Winter Eats: Chilled and Chopped

Each year at this time when I look out the window or walk around outside in the cold, wind, sleeting rain or snow, I can’t help but think to myself, “What did the Old Ones do to survive all of this with their health and dignity in tact?”

Native Americans and the land, including the food it reaps, have always been one. We move to nature’s rhythm each season. In the past, all things involved with growing, hunting and preparing food consumed most of the time in the day.

Winter weather made these endeavors even harder in most regions of Indian country. Still does to some extent. Centuries ago, in mid-winter, dried and smoked treasures of summer often disappeared before people could forage or plant once again; hunting became more difficult. Somehow they managed to get through it year after year. This struggle must be part of our genetic memory and the motivation for the constant gratitude we express year round, every day in some way. I am sure Mother Nature knows we try to live right. 

To get through this dreary time of year, stories were told, clothing was repaired or made new, and household and decorative items were crafted with much skill and patient love. Today, these activities go on.

Part of living right is eating well. Just because it’s winter, there’s no need to ignore salad greens. This recipe is interesting because it has bite, texture and great taste.

Watercress & Water Chestnut Salad

2 bunches of washed watercress, heavy stems removed

1 bunch scallions, sliced thin

1 small can of sliced water chestnuts

4 tablespoons of crumbled feta cheese

Drain the chestnuts and rinse in cold water. Cut them up and combine with the scallions and watercress. Use a vinaigrette dressing, or your favorite of choice, then sprinkle a little feta cheese over each serving.

Note: The best way to store watercress is stems down in a glass of ice water, covering the top with plastic wrap, secured with an elastic band. It will keep like this in the fridge for several days.

Watercress is a very healthful green. A member of the mustard family, it is loaded with beta-carotene and contains vitamins C and E. It is credited with fighting cancer and aids in warding off heart disease.

Watercress & Spinach Salad

1 bunch of watercress, washed and heavy stems removed

1 eight-ounce package of fresh spinach, washed and heavy stems removed

3 stripes of bacon, cooked, drained and set aside, reserve 1 tablespoon of bacon fat

4 large white mushrooms, sliced paper thin

½ cup crumbled blue cheese

3 tablespoons cider vinegar

3 tablespoons light vegetable oil plus the reserved bacon fat

½ teaspoon sugar

Tear the washed and dried spinach into bite-size pieces and add the watercress, also slimmed down together in a large bowl. Heat the oil in a small saucepan and add the vinegar and sugar. Let cool. Sprinkle the greens with blue cheese, mushrooms and crumbled bacon. Drizzle the warm vinegar oil dressing over all and toss lightly, then serve.

Note: Watercress also makes a delightful sandwich on whole grain bread. Soften and blend together butter and cream cheese, sprinkle with parsley and garlic powder or other favorite herbs. Spread mixture on the bottom piece of bread, top with watercress sprigs and another piece of bread. Remove bread crust and cut in 1-inch wide slices.

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.