Native Cooking

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I saw robins today in my yard. They all lined up looking in different directions about five to 10 feet away from each other, like sentries of some sort. The sight of them meant spring is not far off, with a renewed spirit and a renewed interest in things forgotten during winter. They were a welcome sign of goodness to come.

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Enhanced Butternut Soup

Not much beats a simple butternut soup, but try this some time. If you have leftover broccoli and squash soup as well, add the broccoli (chopped up) and some Cheddar cheese to this mix. If you like the flavor, a dash of curry doesn;t hurt either. If it's too thick, a little broth does fine to thin it out. To stretch it even further, cube and cook some potatoes and add to the butternut/broccoli/cheese mix. Sometimes adding potatoes to a soup changes it into chowder, but that only means it's richer and more delicious.

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Greens

Spinach and kale are two of the most important greens we can eat for nutritional purposes and flavor. Spinach is more versatile, but kale is delicious in its simplest state: steamed and served with little embellishment. Spinach is one of the rare foods that contain Vitamin K, an important nutrient that helps produce proteins to help with blood coagulation, but this vitamin must be replaced regularly.

Greens are good for keeping blood pressure down, as they are generally high in potassium and low in salt. It's best to grow your own; but if you buy greens, try for the loose variety so you can pick and examine for freshness. Bagged greens don't last more than a few days after purchase. I've gotten in the habit of checking the dates on everything that has one. Even in one display notch you can find older dates mixed in with newer ones, so be vigilant and careful.

Aside from spinach and kale, there are beet greens, escarole and mustard greens. Quickly braised, any of these are great alone or with sliced sausage and onion. Use a heavy or cast-iron pan, olive oil, garlic, low-sodium or regular broth, and a little salt and fresh-ground pepper.

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Beans

Healthy legumes go with just about everything. Beans are an excellent source of protein in themselves, but are also good combined with meat (in chili, for example), or rice or other grains like quinoa or corn - even barley.

Dried beans are a great source of water-soluble vitamins. Canned beans are just slightly lower in these vitamins, which include niacin, folacin, riboflavin and thiamine. Beans contain the kind of fiber that helps keep sugar levels from rising too fast after eating.

There are so many varieties of beans that even if you don't like one type, there are bound to be others that you'll love. They are so versatile, too. Put them in soups, stews, salads; try them baked, or mash them in dips; eat them alone ... experiment. Folks who use pressure cookers say beans are cooker-friendly and easy to do.

Corned Beef

Try to find the leanest corned beef. If you have it once or twice a year, it isn't going to kill you. Just make it, enjoy it, then move on to less meat for a time. Think of it as a treat-meat.

Wash a brisket well in cold water to remove the salty brine. Cover with cold water, weight it down with a rock or something, and slowly bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, remove any scum, reduce heat and simmer 3 to 4 hours until tender. Let it cool in its cooking water for about an hour, then drain. Serve hot or cold.

There are a million ways to make use of it: sandwiches, hash, hot with mustard and greens, and it goes well with any corn dish.

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Notes and Tips:

* Look for bargains on spring lamb and turkey.