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Native Cooking

If ever there was a time to want to cook outside as much as possible, this is it. If you plan your meals ahead, a day or two at a time, this can be done with little or no hassle. Since it is easier this time of year to obtain fresh ingredients, either from your land or shopping, you should concentrate on simple, easy-to-prepare dishes.

The Old Ones of every nation knew how to use various woods to add subtle flavor to foods by fire or smoking. Hickory and mesquite are two old-time favorites that have been available commercially for years. Cedar has always been used for smoking salmon and other fish. Fruitwoods like apple, pear, peach – even grape – give off soft aromas that intensify the flavor of grilled foods. Herbs such as rosemary, bay leaf, summer savory, mint and basil add another dimension.

Today you can buy all sorts of products to use in grilling, but I often find that just by looking around the house and grounds something will pop up to make me say, “That would be perfect.” If you are using skewers to grill, keep meats separate from the vegetables as they have different cooking times.

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Planked Smoked Salmon

Salmon is plank-smoked

on both coasts. In the Northwest, alder and green cedar wood is used; on the Atlantic coast, salmon is often flavored by hickory, cedar, apple and grape.

Build a good fire in proportion to the size and amount of fish to be smoked. Remove the head and innards, then split down the back to remove the backbone. If you know a craftsperson, save the bones for drying. If there are bones left in the flesh of the fish remove them with needle-nosed pliers.

Then, attach the salmon to a hardwood plank and salt it. The plank should be long enough and high enough above the fire to take advantage of the smoke. This process can be as long or as short as you want, usually depending on when the fish is to be eaten. If you want to eat it right away, sear it in the fire, then raise the plank to smoke it until it’s ready to eat. To store it for later use, smoke slowly for hours, even days, if weather permits. However, the fire must be attended at all times and the proper woods added at intervals.

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Cold Poached Salmon

2 pounds fresh salmon fillets

4 cups water or broth

2 tablespoons juniper berries

3 or more bay leaves

1 teaspoon fresh dill weed

1/2 lemon, sliced thin

Place the water or broth plus remaining ingredients in a large skillet. Put a rack or a steamer above the liquid and arrange the fish in a single layer. Bring the liquid and spices to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for about 20 minutes or until salmon is a uniform pink color. Remove each piece gently and place on a cookie sheet or large platter. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. Serve with a dill or other favorite sauce.

This salmon dish is great with baked beans and a potato salad. Pickled beets and sweet potatoes make a colorful presentation, too.

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Dill Sauce

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons dill weed, dry or fresh

3 tablespoons oil and vinegar-type dressing (any)

Mix all together in a small bowl and chill until ready to serve salmon.

Note: You can easily substitute low-fat sour cream and mayonnaise in this recipe.

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Mayo-less Potato Salad

5 pounds new or red-skinned potatoes

2 beef broth packets

1 sweet onion, chopped small

5 slices of warm, cooked bacon

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Cook potatoes, adding broth packets to the cooking water, for about 15 – 20 minutes or fork tender. Drain and let cool slightly.

While warm, slice into a large bowl. Cut up and add the warm, cooked bacon, onion, oil, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper and toss lightly. Garnish with fresh parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Notes and Tips

* A quick substitute for sour cream is cottage cheese, a little lemon juice and a tad of milk. Blend until smooth.

* A spritzer bottle of water is handy while grilling. It can tame – but not put out – unruly flare-ups.

* If you don’t have a covered grill, have some large pieces of foil or an old pot lid handy. With an open-pit fire, keep a bucket of water nearby. Baste uncovered meat every 15 – 20 minutes to keep it from drying out.

* If you use wooden skewers, or even tree branches, soak them in water for a while before loading with foods.

* When grilling thick items like chicken breasts or roasts, partially cook them first in the oven or on the stove.