The more connected you are to your roots, the better your diet probably is. The foods of your youth, or your parents’ and grandparents’ childhoods, are likely to be healthier than what you eat today unless you are vigilant about your eating habits. If you go home to visit and eat kneel-down bread or bannock or whatever is, and has been, a tribal staple, but stop at a fast food place on the way back, that doesn’t cut it.
It is very hard to watch everything you eat; in fact, it is nearly impossible. There is, however, one food that we as Native people can always rely on for both physical and spiritual health, and that is corn. It is the one staple grain indigenous to both North and South America.
Although corn pollen discovered below Mexico City in the 1950s was carbon-dated as 80,000 years old, it took centuries for the cultivation of the golden grain to cover all of Indian country from the bottom of South America to Canada. There is corn oil, corn syrup and corn starch; and between them, food manufacturers provide a touch of corn in some way to everything in the supermarket. The lone exception may be fresh fish. Even frozen fish and meats have a light corn starch coating on them to keep them from drying out.
Dent corn, sweet corn, flint and popcorn are the four major types of commercial corn grown in this country today. We grew our own flint corn and dried some, ground some and ate some. It was a good, secure feeling to know we could survive anything with the stores we had. That must have been comforting to our ancestors as well.
Grilled Corn with Handles
12 ears corn
1/2 cup melted butter
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon seasoned salt
Pull back, but don’t remove, the husk from the corn. Remove and discard the silk. Tie the pulled-back husks with a piece or two of chive or thin string. (They will act like a handle to turn the corn over during roasting on the grill.)
Melt butter and season it with cumin, seasoned or regular salt, and pepper. Brush on all sides of all ears and place on a baking sheet until ready to grill. Roast on grill, turning frequently for just a few minutes, about 5 – 7 minutes on each side. Keep basting with butter mixture while corn roasts.
Other ideas for flavoring the butter: add to 1 cup of butter any of the following herb combinations – parsley and tarragon, cilantro and chives, rosemary and chive, sage and mint, dried crushed chiles and ginger, or lemon or lime juice with chopped jalapenos.
A Three Sisters Side
2 cups cooked white great northern beans
2 cups corn kernels
2 cups green or yellow summersquash, cut into 1/2-inch slices
2 cups chopped tomatoes, fresh or canned (optional)
1 large sweet onion, chopped
1 teaspoon each: dried basil, oregano, thyme
2 tablespoons olive or corn oil
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
Heat the oil in a large saute pan and cook the onion until softened. Add the squash and cook for about 5 minutes more. Now add the stock, beans, tomatoes if using, basil, oregano and thyme and simmer all for about 15 minutes. Add the corn kernels about 5 minutes before the rest is done.
4 white, yellow or sweet potatoes
1-1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh, frozen or canned and drained
4 portobello mushroom caps
2 green onions, sliced thin
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Peel and cook the potatoes until soft, remove from heat and cool. Put a small amount of olive oil in a pan and saute the onions and corn together. Add the potatoes to the corn and onion mixture and saute for 20 minutes.
In a separate pan, saute the mushroom caps, skin side down. Pour some balsamic vinegar on the middle of each cap and cook, covered, for 5 minutes. Put each cap on a serving plate and top with a large spoonful of the potato mixture.
You can serve this hash just as it is or top with a spoonful of pesto, aioli or sour cream.
Notes & Tips
* I wouldn’t want to be wrapped up in plastic on a foam tray, would you? Well, I don’t think corn likes it either. You can’t tell its quality that way: it could be old and tough.
* A half-cup of corn kernels added to any hash can perk it up and give some extra nutrition in the process.