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Native Cooking

Isn’t it funny how fickle the general public is about diets and foods? All these major new diets like the Atkins, South Beach, high this, low that, carbs, no carbs, no red meat, lots of meat – who isn’t confused? Now the latest seems to be no white flour or sugar. Sounds good to me. The little voice in my head always says, “Eat healthy, eat less,” but do I listen to her? Well, sometimes, but not often enough.

Then there are foods that are “stylish” like tofu, persimmons, mangoes, Thai anything right now and marvelous quinoa. There are lots of others, of course, so it was exciting to see tacos on the front page of the “Dining In” section of The New York Times. They didn’t come right out and call them Native. They said “the genuine article is hard to come by – except in Mexico, on the West Coast and in the Southwest, where taco passion runs deep.”

A flinty, corn-lime smell emitting from a pueblo or bakery is usually best and freshest when shopping for corn tortillas. The flour type is just fine, but nothing does it quite like the flavor of corn for those who really love their tacos. As for fillings, our native turkey is pretty good; ground lamb, buffalo, shredded pork, even beef and chicken make the grade for taste. The seasonings can come from a package (quickest method), or you can play with spices and herbs to make your own distinctive style.

With so many pow wows and festivals just about everywhere right now, you’ll be lucky to do taste testings. A social or private gathering this summer would be a nice time to try out a taco buffet. This way, all the work is preparation and you get to enjoy watching your friends have fun putting their own tacos together. Huge trays of ice to place the ingredient bowls on are easy to do with baking dishes as a base. Lots of inexpensive toaster tongs are good. You can keep baked beans, refried beans, black beans, tortilla soup or other hot sides in crock pots.

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Taco Buffet for Eight

2 dozen tortillas or more, depending on diameter and appetite of guests

3 – 4 cups each of sour cream, shredded iceberg lettuce, salsa, cubed or shredded cheeses, black olives, guacamole, sliced onion

3 pounds meat, cooked in taco seasoning mix

A variety of two should do: turkey and buffalo, chicken and lamb or pork and beef – you know best. Meat chili can be kept warm in a slow cooker; have a slotted spoon ready to keep the taco drier. Each ingredient should be in its own bowl and arranged in order of probable use, with separate tongs or utensils for each item.

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The Navajo Taco has reigned supreme at many pow wows I have attended. It contains light or dark kidney beans; lamb or, more often, beef; lettuce; chopped tomatoes; onions; shredded Cheddar; and a red taco sauce. If I have left anything out, please let me know: and I’d love some new ideas for fillings.

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Green Summer Squash Dip

2 medium green summer squashes, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon minced onion

1/2 cup tomato juice

2 slices bacon, cooked, well-drained and crumbled

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped (or 1 teaspoon of dried)

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, cubed (or use 8 ounces whipped)

Simmer all ingredients but the bacon and cheese for 15 minutes. Cool. Put in a blender with the cheese on high until smooth, remove and chill. Stir in the bacon just before serving with crackers, corn chips or fresh cut-up vegetables.

This dip is good to keep folks busy while waiting for the tacos. It’s a change from salsa, which you need for the tacos anyway. Note: you can substitute cucumbers for the squash, and use plain yogurt mixed with the cream cheese.

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String Beans with Basil

1 pound fresh green beans, cooked separately until just crunchy

3 tablespoons butter or substitute

1/2 cup onion, chopped

1/4 cup celery, chopped

1 garlic clove, minced

1/2 teaspoon rosemary, dried

1/2 teaspoon dried basil (or 2 teaspoons fresh)

Saute all ingredients except the beans in the butter until onions are translucent. Put the cooked beans in a bowl and toss with the basil sauce.

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Notes and Tips

* Fresh produce will be coming even faster and fresher in August. Get in on all the best: green beans, yellow beans, all summer squashes, cucumber, corn, berries, tomatoes, apricots, peaches, onions, melons, peppers, pears, and plums; and look for early potatoes and apples around the end of August.