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Native Cooking

Fall and this great harvest time make me proud to be Native American. We know what our traditions are and we understand our identity as caretakers of Mother Earth, and how the things we value the most are things money can't buy. One is the mutual common thread between our nations: we are courteous and respect one another. Integrity is alive and strong in Indian country and we can stand tall with dignity and face down any way of life that threatens this solid moral strength.

One strength is our diversity. We honor the differences among ourselves while keeping our individual tribal traditions sacred. In this fast-paced time, we know that the more we share, the more that will come back to us. Nowhere is that more obvious than in the foods we eat.

With so many cultural areas to study and learn from, we can prepare a vast cornucopia of meals by sharing common ingredients. Hundreds of breads, meats, vegetables and other foods are all cooked just a little bit differently, and each different method provides some new and old ''wow'' factor.

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Lamb and Tomatoes

8 lamb chops, about 1-inch thick

4 tomatoes, plum or other, chopped

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 large onion, cut up

1 cup beef or chicken broth

1 tablespoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and pepper

Grill or pan-braise lamb chops about 10 minutes per side. Season them with salt and pepper as they cook. Set aside. Use a heavy frying pan to heat the vegetable oil and cook the onion until browned. Put the chops in with the onion, add the tomatoes, and sprinkle with vinegar, oregano and rosemary. Reduce heat to simmer and slowly add the broth. Simmer all for 20 - 30 minutes, or until broth is mostly absorbed. Serve on cooked quinoa or brown rice. It is also good with polenta, salad and a thick, crusty bread.

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Good Green Beans

1 pound fresh green beans, whole and trimmed

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 fresh lime

1/4 cup sliced, toasted almonds

Use a heavy frying pan to heat oil and cook beans, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. (They should be lightly browned and crisp-tender.) Use a fine grater to make about 1 teaspoon of lime peel and add to beans. Cook for 1 more minute. Cut lime and squeeze for juice in a separate bowl. Now season beans with salt and pepper, drizzle with some lime juice and sprinkle with toasted almonds, and serve.

Wild Mushrooms for Dinner

1 prepared pizza dough (store-bought from dairy case is fine)

1/2-pound wild mushrooms or shiitake, oyster or white, sliced thin

3 plum tomatoes, sliced, seeded and chopped

3 shallots, thinly sliced, or 1/2 small onion

2 tablespoons balsamic or red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

8 ounces fontina cheese, grated

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Spread out pizza dough on a baking sheet and let rise a bit and stretch it. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Meanwhile, saute shallots or onion in a little olive oil for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and saute for just a couple of minutes until they are tender. Now put in the tomatoes, chopped thyme, oregano and vinegar. Stir to cover all surfaces. Remove from heat and season with salt and pepper. Drain vegetables if they are too moist.

Bake the pizza dough in the oven with about half of the fontina cheese for 10 minutes. Remove from oven, and put the vegetables and remaining cheeses on top. Bake for another 12 - 15 minutes. Let cool and cut into wedges to serve.

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Pumpkin/Apple Crisp

1 can pumpkin

1 Granny Smith or other hard, tart apple

1 cup evaporated milk

1 cup sugar, or equivalent substitute

1-1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 package yellow cake mix

1 cup butter, melted and cooled

1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix together pumpkin, milk, sugar, vanilla and cinnamon in a large bowl. Put this into a greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Now sprinkle the cake mix over the pumpkin mixture and sprinkle with nuts. Put cut-up slivers of apple on mixture. Drizzle the butter over all. Bake for 65 minutes or until golden brown. Let stand for 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Top with whipped cream or ice cream.

Notes and Tips

* A grapefruit spoon comes in handy for cleaning out squash and pumpkin. Save the seeds by air drying and

* Always use a lid to make water boil faster.