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Native Cooking Column by Dale Carson

Even though it is staying lighter out longer and longer, we are still in the deepest part of winter right now. For our ancestors, this was the time when stores of cached food were running out. Game was scarce, roots and botanicals were as well, so the struggle to survive became more real and urgent until the welcome burst of springtime. In some places within Indian country these struggles are, sadly, still going on. If you know of anyone who is really remote, elderly, ill or otherwise struggling, I'm sure you will do all you can to help.

In a really cold and harsh winter, our genetic makeup is likely to crave heavier, fatty foods. In the past, and now, this is normal to provide heat, therefore, energy to the body. Today many of us are too sedentary in our lives and jobs to burn off that fat-energy, so we need to diet. Some just need to watch their diet. Olde timey comfort foods are often on the menu in our minds. We think about heavy soups, thick chowders and stews. Luscious roasts, baked potatoes, volumes of vegetables and buttery combinations are what the palate craves.

Variety is important mid-winter. What could be more versatile than chicken. Because it is readily available in stores (and some backyards), chicken is probably the best buy right now, lots of sales. Try to think of this popular, non-native meat as a cousin of our real Native bird, the turkey. The two meats are very similar and perform alike in many recipes. It is also a great time to find seafood on sale. Hearty fish chowders and healthy grilled salmon should be on the agenda. Most of the salmon we consume today is farm raised and quite wonderful but there is nothing like the real thing, wild salmon. It has a deeper and richer flavor.The natural accompaniment to all hearty, comfort foods is a good crusty bread of some sort and a winter salad of beets, beans or mixed vegetables. During winter when I was growing up, we had some sort of warm bread every night with supper. It was usually a cornbread. If we bought bread from the store, it had to last a long time to be available for lunch sandwiches. The evening bread always had to be homemade.

Chicken Delish
8 chicken breast halves, boneless
2-3 cups herb-seasoned stuffing mix
1 cup bottled oil and vinegar salad dressing
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the stuffing mix in a plastic bag and crush with a mallet or rolling pin to the consistency of bread crumbs. Put the crushed stuffing in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Moisten the chicken by dipping it in the salad dressing, then roll it in the crumbs, coating well. Grease a large baking pan and place the chicken pieces skin-side up with a little space between them. Bake for about an hour and a half. Check after an hour and put a loose foil over at this time to keep in the natural juices.

This dish is great served with sweet potatoes and a cold beet salad.

Beet Salad

2 15-ounce cans of sliced beets, drained
1 red onion, sliced as thin as possible
1 clove of fresh garlic, minced
1/2 cup good olive oil
1/3 cup cider vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients except the beets. Pour that mixture over the beets, cover and chill for about an hour before serving.

*Beets, hot or cold, are also a compliment to pork dishes.

Maple Baked Beans

Sorry, Boston, but this was our dish first! Native baked beans are made with maple sugar, not molasses and salt pork. And, we serve it with pumpkin bread studded with dried wild grapes - perhaps the bread that inspired what is called Boston Brown Bread.

4 cups water
1 pound dried navy beans
1 tablespoon oil or butter
1 medium onion, sliced
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon powdered ginger

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put the water and beans in a large pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for about 1-1/2 hours. Drain the beans and reserve 2 cups of the liquid. (add water to make two cups if necessary). In a small skillet, saute the onion in the oil or butter for about 7 to 10 min. Add the salt, maple syrup, dry mustard and ginger to the beans and transfer the whole mixture to a 2-quart baking pot. Cover and bake in the middle of the oven for 2 hours. Remove cover and cook an additional half hour or so until the liquid is absorbed. Serve hot.

Notes & Tips

oDoctor up canned beans with maple syrup, brown sugar or molasses. To get really fancy, add a little cooked bacon and some saut?ed onions. Cut the fat. Literally, cut and save the fat off beef and pork, give it to the birds. Store bacon fat separately. Label it and keep in the fridge to use sparingly to saut? mushrooms, onions and other vegetables. It gives them a nice flavor.

oVanilla is ours, it originated in South America, but today the large island of Madagascar produces about two-thirds of the world's supply of vanilla.