Heat a little corn oil in a large skillet and brown the turkey. Add chorizo to it, and cook 3 to 4 minutes. Add squash, chili powder, cayenne and salt. When squash gets almost soft, add sour cream and simmer all for 3 minutes. Wrap mixture in tortillas. Serve with salsa, guacamole and Monterey cheese.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: New Native American Cooking, Native New England Cooking and A Dreamcatcher Book. She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with them and her husband in Madison, Connecticut.