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Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

Cycles come and go, but the renewal of life in the spring may be the best. Our ancestors led their lives by observing all of these cycles carefully. Slow rains come to wake the earth and turn her green so that the planting could begin.

Perhaps, the first of April is called April Fool's Day because we all get so giddy and silly from our happiness over longer days and warm sun on our skin. Who knows, I'm just glad to be out and not cooped up inside anymore for awhile.

Spring brings early flowers and herbs that just beg to be used in their prime flavor time. Chive, for example, can be used, dried and even harvested for a long time, yet tastes best when it first arises. Pansies and sorrel are other early risers.

Spring Spread

4 tablespoons of finely chopped burnet or watercress

2 tablespoons chopped (garlic) chives

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 3-ounce package of low fat cream cheese

1 tablespoon of fat-free sour cream Salt and pepper to taste

Let the cream cheese soften a bit, then put all the ingredients in a medium bowl and blend together with a fork. The sour cream makes the blending a little easier. Spread on bread, crackers or cucumber slices.

Spring Dressing for Spring Greens

1 clove of garlic

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup tarragon wine vinegar

2 tablespoons sesame seeds, crushed

4 tablespoons of vegetable or olive oil

1/4 cup water

Crush up the garlic and sugar together and put all the ingredients in a pint glass jar with a tight lid. Shake hard. Let the dressing stand for 10 minutes and pour over fresh greens. Add some sliced scallions and croutons if desired.

Shortcut Sorrel Soup

1 cup of fresh picked sorrel leaves

1 medium onion, chopped or 3 leeks

1 clove garlic, crushed

4 cups of chicken broth (reduced sodium is OK)

1 can cream of mushroom soup

1 small can evaporated milk

1 tablespoon butter

3 potatoes, pre-cooked and cubed

Salt and pepper to taste

Chopped fresh chive for garnish

Saute the sorrel, onion or leeks and garlic in the butter until soft in a large saucepan. Add the broth and simmer for about five minutes. Add the potatoes, soup and milk. Add salt and pepper and simmer for five minutes more but do not let boil. Garnish with chive and serve.

Although it is definitely NOT Native, asparagus is a popular spring vegetable and found in many Native gardens today. Asparagus likes neutral soil and should be picked when no less than one-half inch thick, cutting at ground level. If purchased, try to use as soon as possible. If that's not to be, then stand the stalks upright in cold water and refrigerate. Our favorite way to cook them is to steam them quickly until they get that bright green color.

As a child, I remember mom serving asparagus on buttered toast sprinkled with cider vinegar. For a dinner side dish, I serve them in my long, thin corn-on-the cob plates with butter and soy sauce or cider vinegar. If there are any leftovers, rarely, they are very welcome additions to any soup or quiche.

Notes & Tips

Keep a couple of old clean mayonnaise jars on hand to use for mixing salad dressings. They come in handy for other things like cleaning paint brushes and storing buttons.

We can't always have fresh herbs on hand, but fresh parsley is usually available in the markets and it is also easy to grow, it just takes awhile. To make your dried herbs taste fresh, shake them over a sprig of parsley and mince them together before use in your recipe.

Early in April, the garden centers tempt us with budding beauties like pansies that are hearty little things. It is tempting to succumb and plant your garden way too soon. This is especially true in more northern states. Try to restrain yourself by really cleaning up the winter's accumulation of leaves and debris. Think of it as letting the earth rest just a bit longer.