Native Cooking: Some Killer Appetizers For The Holidays

Dale Carson suggests a new holiday tradition of a pot luck full of fun and easy appetizers instead of a hearty holiday meal this year.
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Just about every Native American celebration focuses on gratitude and family, especially if it provides a chance to get together, visit, and eat! Now is the time when Christian and other religious celebrations either collide or blend with Native American spirituality. The world we live in today lets us mix it up without clashing due to the Internet, TV and social media. This doesn’t mean we are assimilating, just sharing our culture with others and they with us. We have so many cultural areas to share, the Southwest, Northwest, the Great Lakes and Midwest, the Woodland peoples. So I think we can agree that “the Holidays” are not about things or stuff, more about people, children and getting together.

We all have our favorite food for this time of year, and food evokes memories. Many people have big sit-down dinners with a bunch of people, which can be too much work. The cook/chef might enjoy the work, but let us give them a break and have a potluck with only appetizers!

That is what we are doing this year for the first time. Our family has grown so big that it’s not practical to get together with a huge table, chairs, place settings—who has the room? It’s interesting to note that the most popular appetizers in this country—salsa, corn and potato chips are Native American. I love a chance to talk about the origin of the food we are eating, it’s a great conversation starter at gatherings.

A true favorite is clams or oysters on the half-shell. The shells themselves make nice little holders for other things like clams casino. Little cleaned out gourds, shells of all sizes, miscellaneous pottery and birchbark or other bark trays for serving are good things to keep an eye out for during the year.

Another pretty way to present food is wrapped or rolled in colorful flour tortillas (red, green, multi-grain). Stuff figs or dates with cheese and a nut on top, stuff celery with a bit of goat cheese and a touch of red caviar. I love Italian antipasto so much I was inspired to develop a Native American version. Antipasto is basically a variety of foods, a sampling.

A vegetable platter might contain marinated thin sliced Jerusalem artichokes, roasted bell peppers, sliced tomatoes. A seafood and dried smoked meat version might have raw shellfish, smoked trout, smoked salmon or bluefish, ceviche, shaved buffalo sausage rollups, smoked duck, pheasant or turkey breast. For some sides there should be guacamole, bean dips, bowls of pine nuts, hazelnuts, and walnuts. Chips and salsa of course, and maybe some cornbread.

One thing that can cross cultures is bread. A nice fresh French or Italian bread, warm, toasted and thin sliced is a good little vehicle for many of the foods mentioned above.

Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.