It is amazing how many food items came from what was known as the New World. I would bet that a good number of items on your dinner plate tonight were unknown in Europe before 1492. Corn, beans, and Squash are the primary 3. Some nations call them the 3 sisters. It is surprising how many do not recognize that the potato and the tomato are also new world foods. Common everyday foods like tortillas, hominy, popcorn, salsa, chocolate and turkey are native.
Most people think of fry bread when American Indian food is mentioned. Yes fry bread is ubiquitous in Indian country but it is no more a Native food of the Americas than Potatoes were in Europe. By following a natural progression once you have fry bread you can use that as a base to hold other items. If there is fry bread there will be Indian tacos. Just take all your taco insides out of the shell and put them on a piece of fry bread. The result is delicious. Fry bread is also good on its own, just put honey on it or wojapi. I will get back to wojapi later.
The primary food for Lakota people was buffalo stew, using either fresh or dried buffalo. Another traditional staple was wasna, It is a type of pemmican and consists of dried meat pounded with berries, nuts, and fat. The resulting mash was then formed into cakes. The wasna was long lasting and packed a powerful nutritious punch. I have mentioned Tanka Bar in previous posts and it is a modern and very healthy version of wasna. Another common dish was a corn soup with venison. Lakotas were hunters and we acquired vegetables like corn and also tobacco through trade or other less equitable means with the local Mandan and Pawnee nations.
Each tribe or nation would use the food stuffs most readily available to them in their local area. There were no buffalo in the pacific North West but they had a yearly salmon run and would hunt whales. The Lakota’s eastern brothers the Dakota had lakes with wild rice and fish. Each part of the New World provided its own unique foods and cooking technique. The barbecue was created by the people in the Caribbean.
If there is one standard that can be told for all American Indian traditional diets is that they were primarily protein rich and with little to no processed carbohydrates such as can be found in breads and the sweet deserts of the old world. The introduction of processed carbohydrates has had a devastating effect on American Indian health. Obesity and diabetes is rampant in every Indian community and although fry bread is delicious it is cheap, easy to make, and Indians are eating so much of it they are dying. Good meat and good vegetables are expensive, and in remote reservation communities they are hard to find at any price.
There is a recent and strong push to encourage a more traditional diet in an effort to reduce the effects of a modern American one. Many websites are springing up with healthy traditional food recipes.
I have been known to say that most Lakota food is based on a dare, as in “I dare you to eat that” and for some things that is true but here is some of my favorites.
A *traditional* buffalo stew contains.
Buffalo – or any other wild game meat, cut into medium chunks
Wild turnips – timpsila
Place everything in a pot, cover with water and boil till done. Add salt as desired that is it. Traditional buffalo stew.
I understand. Look if you want to go all out traditional, get a buffalo stomach and clean it out real good. Use 4 sticks, one in each corner to hold it off the ground this is the pot. Place everything in there and then start a fire next to the buffalo stomach. Use the fire to heat fist sized rocks. Use two forked sticks to pull the rocks out of the fire and dump them into the cold stew to cook it. The trick is to bring the stew to a boil and then replace the rocks as they cool with hot rocks from the fire. I have never seen this done and to tell you the truth I cannot imagine anyone cooking in this way.
We live in a modern world so let us take advantage of that fact. Let’s try it again.
**BUFFALO VEGETABLE STEW**
2 lbs buffalo
1/4 cup oil
2 large chopped onions
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 cups of corn
8 cups water
1 tsp.salt; 1 tsp.oragano; 1/2 tsp.pepper
4 carrots, sliced
3 potatoes, cubbed
1 green pepper(optional)
Cut buffalo in cubes, brown in oil. Put meat aside and saute garlic and onions in the buffalo oil.
Return the meat into pan, add water, corn, salt, pepper.
Cook for 2 hours, or until meat tender.
Add the vegetables and continue to cook until done, about 30 minutes.
There is no rule that you cannot add tomatoes, or any other herbs and seasonings, the easiest way to make buffalo stew is to just replace the cow meat with bison and you are good to go.
I mentioned wojapi above and as promised here it is. Just because Native diets were lacking in processes carbohydrates did not mean there was nothing sweet. Wojapi can be best described as a berry concoction that can have a consistency between a soup and a pudding. It is great on fry bread but it is also fantastic on ice cream, add some chilies to it and it makes a good steak sauce as well. Most wojapi is made with blueberries today. Chokecherries are traditional and if you can get ahold of some I would suggest that you try it.
5 lb’s of berries (blueberries, raspberries, cherries or a mix)
8 cups of water
Honey to taste.
Take a 5 quart pot and add all the berries, mash them with a potato masher. Add water and boil lightly for 15 to 20 minutes.
Remove from heat and strain out any seeds put back on heat and add honey to taste.
If you desire a thicker wojapi add cornstarch.
You can substitute sugar but it will not taste as good.
Making wojapi is a mess, I have cleaned up more “wojapi dots” than I care to recall from the kitchen. If you do get chokecherries be sure and strain out the large seeds, you do not want to eat those.
I use a yeast fry bread recipie. I have not had any luck using the baking power/soda versions.
1 pkg. dry yeast
3 cups warm water
1 tbsp. salt
1 tbsp. sugar
6 cups flour
2 tbsp. oil
Dissolve yeast in warm water then add salt and sugar. Let stand for 5 minutes covered with a towel. Add flour and oil to liquid mixture. Mix and put on floured bread board and knead until mixture is smooth. Put dough in a greased bowl, cover with towel and let it rise for 1 1/2 hours. Remove from bowl and put on bread board. Make dough into 2 balls rolling each into 12 inch circles 1/2 inch thick. Cut into 2 inch squares and drop into hot cooking oil. (Works best with cast iron skillet.) Fry 5 to 6 pieces at a time for only a few moments. Drain on paper towel and sprinkle with white powdered sugar.
Here are some resources of Native recipes and suppliers.
www.tankabar.com – using traditional recipes to make the modern world healthier, great product, and great people
http://www.aihd.ku.edu/ – American Indian Health and Diet Project.
https://www.nativeseeds.org/ – grow traditional foods from around the world, purchase seeds here.
http://lakotafoods.com/default.aspx – popcorn
http://www.nativetech.org/recipes/index.php – more American Indian recipies.
http://www.nativerecipes.com/ name says it all
http://www.nmai.si.edu/subpage.cfm?subpage=visitor&second=dc&third=mitsitam Mitsitam café at the National Museum of the American Indian.
Indian food has had a great impact on worldwide food culture, and it all started right here.