The American menu today is crowded with many cuisines: Italian, Chinese, French, Japanese, German, Ethiopian, Irish, Vietnamese. With so many kinds of cooking, it can be easy to forget what is the most important cuisine of them all, that of American Indians. These foods from throughout the Americas are the foundation of what we eat today.
“American cuisine is a combination of immigrant cuisines in conjunction with Native American cooking,” says Lois Ellen Frank, a chef, author, teacher, food historian, culinary anthropologist and photographer working to keep the foodways of American Indians alive and thriving.
Frank, based in Santa Fe, N.M., has a valid point.
Just think what our kitchens would be like without tomatoes, beans, squash, chocolate, vanilla, pineapples and, most of all, corn. These foods of the New World rapidly circled the globe after 1492, in what’s called “The Columbian Exchange.”
She believes eating indigenous foods is not only good for you but good for the planet because many of these foods can be locally grown or sourced, often by American Indians. To that end, she seeks to encourage the incorporation of traditional Indian foods into modern life via her books, including the James Beard Award-winning Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations, articles, classes and a catering company.
Her thrust was clear during a recent talk at the Association of Food Journalists conference in Santa Fe. The title: “Seeds of Health: The Return to The Ancestral Diet.”
While touting the benefits of indigenous food, Frank doesn’t snub foods introduced into the Americas. One of her fall cooking classes also made use of lamb, goat cheese and wheat flour.
An Indian medicine wheel serves as a symbol to her of the intermingling of people, cultures and foods.
“One-quarter of the wheel is yellow, white, black and red,” she says. “Mix the colors together and it becomes speckled corn. Most of us are speckled corn.”
Frank personifies the analogy. She is half American Indian. Her mother is from the Kiowa nation, which was relocated to a reservation in what is now the state of Oklahoma in the mid-19th century. Her father is a Sephardic Jew, whose mother came from Europe as a small child. Frank, born in New York City, grew up on Long Island.
Today, indigenous foods are a part of all Americans, no matter where their ancestors came from. For Frank, what’s important now is to make sure the foods, and the recipes, are accessible to all and enjoyed.
“Recipes only remain alive if people cook from them,” she says.
Lamb-Stuffed Chiles with Tomato Puree
Prep: 45 minutes; Cook: 55 minutes; Makes: 6 servings
12 firm green mild chiles, New Mexican or Anaheim
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 yellow onion, finely chopped
3/4 pound ground lamb
1 large ripe tomato, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 tbsp. chopped fresh tarragon or 1/2 tsp. dried
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. pepper
Tomato sauce and topping:
1 tbsp. olive oil
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/4 pounds tomatoes, coarsely chopped Sour cream (optional)
the chiles, turning often, on a stove-top grill until charred on all
sides, about 15 minutes; peel. Cut off stem; slice chiles lengthwise to
open like a book. Remove seeds.
the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook onions, stirring,
until translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the ground lamb; cook, stirring,
until browned, about 15 minutes. Drain off the excess fat. Add
tomatoes, garlic, bay leaf, bread crumbs, tarragon, salt, thyme and
pepper. Reduce heat to simmer; simmer 15 minutes. Cool.
for the tomato sauce, heat oil in a saucepan over mediumlow heat. Cook
garlic, stirring, 1 minute. Add the tomatoes; cook, stirring often,
until the liquid evaporates and the sauce is reduced, 15 minutes. Pour
sauce through fine sieve. Keep warm.
oven to 350 degrees. Spread chiles open on a work surface. Top each
with lamb mixture. Close chilies around lamb. Place the stuffed chilies
open-side down on an oiled baking pan. Bake until hot, about 10 minutes.
Serve with the tomato puree. Garnish with sour cream.
Nutrition information Per
serving: 249 calories, 46 percent of calories from fat, 13 g fat, 4 g
saturated fat, 38 mg cholesterol, 21 g carbohydrates, 14 g protein, 303
mg sodium, 3 g fiber (c) 2011, Chicago Tribune. —MCT Respond: email@example.com