Native Cooking

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Almost two feet of snow is beautiful to look at, not so beautiful to sludge through to get to the store.

Cold, bitter and windy weather makes dreams of comfort foods and hot drinks dance in our heads. Warming soups and stews, delicious one dish meals from the oven or the slow cooker are hearty and satisfying. Winter squash and root vegetables used in various ways with the main course are good whether you use meat or not. Fresh produce is especially essential in cold weather, things like kale, escarole, fresh spinach all providing vitamins and nutrients.

This is when I am glad I thought ahead to stock the pantry for “not getting out days” like these. I like looking at cans and bags of dried beans and vegetables, dried beef, tuna, rice, and potatoes on the shelves alongside the various condiments I can use with them. I feel safe when I see the possibilities for three or four meals right in front of me. The freezer often holds a treasure or two since I save everything from meaty ham bones, sale-priced chicken thighs to tortillas.

Baking is not my strong suit, however, I get an urge to try things when it’s this cold. Well, I’m just really looking for an excuse to turn on the oven.

Comfy Winter Stew

2 pounds butternut squash, cubed, ½-inch

1 cup chopped onion

1 can pinto beans

1 can white northern beans

2 cups plum tomatoes, fresh or canned

2 cups corn kernels

2 cups chicken (or vegetable) broth

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 tablespoon oregano (optional)

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon pepper

1cup cooked meat, chopped (chicken, buffalo, pork, …) *optional

Saute the onion and add to the rest of ingredients in a large stock pot. Cook on low for 40 minutes to an hour to let flavors blend. If stew is too thick, add just a little water or more broth.

Chunky Potato Soup

4-6 large potatoes, with or without skins

3 strips bacon

½ sweet Vidalia onion, chopped

1 quart chicken broth*

2 cups water

1 tablespoon flour

2 cups grated cheese (mild cheddar, Monterey jack)*

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut the potatoes into bite-size chunks and cook them in the chicken broth and water for about 25 minutes, until soft-ish in a large pot. Meanwhile, cook the bacon slowly in a frying pan. When done, remove and drain on paper towel. Saute the onion in some of the bacon fat until translucent. Add the cheese to the cooked potatoes, then the onions using a slotted spoon, sprinkle in the flour, salt and pepper, crumble bacon over all and stir gently to blend.

At this point, you may add a little pinch of cayenne, a little milk or cream if desired. Do not boil, simmer just long enough for texture to be creamy, boiling will coagulate cheeses and milk.

* Low fat dairy products may be substituted.

Tips and Ideas

A nice way to serve chili is to stick several large tortilla chips around the edge of the bowl. It’s pretty and can be used like little spoons. A warmed flour tortilla cut into wedges and served on a plate with the chili is also a good presentation.

A small piece of semi-sweet chocolate broken up into your chili helps marry the flavors and cut down on any acidic taste from the tomatoes. It’s a little like mole. If your chili is too loose and needs thickening, add a can of refried beans. Consider using shredded venison when making homemade sloppy joes.