There’s nothing like new encounters with food and food cultures. The first time you have sushi. The first time you have pho. The first time you have Korean barbecue. The first time you taste a blueberry in-season. The first time you have good coffee.
But not all foods and food cultures are equally represented. Even here in LA, there are certain things that are hard to find or underappreciated. Lately, we’ve been exploring Native American cuisine–which isn’t really on most people’s radar. Our entry point has been the excellent book The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen. This James Beard finalist is no mere recipe collection. Listen to the dedication page:
This book is dedicated to our ancestors and all indigenous people who have suffered through centuries of colonialism. We, the First Nation descendants, are living proof of courage and resilience. We offer our work to the next generation so that they may carry the flame of knowledge and keep alive our traditions, our foods, and our medicines for generations to come. We devote these pages to the earth, Turtle Island, our home, our everything, in hopes that we indigenous people will always stand strong to protect her.
This book is a gift of history, remembrance, and wisdom from the communities in which it originated—uncomfortable settler-colonial truths included. It feels fortunate to read and learn and prepare dishes that have such rootedness and story.
Indigenous Kitchen goes far beyond fry bread (while outlining its origins) to reconnect with what “the ancestors ate before Europeans arrived on our lands.” The book is a milestone in Chef Sean Sherman’s ongoing pursuit of reconnecting and recording. “Every day, our work becomes richer and more interesting as we travel and meet with elders, indigenous chefs, historians, researchers, health professionals, and food justice advocates.”
Indigenous Kitchen encapsulates “our specific northern Midwestern region, but it’s hard to be precise…we’re not purists…” (yay, Midwest!). In addition to being delicious and enlightening, this culinary tradition has the added benefits of being “hyperlocal, ultraseasonal, uber-healthy: no processed foods, no sugar, no wheat (or gluten), no dairy, no high-cholesterol animal products. It’s naturally low glycemic, high protein, low salt, plant based with lots of grains, seeds, and nuts…It’s what so many diets strive to be but fall short for lack of context. This is a diet that connects us all to nature and to each other in the most direct and profound ways.”
All of which makes Chef Sherman wonder, “Why isn’t the original indigenous diet all the rage today?” Yeah, why? Perhaps it soon will be–thanks to this book, Chef Sherman’s restaurant and other projects, and continuing research, preservation, and advocacy.
Cooking from Indigenous Kitchen has added wonderful depth to our existing convictions of eating and living in better rhythm with nature–and learning more about Amy’s Native American roots.
So what are some of our favorite things from the book? The Maple-Sage Roasted Vegetables are fantastic. Super easy to prepare, super easy to adjust for seasonality and availability, and super tasty. You can make this last-minute on a weeknight. Have as leftovers with fried corn cakes. Or add to greens and herbs for a hearty salad. Yum.
The maple vinegar that recipe calls for was new for us. It definitely brings the whole dish together with its unique, subtle tang. Indigenous Kitchen has given us first-time cooking encounters with juniper, cedar, sumac, duck eggs, smoked salt, and many more ingredients. The Indigenous Pantry section is worth perusing for its own sake and intrigue. Several dishes have maple syrup. Who doesn’t want to eat more of that?
Some other things we’ve really liked are:
Squash and Apple Soup with Fresh Cranberry
Wild Rice Pilaf with Wild Mushrooms, Roasted Chestnuts, and Dried Cranberry
Cedar Braised Beans
We’ve only just begun cooking our way through the book. Next, we want to find respectable, affordable sources of bison and venison shipping to LA (one of the things we miss from living in Wisconsin) so we can dive into more of the meat dishes. (Sorry, vegans and vegetarians). Can’t wait.
It’d be awesome to see Indigenous Kitchen win the James Beard award in its category. It totally deserves it. But whether it does or not, this is a book, a project, and a culinary tradition that should be on everyone’s radar. If you’re trying to eat more holistically, or want to learn more about Native American cuisine, pick up a copy of Indigenous Kitchen and get cooking.