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Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

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Memorial Day is always an important holiday which honors all who have died for their country and all who still serve. However, this year, Memorial Day takes on special significance because of Pfc. Lori Piestewa's tragic fate. We also honor all Native servicemen and women from all conflicts, as well as non-Native military personnel.

This last Monday in May, formerly known as Decoration Day until 1882, became a national holiday in l971. It is still a solemn day when families gather to show respect to family and community members who serve. Many people attend local parades and other events in this regard. As with most times when families and friends gather there is food and celebration of life. To many this holiday actually represents the beginning of the summer season when much of the cooking shifts from the kitchen to the outdoor grill.

If you use a kettle-type grill, check your supplies to make sure you have plenty of kindling wood, lighter fluid, charcoal, and wood chips in different flavors (mesquite, applewood, hickory). You can use wood as chips, chunks or pieces like twigs in their dry form or soak them in water before use for a smoky flavor. I like to throw in citrus peels, garlic sometimes, or use rosemary for skewers and then throw them in. Pine and other soft woods are resinous and give off a bitter taste. It also gets creosote on the inside of the grill so it is a good idea NOT to use those woods.

When cooking by any outside method, charcoal, hardwood, or gas grill, one of the most important rules is to let the fire get hot enough. Charcoal is usually 30 to 40 minutes to cook point or even a little less time when the corners are gray. Enjoy the time before the fires are hot enough because once you start to cook, you need to stay pretty focused right there. This is my husband's favorite time, "the tending!" Turning the food at the right time, brushing it with sauce, covering, checking, smoking, checking, saving it from a burning death! And, so on.

Lamb Kabobs

3-4 pounds of lamb, cut for kabobs in 1-1/2 inch chunks

Marinade:

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup good olive oil

3 cloves of garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon fresh ground pepper

1 teaspoon fresh ground rosemary

Optional:

1 teaspoon fresh mint leaves

Put all the marinade ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the lamb and stir to coat all sides of the meat. Cover and refrigerate overnight (or at least 6 hours). Bring the lamb almost to room temperature and place on skewers. Cook on grill for about 8 to 10 minutes, watch closely and turn frequently.

Whenever I prepare things for the grill, I skewer the meat and place it on cookie sheets. I do the meat separate from any vegetables, even thought they look nice in between the meat, they cook faster and are often overdone. The vegetables can be mixed on the skewers. Good choices are bell peppers, frying peppers of any sort, onions, large mushrooms and large squash chunks. Brush the vegetables with a little olive oil and sprinkle with herbs at this time if you'd like; thyme, sage, cumin, rosemary, etc.

This Southwest party dip is easy. You can vary and substitute ingredients but try to contrast colors and flavors. Serve with tortilla chips.

Black Bean Party Dip

1 19-ounce can of black beans (cooked)

1 8-ounce package of cream cheese

2 cloves of garlic, minced

2 tablespoons lime juice

1 tablespoon lime zest

1 or more dashes of hot sauce

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Salt to taste

3 large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, chopped

1 cup sharp cheddar cheese or other cheese, grated

4 green onions, chopped fine

1 small can chopped black olives

1 tablespoon jalapeno peppers, fine chopped

1/2 cup sour cream

Using a food processor, blender or potato masher, blend together the black beans, cream cheese, lime juice, lime zest, garlic, hot sauce and salt. Spread this mixture on a large platter. Arrange the tomatoes in a ring around the edge, the grated cheese in a ring inside that one, then a ring of green onions, then a ring of olives and jalapenos combined. Sour cream goes in the center. (You can substitute refried beans and avocado chopped up.)

Big & Tall Biscuits

1 cup whole wheat flour

2 cups white flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

2-1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cream of tartar

3/4 cup butter, cut up and softened

1 egg, beaten

1 cup milk

Using a large bowl, combine flours, baking powder, sugar, salt and cream of tartar. Blend the softened butter into this mixture until it feels and looks coarse. Now add the milk and egg, stir until smooth. Knead this dough on a lightly floured board or marble surface. Roll the dough out to about a 1-inch thickness and cut into 2-inch biscuits.

Grease a 9-inch baking pan and set the oven to 450 degrees. Put biscuits in pan (it's ok if they touch) and bake for 12 - 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Notes & Tips

*If using wooden skewers for small items on the grill, soak them in water for a bit first so they don't burn.

*I just discovered that those coconut mats for hanging wire basket flowers needs to soak in water before use. Never knew that, so I guess that's why they leaked like a sieve. Duh.

*I will leave you with these thoughts:

Change is inevitable, except from vending machines.

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, - floor!