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Turning Over a Few New Leaves: Salads By Season—Focus on Northern Plains

Let's see what the Northern Plains has to offer in the way of seasonably forageable food and put some of fall’s tastiest finds on the table.

Welcome to the third installment of “Turning Over a Few New Leaves,” a four-part series of recipes inspired by traditional, seasonally forageable foods from the four major North American tribal regions—this time we leave behind the warm months of summer on the Pacific Northwest Coast and head for the Northern Plains just in time to put some of fall’s tastiest finds on the table.

Among the season’s quintessential gems is, of course, the pumpkin. Technically a gourd, the pumpkin comes in a number of varieties. From the familiar smooth, bright orange globes we associate with the iconic pumpkin patch where we pick our Jack-o-lanterns, and make pie from, to the lesser-known striped, lop-sided sorts, no two are identical. Beyond its decorative appeal, the pumpkin is a highly nutritious food, rich in fiber, calcium, potassium, and Vitamin C. Its seeds, which can be eaten raw, toasted, steamed, or baked, add flavorful dimension to everything from the salad featured here to breads, casseroles, pasta, soups, and sauces, and are of important dietary value, as well as offering a good source of iron and Vitamin D.

Flickr Creative Commons/Jeremy Seitz

Pumpkin patch

Also on fall’s menu is the versatile wild parsnip. Growing near the edges of clear, quick-flowing creeks and low-lying fertile fens, this tasty tuber is easily recognized by its delicate fern-like tops that sway in the breezes rolling in from across the prairies, and can be easily coaxed from its damp, rich soil to provide yet another nutrient-packed and moisture-rich delicacy.

Few of the season’s recipes would be complete without adding a few dry berries—gathered and set aside from earlier summer foragings in preparation of the leaner months to come. Enter, the red wild grape. Vining prolifically along tree-lined riverbanks and cattail-filled marshes, this antioxidant-packed super-food is high in Vitamin C and heart-healthy phenol compounds. Just a handful adds texture and subtle sweetness to virtually any side dish, entrée, or desert in November’s culinary line-up.

A touch of savory is also a welcome addition to the menu, and can be easily achieved by tossing in a few slices of wild onion, which is suggested here as an optional ingredient. Some palates may prefer not to mix the sweet flavor of the berries with the spiciness of the pungent, white-flower-topped bulbs. Growing in large, dense patches in moist, wooded areas and under shrubs and trees, the wild onion is perhaps one of North America’s oldest staple-sources for savory. With a high concentration of health-supporting compounds, including antioxidants, potassium, phenol compounds, and phytochemicals, its relatively small package belies its lengthy nutrient profile.

With so many scrumptious seasonal treasures abounding, there is no shortage of inspiration for new ways of putting together traditional indigenous ingredients. The only challenge lies in narrowing down the choices to a manageable few to create combinations of flavors and textures that complement one another. Challenge accepted: Colorful experimentation is also on fall’s menu.

National Park Service/Kitty Kohout/University of Wisconsin

Wild parsnips have broad, flat-topped yellow flowers.

Wild Rice, Pumpkin, and Parsnip Toss With Dried Red Wild Grapes

3 cups cooked wild rice

1-1/2 cups pumpkin, steamed or baked, peeled, and seeded, cubed into 1/2-inch pieces

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1/2 cup parsnip, peeled, steamed or baked, and julienned (may also be used raw)

1/4 cup pumpkin seeds, raw or toasted and shelled

1/4 cup dried red grapes (or 1 cup fresh, halved)

Optional: 2-3 small wild onion bulbs, halved length-wise and very thinly sliced width-wise

Photo by RoseMary Diaz

Red wild grapes, gathered and set aside from the summer, can also be used in fall recipes.

Substitutions: Dried cherries, cranberries, currants, mulberries, plums, or other berries may be used in place of the grapes.

Variations: Berries may also be used fresh: Halve and add to still-hot rice to allow time to soften and wilt into the other ingredients. Add fish or other seafood, fowl, or game for a hearty main dish.

Preheat oven to 350. Rinse pumpkin and parsnip, pat dry, and bake on tray for 30-35 minutes, or steam in large stockpot. In another large pot, add three cups water to three cups wild rice. (Rinse rice, if desired, but only once so as not to remove too much of the starches, which will affect cooking times, and texture.) Bring rice to a boil, reduce heat, and continue to cook on medium-low heat for 30 to 35 minutes, or until desired tenderness. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Remove pumpkin and parsnip from oven, allow to cool and prepare according to directions given above.

In a large serving bowl, gently mix all ingredients. Serve immediately or refrigerate for up to four hours.

Serves 6-8.

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