Native Cooking

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I did a food demonstration at a library this spring for a local charity for environmental causes. I made a buffalo chili with a 5-pound chuck roast I had. It came out fabulous. I had wanted to have a salad to go with it and the cornbreads I’d made, but what?

Shop local and fresh, I thought. The salad was impromptu and I was a little wary since it was a new “invention.” It was the biggest hit! Getting it right happens sometimes.

At my local market, the jicama looked very fresh and so did the celery root. I used both of them with a pretty red bell pepper and lovely aromatic cilantro, plus huge, healthy watercress. I cut the vegetables in very narrow julienne slices and used a basic vinaigrette dressing put on about two hours before serving to make it light, not cloying.

Since I live in New England, many folks are still not aware of buffalo or things like jicama. I must have said it 20 times to those who asked. It feels good to introduce people to what they think are exotic ingredients. In fact, I live for moments like that. Any chance I get to introduce a Native ingredient to people is very rewarding, since most don’t know the history of their food or anything about its origin or goodness. We have contributed so much to the global cupboards and I think it is very important to remind everyone who will listen about that fact. There are actually people who still think the potato came from Europe!

This is another salad, a slaw actually, that is a great make-ahead dish to have with grilled meat, especially pork or chicken.

Bean Slaw

4 cups cabbage, shredded (about half a large head)

3 cups fresh-shelled lima beans or 2 packages frozen limas, thawed

2 apples, sliced

1/3 cup vegetable oil

1/3 cup vinegar (tarragon or cider)

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon caraway seeds

1 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt

1 cup low-fat sour cream

Combine and toss lightly the cabbage, beans and apple slices in a large bowl. Mix the oil, vinegar, sugar, caraway, salt and sour cream in a small, separate bowl. Pour this over the vegetables and toss lightly, then chill before serving. If making ahead, bring the dressing in a separate small container and toss to mix when you arrive.

Jicama-Celery Root Salad

1 medium jicama, cut like matchsticks

1 small to medium celery root, cubed

1/2 red bell pepper, julienned

1/2 sweet onion, chopped small

1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped

1/2 bunch watercress, chopped

Dressing

1/3 cup cider vinegar

2/3 cup light vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon Lawry’s seasoned salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Steam the celery root until it can be pierced with a fork. Remove from steaming and chill overnight. When ready to compose the rest of the vegetables, place them all in a bowl and toss. About half an hour before serving, pour dressing over all and toss. The sweet-sour flavors balance each other beautifully.

Mixed Grill

1/2 pound each: pork, chicken, buffalo (or beef), smoked sausage, chorizo or other, cut in 1-1/2-inch cubes

3 medium onions, halved

3 portobello mushrooms, halved

3 bell peppers, cut large enough to skewer

2 small summer squash, yellow or green

3 sweet potatoes, cut in 1-inch slices and soaked in water

Commercial barbecue sauce

Prepare and cut vegetables; set aside. Marinate meat, not the sausages, in a simple Italian dressing for about an hour or two before grilling. Place meat and sausage pieces on skewers, leaving a half-inch or so between pieces. Put cut vegetables on skewers separately since they cook faster, and brush veggies with a little olive oil.

Brush meats with barbecue sauce after they have been seared, after 5 minutes on grill, then watch closely and brush with sauce again, two or three times.

Note: This recipe uses about 3 to 4 pounds of meat, so at half a pound per person you can feed 6 to 10 people, depending on appetites. Soaking the potatoes, white or sweet, makes them a bit more pliable and willing to take the skewer.

Notes and Tips

*Grilled corn is so good. Remove the hair, peel back the husk and brush with butter. Use the peeled-back husk as a little handle to turn corn while grilling. Flavored butters are good on this; so is cumin, cilantro, adobo or parsley.

*If you grow your own summer squash, it’s best to pick it before it gets huge. The length of your hand is a good measure, as it tastes best and freshest when young.

*Support as many Native green markets as you can, as well as other natural-food advocates like RAFT (Restoring America’s Food Traditions).