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Native Cooking

Many years ago, here in the Northeast, if you mentioned Southwest cooking in any way, people would say, “Oh, you mean Mexican, or do you mean Tex-Mex?”

After several visits to Santa Fe, Taos and Phoenix, I developed a severe craving for this earthy cuisine. For many years it was hard to find – it made me crazy. How did this food category come about? It is truly Native in origin. The ingredients are Native and indigenous, but Mexican cooks were highly influenced by the Spaniards, mostly in the 16th century, so some diversity was introduced.

From Mexico and further south, the primary examples of ingredients are the potato, quinoa, chocolate and the origin of corn. Pueblo and other Southwest-area peoples brought their own style of preparation to the mix. Peppers of every kind, squash and so on, were integrated with meats, seeds and various vegetables, spices and herbs to create a uniqueness which to this day inspires creativity.

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Salsa Verde

1 dozen fresh tomatillos, husks removed

3 fresh jalapenos, stemmed and seeded

1 white onion

4 cloves garlic

1/2 cup cilantro

1 cup water or vegetable broth

1 tablespoon corn oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse and dry tomatillos. Saute them with the chopped jalapenos, onion and garlic in a dry pan until almost browned. Place cooled vegetables in a food processor or blender until pureed. Heat the corn oil in a large pan, medium heat, and add the pureed mixture very slowly. Add the water or broth and salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and simmer all for about 20 minutes. Serve warm or chilled.

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Quinoa and Potato Bake

1 cup quinoa, red or white, cooked

1 cup evaporated milk

4 medium potatoes, a mix of gold and white or sweet potato

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons corn oil

1 onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

1 small can chopped jalapenos

2 tablespoons flat-leafed parsley, minced

2 cups shredded Cheddar or Monterey jack cheese

Cook the quinoa according to directions, set aside and stir in evaporated milk. Peel and cut the potatoes into 1/2-inch chunks, cook in salted water until tender. Drain and set aside.

In a large frying pan, heat the corn oil and add the onion, garlic for about 5 minutes. Now lower the heat and put in tomato sauce, cilantro and jalapenos. Add the quinoa/milk mixture, the potatoes and half the cheese. Stir gently to blend.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a baking dish. Put the mixture in the baking dish and top with the rest of the cheese. Bake about 25 minutes, or until cheese on top is melted and bubbly.

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Chili Crusted Lamb Roast

1 5 – 6 lb. lamb roast (boned and tied)

1 tablespoon cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

Use a bowl large enough to hold the lamb. In it mix together the chili, cumin, olive oil, salt and pepper. Rub the roast on all sides with this mixture, then let the meat sit in it to marinate for an hour.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Put the roast on a rack in a roasting pan and roast for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and cook for 40 – 45 minutes more. Use a meat thermometer. Remove when done and put roast on a cutting board. Cover loosely with foil for about 15 minutes before carving.

This is great with the Quinoa and Potato Bake and chutney.

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Quick Black Bean Dip

2 cans black beans, drained

1 small onion, chopped

1 fresh tomato, chopped

1/2 cup prepared salsa

Semi-mash the beans in a bowl; add onion, tomato and salsa. Now “kick it up a notch” with chili pepper sauce, cumin, salt, pepper and a little cilantro. A dash of lemon or lime juice is good, too, but not necessary.

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Notes and Tips

* Many Southwest dishes call for lime juice, a refreshing change from lemon. A rule of thumb is that it takes 8 to 10 limes to make 1 cup. If you roll the limes a few times with your palm, the juice flows better.

* Larger corn chips of any color make great little bases for all kinds of nachos. Experiment with unlikely cheese (bleu, Muenster, feta, Cheddar). Add pickled chilies, sliced mushrooms, sour cream, corn relishes, hot bean dips, salsas, or a little treat such as jalapeno jelly on blue corn chips with a tad of sour cream or cream cheese. Play!