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Here’s to the herbs, spices and flavorings that have become familiar to me over the years and which I love to use.  It’s easy in a city like Minneapolis to trek around and explore the street-party of international and specialty markets, which increases your odds of laying hands on some of these ingredients, some of which are not only exotic, but challenging to find (Minneapolis even has a stretch of Nicollet Ave, called Eat Street).

This is what God made the internet for.  Most of the below items that I found over the past 20 year period  are now often locally available.  I like shopping for them in person, because you don’t have to pay increasing mail/shipping costs, or tap your foot as you wait for delivery trucks.  Anyhow, combing your territory for these little treasure is always a much better adventure provided that you have the gift of time.

I’ll highlight more specialty ingredients sometime in the future (Africa, SE Asia, Central America), and if you think today’s list is exotic, just wait!

Asfoetida – a gum (tree) resin used in cuisines from India.  It is a penetrating flavor and aroma – only use  a small pinch and fling it into hot oil when frying pappadums.  It actually has an startlingly unpleasant scent before you cook with it, but it is also a key ingredient in authentic Indian-style cooking with an exciting taste.  For centuries, the non-physical and magical attributes of Asafetida have been- at the least -equal to to its health and aesthetic qualities.

Curry Leaf – another India item – I’ve used this herb both fresh and dried – just like the name says, it tastes like delicate curry spices.  Look for it in either form at your local Indian grocery, which is likely one of the only places you’ll find it.

Epazote is an Indigenous herb with a pronounced flavor, with many uses in Central American tribal cuisines, as well as Southwest US tribes.  It’s easy to grow (I’ve planted it in my garden many times) and I put it in various sauces and salsas, and it is a great addition to dry beans when you cook them, thought to have carminative properties.   Having the virtue of being an antidote or preventive to flatulence.  Easy to grow in your garden, which is good – I prefer using fresh over dried leaves when I have the choice.  It has an indefinable, almost chocolatley presence on the palate and in the nose.

Galanga Root – I have this fascinating spice in my kitchen in its fresh and dried state (both sliced root and in powdered form) as well.  It can be found in Asian markets in its fresh form, often labeled as Thai Ginger.  The taste is difficult to describe, but it really doesn’t taste like ginger at all.   Use it when you make Tom Ka, Thai Chicken Soup with Coconut Milk and Galangal.  Also known as Geing bot, and a couple of other perplexing names and spellings, it features regularly in Indonesian cuisine as well.

Grains of Paradise– A year or so ago I started searching for this peppery spice, and it took weeks to locate.  It is related to the African Alligator Pepper.  It has a spiky, pleasant flavor – unmistakably hotter than black pepper- and in the United States it found its way  into the brewing industry, for craft beer.  I later found out that this was one of the reasons it was scarce, as I began looking for it.  It has heat, powerful floral citrus and warm spice notes.

Gumbo File – This is not an exotic spice, since it is a unique Indigenous North American ingredient derived from finely ground leaf of sassafras.  This prominent ingredient in authentic Cajun and Creole cuisines around Louisiana has always been used by the Choctaw tribe (Five Nations) because of its thickening and flavoring virtues in cooking.  You can probably find it in the spice and baking aisle of your local supermarket.  It’s used as the name suggests in some preparations of Gumbo and is also sprinkled over a bowl of the stew at table to further enhance the flavor.

Juniper Berry – I love using this spice.  It does come fromf juniper and is generally fairly easy to obtain, because in addition to use in Native American cooking, it has been employed for centuries in traditional European kitchens as well, often to balance the strong tastes in game.  I always always always have this in my spice cabinet.  In cuisine francaise, it is a familiar companion to a strong burgundy:  A noble Rhône (Châteauneuf-du-Pape rouge, a good 1981 if you can manage it).

Keffir Lime Leaves– Prominent in SE Asian cookery, Keffir leaves are becoming steadily more familiar in the US.  I have found the dried leaf in my local co-op/natural food store.  You can probably also find it- fresh or frozen- in larger Asian groceries and supermarkets.  It adds a bright citrus fragrance to curries and stir fries and has numerous applications.

Yuzu Juice– Never heard of this before?  Neither had I.  And this amazing flavoring agent was a beast to find.  I couldn’t even find it in the Japanese section of one of our major Asian super-marts.  It is the juice of an inedible Japanese citrus fruit, used only in the juice or grated rind incarnations.  Yuzu is one of the components for traditional sushi dipping sauce (Ponzu), mingled with soy sauce.  Bartenders also have come to rely on the addition of yuzu to high-end cocktails to add an intriguing and deliciously aha-moment to beverages at the bar.  The taste is often described as the love child of lemon and tangerine.

Res El-Hanout – Apparently like many curries, each family & household commands its own concoction for Res El-Hanout (الحانوت رأس), sometimes with up to a dozen or so individual spices.   It is used in the Moroccan kitchen and throughout North Africa in one form or another.  I love cooking chicken with this spice blend and it will transform any ingredient into a unique dish to place on your dinner table.  This was another spice that took some searching on my part, until I rejoiced when I stumbled upon it in a Middle Eastern grocery four blocks away from me.  I was whooping madly inside my head.

Szechuan Peppercorn – I was first introduced to this deliciously prickly spice when I was living in Taiwan.  My landlord at that time taught me how to make Ma Po Dofu (an iconic Szechuan tofu and pork main dish); and when I first tried to make this recipe back in Minnesota, I had to find this ingredient.  I don’t believe you can make Ma Po Dofu without it, it’s that essential.  Part of the reason is flavor, and another is texture.  This small peppercorn, which is small and reddish brown, has a woodsy, flowery personality, and a sensation on the tongue that is somewhere between heat and a tannic-bite.  The crunchy kernel also retains its almost dinty character, even after you grind it and cook it!  It is fairly easy to find in your Asian grocery.

Smoked Salt – Fortunately this aromatic item has moved out of boutique kitchen stores and is becoming easier to buy.  It is usually made from sea salt (as opposed to mined) salt, and there are a number of interesting incarnations and applications.  I first was introduced to Hickory Salt about 20 years ago, and more recently there are new smoked salts in a number of forms.  This is a wonderful ingredient, and I love using it in the absence of smoked meats when preparing rice and beans, for example, or other recipes that feature smoked cured meats.  It’s especially great to use when making vegetarian foods, adding a pleasant smokiness, but omitting the smoked ham, bacon or turkey leg.  Include it in a rub for fowl, meat or fish, and vegetables, to give it a grilled depth.  Team it up with smoked paprika (available in both sweet and hot powders) to develop complex flavors.

Sumac – another ingredient native to both North America and Africa, and historically used by peoples in both continents for many centuries.  It’s used everywhere from the Bosporus and Mediterranean cuisines, to tribes around North America.  It’s versatility can be grasped when you realize that it can be made into a refreshing cold beverage (like lemonade) or in soups, baked and grilled dishes, adding a puckery, fruity tone.  In North America there are varieties of sumac that are inedible, and in fact poisonous.  If you forage this wild food, you must know the difference.  I bought mine at the Middle Eastern market.

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cookbooks!

Native

Seaweed, Salmon and Manzanita Cider, Dubin & Tolley.  What an amazing book.  This brilliant gem, beautifully photographed, tells you about REAL Native American cooking.  This is a combination of heritage food, POV home cooking, and thousands of years of wisdom.  Get it, order it, search for it- this was a gift from a friend in California, and these focus on foods from the tribes there.

Colonial

To Set Before the King:  Katharina Schrott’s Festive Recipes First-hand intelligence practically from the table-sides and kitchens of the Habsburgs.  Nothing much more to say.

Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)

Buckeye cookery, ed. Estelle Woods Wilcox.   If you came of age in the 60’s or 70’s, you were probably aware of this book.  It is a friend to self-sufficiency enthusiasts.  However, it is also a valuable document for all of us.

Classic American

A Shaker Kitchen, Norma MacMillan.  Learn something more about the Shakers, besides their famous Shaker Lemon Pie.  A pious and simple tradition, producing simple, breathtaking food.

Comprehensive Cuisine

The Art of South American Cooking, Felipe Rojas Lombardi.  This is a stunning, thick volume of culinary treasure.  Think:  Southern Cross meets Joy of Cooking.

Vegetarian

Simple Food for the Good Life, Helen Nearing.  A goddess from the Pantheon of American Back-to-Nature movement speaks.  She & her husband (Scott) are intelligent, belligerent, humorous icons.

Baking

The Book of Whole Grains, Marlene Anne Bumgarner. I’ve had this cookbook for probably 30 years, and I love it and refer to it often.  It’s not strictly a baking book, but it does have a wealth of recipes categorized into 10 chapters of one whole-grain each; and then additional chapters for nuts/seeds; and finally legumes.

World Food

Japanese Cooking:  A Simple Art, Shizuo Tsuji, intro MFK Fisher.  This 450 page bible of Japanese cookery in English language is illustrated with simple line-drawings; it earned the praise of MFK Fisher AND Craig Clairborne.  This reflects the science, detail and aesthetic of a renowned food tradition.  This is definitely a specialty book.

Reference

Greast Garnishes, ed. Su-Huei Huang.  This is a book of Chinese food garniture- and the connections to the history of the Imperial Court are inescapeable.  Bi-lingual in Mandarin and English with colorful, detailed photos.

Desserts

Chocolate, Linda Collister.  This is a beautifully photographed collection of classic chocolate recipes- it’s a modest 125 pages or so, but it is described by The Guardian as one of the best chocolate cookbooks you’ll ever own.  I think that’s probably true.

Food Writers

First of a pair:  “Love and Kisses and a Halo of Truffles” James Beard’s correspondence with Helen Evans Brown, ed. John Ferrone.  I love reading collections of letters.

Quirks

This isn’t a quirk, but a follow-up to the previous category.  Epicurean Delight:  The Life and Times of James Beard, Evan Jones.  Two giants of American food and writing in one volume- this is quite  a biography, and James Beard lived quite a life.

I don’t have a picture for this one.  A few weeks ago, I made  hominy and beans with green & red chilies, which is such a wonderful combination,  it would be a treat any day of the week.  I happened to mention it on my facebook page- and an amazing number of people said how much they liked the idea.

This recipe starts with ground pork (you can use almost any ground meat.  You can also entirely skip the meat, and it will still be a wonderful meal, with balanced amino acids, for vegetarian cooks).  However, you have to get the onions & garlic started first.  Chop a medium onion & a clove or 2 of garlic.

I went to the supermarket & picked out:

-1 Anaheim pepper (is that the same as ‘hatch’?,  or is that New Mexico?)  It’s often an elongated, sweet, light, green chili that sort of commands your attention)

-1 poblano- maybe not as warm as the Anaheim, but it packs a different, pleasant kind of heat.  This is where the dried, smoked Ancho pepper comes from.  Also excellent.

-1 jalapeno ( some are hot, some are not.  Unpredictable in the supermarket, so grow your own.  HOWEVER, one plant is capable of producing a quantity of fruits with varying levels of heat!  That’s what makes jalapenos interesting.)

If you have a grill, a gas ranged-oven, or a cast iron frying pan- it doesn’t matter what-, put each pepper over the fire.  Caramelize it, scorch it, burn it.  Well, please don’t actually burn it- I was exaggerating.  As you singe each pepper, put it in a paper sack, or in a bowl with a plate on top, so all the steam stays inside.  For this recipe I removed the skins- it can require some patience;  and you will also have burnt spots on your peppers, which makes all the flavors come together.

I spent a summer cheffing at a local 4- or 5 star restaurant- fancy place & pretty much a fun place to work.  I had the job of prepping pizza dough for individual pizzas, on the seasonal menu. Everything in that place was made from scratch- I had to shape them, get them quickly in & out of the oven; and then they went on to their final pizza destiny.  One time, I thought they had browned too much & lamented that I had burnt them.  Chef Beth took a cursory glance and announced:  Those aren’t burnt, those are caramelized.  CHARGE EXTRA!.

To return to the recipe:  Brown 1# of pork in some minced onions and garlic.  Just use a small amount of olive oil to first soften the onions, and then the garlic.  Garlic scorches easily, which is both good and bad.  In this case, before it gets too dark, add a pound of ground pork over medium heat, and make an even layer of meat that you can turn and cook quickly.

Then add about 2 Tbsp of good ground, dried red chili, or a good chili powder.  Also add an equal amount of masa harina or cornmeal, along with a tsp of salt, and generous amounts of fresh, ground black pepper.  Add a tsp of ground cumin and a tsp of crumbled dried epazote leaves (or Mexican oregano).

As this cooks and becomes fragrant, add about 32 oz of canned white hominy, and 16 oz of your favorite canned bean (drained, rinsed- even though you will lose some vitamins).  Keep everything over low heat for a good 10-15 minutes and you will have a decent hominy with red & green chilies.

cookbooks!

Exactly one year ago the Dubious Citty Katt (that’s how the local press referred to her in print- honestly) twisted my arm to start this food blog.  I confidently said at that time that I’d share my favorite cookbooks.

For a year I’ve haven’t been sure how to do that, particularly since I learned as a child that we have to keep our  promises.  For one thing I have 3 or 4 bookshelves full of cookbooks.  Really big shelves.  (Please click on the photo if you don’t believe me).

Some books are large and colorful, some are sort of clinical;  but with most of them I would be happy to sink into a chair and just read it like a novel.  One of my favorite aunts proudly and happily admitted that very same thing to me one day in her kitchen (when I was in high school), where I was perpetually hanging out (and do not end sentences with prepositions please).  Everyone EVERYONE loved Aunt Jane’s cooking- and she taught me pie crust- along with my mom and grandmother.  Now, how will I describe my cookbook collection after all my big words.

About 130 a month guests come to this blog, which is amazing, Thank you for visiting.  And I finally figured out how to tell you about my cookbooks.  I describe this blog as a post-modern excursion into ‘food, Native foods, and omni-cuisine’ (or something like that). So I have created 12 completely arbitrary and capricious categories and I’ll list 2 examples of my favorite books in each one, also capricious and arbitrary.  I’ll try to do a cookbook gazette every once in a while until everyone tells me to stop (but please give me at least two chances.)  I hope you all get to look through some of them sometime.  There are more.

Native:

–Native Harvests, Barrie Kavach – a compact, clear volume that has a surprising degree of detail about pre-Contact food preparation practices

–Cuisine of the Water Gods, Patricia Quintana.  This is a beautifully produced book, not only rich in authentic cuisine and history, but a pleasure to read.

Colonial

–The Early American Cookbook, Dr. Kristie Lynn & Robert W. Pelton.  A gift-shop cookbook that has a wealth of surprising information about early cooking techniques.

–The Williamsburg ART OF COOKERY or, AccompliB’d Gentlewoman’s COMPANION:  Being a Collection of upwards of Five Hundred of the most Ancient & Approv’d Recipes in Virginia COOKERY*

[* a ‘B’ here indicates an S-tset, or Double SS, so this is not a misspelling]

Groundbreaking publications (19/20Centuries)

–Mrs. Beeton’s COOKERY BOOK.  Look it up for yourself, it’s revelatory.

–Classic American Cooking, Pearl Byrd Foster.  This woman is one of the fountainheads of modern American cuisine awareness.

Classic American

–James Beard’s American Cookery.  A cookbook that I never tire of reading.  He’ll tell you how to make Hangtown Fry, a maple glazed doughnut, or Scrapple without batting an eye, with sheer pride of American food traditions.

–Masters of American Cookery, ed. Betty Fussell.  Here is a recent and reliable look at the emerging consciousness of food in the US.

Comprehensive  Cuisine

— Joy of Cooking (aka Joy), Irma Rombauer, Marian Rombauer Becker, Ethan Becker.  There are many editions and iterations of this classic.  I have a double set of paperbacks, as well as a battered 1-volume version.  They all look like they have weathered a category 3 hurricane.

–Mastering, etc, Julia Child, Volumes I & II.  Ditto, category 4 hurricane.

Vegetarian

–Laurel’s Kitchen, Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders, Bronwen Godfrey.  A brilliant, beloved, admired classic.

–The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook (Revised), ed. Louise Hagler.  A little-known, brilliant, beloved, admired classic.

Baking

–Beard on Bread, James Beard.  This is Beard at some of his best.  No wonder they named a national award after him.

–The Art of Baking, Paula Peck.  This volume deserves to be much more widely known and used by everyone.  This is where I learned how to make Genoise and Viennese specialties.

World Food

–Delightful Thai Cooking, Eng Tie Ang.  A very helpful and correct introduction to a favorite ethnic cuisine in the US and world food scene.

–Flavors of India, Madhur Jaffrey.  This is another one of my severely battered cookbooks.  It was a Christmas present from my parents many years ago, and I’m surprised the binding is still holding together.  This author has produced more fine books than I can count.

Reference

–Chilies to Chocolate:  Food the Americas Gave the World, Nelson Foster, Linda Cordell.  A brilliant analysis, critique and meditation on the role of Indigenous foods in world history.

–On Food and Cooking:  The Science & Lore of the Kitchen, Harold McGee.  One of the undisputed bibles of modern Gastronomy- the marriage of aesthetics, cuisine and science.

Desserts

–The Art of Viennese Pastry, Marcia Colman Morton.  This slim volume, written by the wife of a diplomat, harks back to the twilight of the Habsburgs, and a world before the onset of Post-modernity.

Gourmet’s Best Desserts, the ed.s of Gourmet

Food Writers

—Memories of My Life, Auguste Escoffier.  Brilliant European food history.

–As They Were, MFK Fisher.  Brilliant American food history.

Quirks

–The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, Alice B. Toklas.  Don’t make the brownies.

–The Little House Cookbook, Barbara M. Walker.  A comprehensive walk through the food world of Laura Ingalls Wilder, well worth reading.

I didn’t mention it last month but I started some starter- sourdough starter!

…and I had found a butternut squash on the last day of the Minneapolis farmers market -for 50 cents!

Well, if you’ve ever loved a sourdough bread and mistakenly believed that it is beyond your abilities to make your own, then it’s time to think about it again.  If the only thing standing in the way between you and homemade sourdough is the notion that it’s too complicated, get you a cup of water and a cup of flour.  Mix them and leave it alone for a few days.  You are now officially on your way.  Some people say to let it sit outside in nice weather.  I’ve never done that, but it probably works beautifully.

It really is that easy- you don’t need packets of commercial sourdough starter- everything you need is in the air, literally!  I grew up reading The Mother Earth News, Carla Emery’s Old Fashioned Recipe Book, and other vintage hippie self-sufficiency propaganda when I was in my teens in the 1970s.  That’s why I make so much of my own stuff- not only because I believe in the principles of locally produced food with the least amount of chemical and processing intervention (it’s better for you, gives you, your loved ones and friends a genuine relationship with food based on familiarity and ownership).  It also saves you money and saves the earth.

If I buy my flour (I usually buy a 50 pound sack at a time) and make my own yeast, I can make a rustic loaf of sourdough bread for about 50 cents of ingredients, and another couple of bucks of oven heat, rather than the eye-popping, mind-blowing $5-6 bucks you pay at the store for a loaf of organic sourdough.  I mean there’s nothing wrong with that bread at all–except for FIVE OR SIX BUCKS???  If you can afford that, Go with God.  I will make my own bread.

When you start your starter, use a clean, preferably sterilized glass jar, a small ceramic bowl, or one of non-reactive metal (i.e. not aluminum) and pour a cup of boiled water into it.  When it is room temperature, stir or whisk in a cup of All-Purpose flour.  I suppose there’s no reason why you can’t use whole grain flour, or one of the new white and wheat blends.  But to keep things simple, I just use AP flour.  Oh, and some recipes call for adding commercial yeast at this point– even if it is as small an amount as 1/2 teaspoon.  Resist the temptation to do this!   Just use the flour and water, and cover your chosen vessel with cheesecloth or a clean dishtowel and just forget about it for a few days.  Pretend it doesn’t exist.  After a few days, a darkish water/liquid layer may develop on top.  Nothing to worry about.  Stir it back in, check on it after that, and you may notice bubbles and a faint sour odor.  That’s how it should be.  Let it work a little more (when it’s bubbling, we refer to the starter as ‘working’).

At this point you can do a couple of things.  You can make it directly into bread, or you can divide the starter, save some for later – or make other things.  Let’s do two things:  Divide the starter AND make bread.  Your first bread from a new starter is often like the first waffle or pancake or doughnut to come off the line.  It may be a a little balky, stunted, slow- er, not exactly the floating vision of sourdough nirvana you anticipated.  This is also OK.  For the very first batch of bread, go ahead and add a little commercial yeast if you must- you’ll probably still get all the flavor of the sourdough.  If you go that route, add a teaspoon of dry yeast to a little water, proof it (make sure it bubbles and is alive) and add it to the dough.  The only thing to keep in mind is that the wild yeast and the domesticated yeast might duke it out, and the wild yeast may lose the battle.  Nevermind- it’s not a big deal.  Also keep in mind that if you add milk, even pasteurized milk from the store, you really must scald it and let it come to body temperature before enriching your yeast dough with it.  To scald milk bring it almost to the boiling point.  If you accidentally boil it, the world won’t come to an end, and it’s still perfectly useable.  I used to freak out about so many of these things, and I just don’t anymore, because it will be just fine.

You knew that the gold-miners in 1800s Alaska used to be called Sourdoughs, right?  That’s because they kept their sourdough starter in a little leather bag around worn around their neck and beneath their shirt, to keep the starter  from freezing and to keep it vital.  Just don’t give the guy a bear hug or anything, and everyone will probably be happier.  But that’s how they made bread while they were taking gold that belonged to-, and continues to belong to Native people.

Different regions around the earth have distinct and different strains of wild yeast.  What you find in Egypt is different from what you find in Paris or San Francisco.  Wherever it is you happen to live- you have your own strain of wild yeast there. Lure it out of the air and into your oven and stomach, and you will have accomplished something that humans have been doing for thousands of years all over the earth.  If you do yeast baking on a regular or even on an occasional  basis, you probably have leg up on kitchens that are used mostly as a location to zap food in a microwave or switch on an electric coffee maker.  You will have ambient yeast in the air, and that’s an advantage, because when your yeast dough is rising in your kitchen, it naturally releases some of the little plants into the air.

So, back to dividing and making bread.  A couple days before you want to use your starter to bake raised sourdough bread, add another cup each of flour and water.  Save a cup of the stuff and put it into a jar or plastic container, cover with a little cheesecloth and secure with a rubber band.  Just let it sit in your refrigerator and if you don’t use it for a while, only remember to feed the starter with a tablespoon of flour and water about once a week and stir it in- this is quite important.  If it does separate with a liquid layer on top, again- don’t freak out- that’s what it does.  You do want to use it though, to keep it in good condition.  Every time you use the starter, you basically strengthen it and make it better.  You can keep it alive for years- and there are accurate and true stories about sourdough cultures that have been kept alive for a century- and it’s true!

There are other types of home-cultured yeast leavenings- the rarely seen old-fashion Salt Rising Bread (a very distinctive American frontier classic) relies on a combination of raw potatoes and cornmeal as the starter.  It makes a bread that is supposed to be mildly flavored like cheese, which comes from the particular yeast/microorganisms encouraged by potatoes and cornmeal.  Of course the cornmeal a hundred years ago wasn’t de-germinated and irradiated either, so it easily provided a great launch-pad for wild yeast.  I still want to try and make this bread sometime- if you’ve ever read The Little House on the Prairie books, you read about Ma making salt-risin’ bread.

So, you have divided your yeast, put some in the fridge for another baking, and you have more flour paste probably sitting in a bowl on your counter and you’re wondering what to do with it right about now.  Mix in about 1-1/2 cups of flour and  another 1/2 cup of water and let it sit overnight all over again- this presumes that your room temperature is somewhere in the vicinity of 65-75 degrees.  Now you’re going to extend the dough…and if all goes well, it will look sort of like a sponge.  There will be bubbles and should have a definite tangy, sour odor to it.  If it smells really truly ‘off’ try starting over with a whole new starter.  Sometimes you do get microorganisms that are not desirable – it’s a risk, and a small one, but again, not a big deal.

Now you have roughly 2 cups of flour mixed with about one of water in your bowl and it has sat overnight, with the wild yeast feasting on the starch and sugars in the flour and having a significant population increase.  At this point, add a tablespoon of vegetable oil, butter, or whatever your preferred fat is.  Also add 1-3 tsps sugar and some more flour.  You could use semolina (pasta flour, which is a ‘strong’ winter wheat with high gluten content), bread flour (another ‘strong’ flour), whole grain flour or more all purpose flour to make a sturdy dough.  You could probably add up to a tsp of salt with the flour at this point as well.

Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking describes the method for making a traditional yeast dough that’s used for french bread- there’s really no fat or sugar, but there is definitely a bit of yeast and quite a bit of salt.  I made that recipe a couple of times maybe 20 years ago, and it calls for very long periods of rising.  Like 5 hours at a time if I recall correctly.  It makes an authentic and very good bread- and the sourdough method I’m describing to you is distantly related to Julia’s process.  For a few years it was fashionable to say that the French bakeries never used Sourdough- they simply used ‘mother from the brewers (the guys who made the beer) and sort of domesticated the yeast from that point.  Now food historians are more likely to say with one voice that French bakers throughout history actually did use sourdough for their raised bread.        cf: the whole discussion of Searing Meat.  That’s another debate that caused a big Fracas for years.  Now most people admit that searing doesn’t seal in meat juices, but does caramelize natural sugars and raises the flavor profile of meat in a dish.  If cooks didn’t have controversies about sourdough vs not-sourdough, or The Virtues and Outcomes of Searing, what would we all do.  It’s more exciting than soap operas.

So your dough is now recognizably like a real bread dough.  Add more flour, knead it with your hands or a mixer with a dough hook for a minimum of 10 minutes to develop the gluten, which is what hold the dough together and captures the expanding carbon dioxide in big or little bubbles released by the yeast during baking.  We were amazed every time my mom said that Great-Grandma Dickey routinely kneaded her yeast dough by hand for an hour, or even an hour and a half.  I’ve done that, and it makes a yeast bread with a velvety crumb.  With any luck, your dough will rise, but I will tell you that many times, I have let that sour bread-dough rise for hours and hours, and it does not help at all to watch it.  I usually give it one rising, which means when you finish mixing and kneading, the next stop is the oven- just keep that in mind, whether you do a free-form loaf, or use a loaf pan.

I almost always do a free form round loaf for sour dough.  I like baking it in an oven hot as a blast furnace (like 425-450F) on a baking stone (sometimes called ‘pizza stones’- you can find them for $9-12 bucks in a lot of places now, not just kitchen speciality stores).  Just heat the stone for about 20 minutes in the oven.  If you’ve never used one before, this is what I do for all bread baked on stone:

Take the hot stone out of the oven, sprinkle very generously with cornmeal (it will smoke on the stone and smell good, like hot corn-perfume) and slide your bread dough onto the stone.  Sometimes I put it on the back of a cookie sheet also covered with cornmeal, so it has a better chance of actually sliding.

Next take a very sharp blade and very quickly make a bunch of slashes, criss-crosses, or V’s, or something artistic looking.  These slashes are very important because the allow the bread to expand properly as it bakes.  Also, as soon as the dough has been slashed, spray the whole loaf around with water, into the slashes and sides.  Buy a plant-spray bottle (the kind you use to spray mist on your ferns) and only use it for the kitchen.  The steam also helps give the dough lift and a superior crust.  Place the baking stone in the oven, and 3 more times, every 3 minutes, spray that loaf again all over.  You won’t believe the results if you’ve never done this before.  It’s like a professional baker sneaked into your kitchen and made your bread- but you did it!  Let the bread continue baking for another 30 minutes or so- when it gets dark golden brown take it out with hot pads or an oven mitt and thump it on the bottom of the load with the flat of your palm.  If it sounds sort of muffled and hollow, it’s done.  Put it on a cooling rack and let it come to room temperature.  You have bread.

The Native American students involved with the Dream of Wild Health Network recently held their last sale of the summer at Little Earth-  There was a wild summer storm that afternoon in Minneapolis, and we stood protected from the warm tempest… and admired the harvest.

Of course I made a few things right away – cold Borscht, coleslaw and icebox (cucumber) pickles.  When I was growing up in the prairie provinces in Canada, I had Russian and Ukrainian friends.  Borscht was and the famous pysanky, or Ukrainian Easter Eggs were very popular.

I gradually learned how to make borscht over a period of years, particularly after I spent some time in our hippie vegetarian collective with one of our head cooks, who was Ukrainian American.  She could make borscht; and she has a fund of family heirloom recipes with poppyseed.   Actually everything she cooked was quite amazing.  I keep my borscht simple – veggies sauteed lightly, seasoned with salt, pepper, bay leaf, caraway seed and a little dried dill- and lots of good fresh cabbage and shredded beets.  Caraway is very good for digestion and it tastes good.   I simmered everything in chicken stock and let it cool before taking an immersion blender to the whole soup pot (always remember to take the bay leaves out).  Chilled, in the summer, with a little yogurt or sour cream.  Some people have been known to put a suggestion of orange zest in borscht- and it’s tasty.

Cole slaw originates in Dutch language- the word for salad I believe.  I like my cole slaw simple, but I also added pineapple from a little can, as a tribute to country-church basement dinners.

The other two dishes that came out of this trip to the Native garden stand were cucumber ice-box pickles, and some skillet cooked summer squash.  The cuke pickles have maybe 6 ingredients in total: cukes, shavings of red onion, a bruised clove of garlic, vinegar, salt and a bit of sugar.  Mix a light pickle and keep the thinly sliced cukes in your fridge.  It’s very refreshing in the heat of summer.

It’s summer, and with the approach of Green Corn festivals throughout Native America from the Eastern Seaboard and Maritimes-, to the South-west, where the Hopi people have already danced-in the first of the summer’s corn harvest (it’s a beautiful ceremony of three-days, and they make a delicious and parchment-thin corn-bread, rolled up in scrolls).  In the Southeast (Mississippian people), where the Choctaw tribe maintained beautiful family gardens side by side, in such breadth, that when the Spanish arrived in those tribal domains some 400 years ago, the beautifully kept gardens extended in every direction, as far as the eye could see.  These were brilliant people, with a tight relationship to Mother Earth.  Now Natives everywhere are striving to revitalize and promote those sophisticated expressions of sustainable human culture and permaculture.  There are exciting projects in Indigenous garden systems being re-born in the desertic southwest, by Tohono O’odam people and their neighbors to the north, all the way up to the Hopis and Paiutes, not too far from the borders of the Great Basin.

One of the first foods Europeans encountered is known to this day as Succotash, although, like it’s metaphorical European cousin, Goulash- most people have no idea what real succotash or real goulash really is.  The word is common to Haudenosaunee (pronounced Haw-den-o-shawnee, better known as Iroquois, or The Confederacy of Six Nations) – and Algonquin based languages as well.  Now we’re going to go from the Five Berry Sisters in the previous blog post about granola…to The Three Sisters.  All these dynasties of great Indigenous vegetable or fruit crops seem to be matrilineal, or is that sororal?

The story of The Three Sisters is most often identified with the 6 Nations people, who have always grown Corn, Beans, and Squash together, in what is also known in western horticultural circles as Companion Planting.  It just means that two (or more) types of plants grow better together when they are planted together intentionally, because they provide symbiotic advantages to each other.  Ok that’s redundant.  They’re symbiotic.

The corn stalks provide a natural pole for bean vines to climb (and that prevents them from sprawling all over the soil, where they can get plant rust- or must-, which can ruin a crop, or make them less productive or less beautiful.  The squash vines on the other hand grow close to the ground and have fine large leaves that shade the soil, and conserve moisture and discourage competing weeds.  The maturing squash fruits also get a good balance of sun and shade beneath the corn (generally planted with 2-4 corn seeds in a mound); and finally the beans help fix nitrogen in the soil through their root systems, which is a primary nutrient for the growing corn, which demands a lot of nitrogen from the earth.  It’s an ingenious system, and it’s been used by the advanced agricultural cultures that helped build many of the Native populations across North America during the past few millennia.

Some of the cultures have always been built on primary foodstuffs such as Sunflower, or Wild Rice, or Maize, or Quinoa (referred to as the Mother Grain by the Inca), or Goosefoot Grass seed, or Acorn, or Pinenut.  The ancient history of traditional food systems in this continent is amazing.  Stunning, actually.  But when you step back and see the impact of Indigenous foods of this hemisphere on the rest of the world during the past few hundred years, it becomes instantly recognizable that these food systems were remarkable and very intelligently designed and managed resources.  Native American foods now make up 60% of the world’s food production and trade. These are the people who gave us corn from teosinte, and tomatoes, chilis, and several hundred varieties of pappas (potatoes).  This is where the careful setting of seasonal grass fires increased the fertility of the soil, encouraged growth of desired crops, and made the process of subsistence-gathering more accessible and productive.

The three sisters first arrive at our cooking pot around mid-summer.  The recipe I make is one variation of many approaches that are somewhat different from each other, but they are all very good too.  This uses a summer squash, but as Autumn gets closer, the winter squash will also begin to appear.   You can use green corn (most people now use sweet corn), although you could also use hominy in some form, and you wouldn’t stray very far from the basic preparation.  Not only are these plants agriculturally harmonious, they are nutritionally complementary.

If I remember my math correctly, of the 8 essential amino acids that make a complete protein, Corn is deficient in lysine, but rich in tryptophan (like turkey, you know?); and beans are particularly rich in lysine, but not so much with tryptophan.  (And the beans are are legumes, not beans as in haricot vert, or string beans, green beans or whatever  you want to call them.)  So you always put the two foods together and they make a whole protein that keeps you healthy and well nourished.  The squash makes it succulent, whether it’s zucchini (summer) or pumpkin (winter).  The Maya and Aztec solved the problem of access to some of the locked-up nutrients of the corn by cooking it with lime (not the citrus fruit, the mineral)- and that releases the vitamin B necessary to prevent pelegra.

Enough with the food history – let me know if you like succotash, make succotash, have a different recipe, have an authentic preparation, etc.  When I write about food- even if this is an informal food blog- I sometimes forget to stop writing when I get on a roll…but you already figured that one out.

For this recipe, I found a can of Pigeon Peas (processed in Puerto Rico), and Patty Pan squash.

in a big skillet

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp bacon fat

Yes, use all that fat in whatever combination you like.  If you’re kosher or halal the bacon fat can be omitted, or you could use a little hickory salt or a smoked paprika, or something like that.  I like a little smokey flavor.  This would have always been prepared over a cooking fire, for thousands of years.  Just use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup fat.  And it’s not true what they were saying for a while about lard or bacon fat- it’s actually much better for you than hydrogenated margarine or shortening ever was (although find the hormone free pork product if you can).

Into the fat, put a small sliced onion, sliced almost any way you like;

smash a clove of garlic & add that after a while, along with

-generous 1/2 tsp cracked black pepper

-1/2 tsp salt (I have never in my life used quantities of  salt in my cooking, most people use more than this)

-a pinch of nutmeg

-a spoonful of dried shrimp powder

-a ground up dried red pepper (such as a cayenne), depending on if you want this to be spicy warm or not

-some fresh herbs if you have them, thyme, sage, parsely, basil, wild garlic grass- you could even use some mint or coltsfoot (that would be a very traditional seasoning, although you have to dry the coltsfoot and burn it to an ash, to use it)

After everything has sweated together  at medium heat for a while, add a can of legume beans (roughly a pint, if you cook your own from scratch, and it’s worth the time and effort); and maybe 2 cups of roughly sliced up summer or winter squash.  Now add about 3 cups of corn kernels- freshly shelled is best.  Just strip it off the cob with a knife or corn sheller, and be sure to squeeze out the milk and all the of corn by milking the empty cob with the flat of your knife.  Today, I also took a big handful of dried wild mushrooms and soaked them in very hot water for 10 minutes, and chopped them roughly and added them to the mix.  Be sure to add the soaking water from the mushrooms, but don’t let any of sand or grit at the bottom of the soaking water get into your recipe.   I just let everything cook together for another 10-15 minutes over medium heat.

The mushrooms I used have morels, which are regarded as very dilectible  by anyone who either grew up with them wild, or anyone who is a food snob.  They are very good when you pick them in the woods, and they grow near rotten oak tree stumps/logs for some reason.  Morel mushrooms are so good I want to marry them.  They are one of the foods with the 6th quality of Umami (the other five are: sweet, salty, bitter, sour and hot)- Umami is the fun one.  It’s the mind-filling and taste-bud satisfying quality that you find in oysters, lobsters, truffles, mushrooms, fois gras, soft-rinded cheeses, and other foods that are <Surprise!> also associated with aphrodisiacs.  You don’t hear that on the Food Network just every day.

For the beans, you could use pintos, red beans, cranberry beans, black beans, kidney beans- they are the amino acid and carbohydrate powerhouses.  Altogether, this is a wonder-food, and it tastes good too.  The recipe I describe on this blog does use a lot of adapted and introduced ingredients, but the authentic preparation I can just imagine made a hundred generations of Native people everywhere very happy, healthy and strong for many many centuries.

There are about 100 people a week reading this blog now (I hope you like it!)- and if I make a mistake about my amino acids, or make some kind of wildly misplaced or mistaken statement about the Tibetan Goji Berry Harvest, you’ll let me know, right?  lol

This is a whole bunch of fresh veg from the Minneapolis Farmers Market this morning- my good friend Catherine and I got there just after 7A (because I was LATE), and that’s just enough time before the pavilions get stuffed with people. We both saw people we knew and you could actually stand and talk for a minute.

A few of my friends said make a food blog, so I am making a food blog because I like writing about food, cooking food, feeding people, being fed by people, reading world food history. I used to be part of an organic, vegetarian, collectively owned restaurant (years ago), and I worked with my sister (a very good cook) and mom (a very good cook) and we put together- well, we’re still putting together- the beginnings of a family cookbook, with table of contents, pictures of family, scans of original handwritten recipes in pencil or ink- on very delicate yellowing paper. Recipes that start out at the top: “Chopped Pickle (Good)” , or “Pound Cake (Mrs. Hal Dixon”).  Those kind of recipes- and you can see the similarities in the handwriting of four generations of women. Which is kind of amazing all by itself.

Grandma Dickey’s Green Tomato Mincemeat, Buttermilk Pie, Mom Giesler’s Sauerkraut and Dumplings, Dark Fruit Cake, Pecan Nut Cups (‘mix dough by hand while watching TV’, so I do). Vi Peterson’s Peach Pie, Applesauce Cookies, Moravian Love Feast Buns, Moravian Sugar Cake, Beef Stew, Pork Fried Rice. I added one more Moravian recipe to the family’s recipe file, and we started making Moravian Christmas Cakes at least 30 years ago, and you will find only a handful of people anywhere who would make them by hand. (Why? because a batch of the dough, about the size of a small cabbage can make 100 dozen cookies. I’ve kept track several years in a row, so I know my estimate is fairly accurate.) Those cookies are something unique- spicy crisp, thin as a leaf, melts on the tongue and it always surprises people who have never seen them, heard of them nor tasted them before.

We lived in farm country for many years, in the US and in Canada- that’s where you will find some people who know how to cook. We got to pick wild food (milk weed pods, cat-tail shoots, crayfish, wild strawberries -tiny and potent- various kind of field greens. We did subsistence gathering (I’m sure my sister and brother probably didn’t appreciate those expeditions at all- I don’t know, though). I think we all liked picking strawberries, even though it was extremely labor intensive for a 7 y.o, an 11 y.o. and a 16 y.o.- quiet and delicious work, except for when the trains blew through the middle of of the village a few times a day. We also used to pick huge quantities of Saskatoon berries during the years we lived in Alberta- kind of like a blueberry, but a distinct fruit all by itself.

In my 20s a good friend (in Northfield Minnesota), Gary, was an early proponent and activist for community gardens. And we grew up with gardens, and all our friends out in the rural areas… you better believe they had gardens. And orchards, and maple sugaring. Not for sale- it was just the stuff their families grew or made and used (or gave away) for the whole year.  About 15 years ago, I designed an Indigenous heritage foods conservation program, which is still operating here in the Twin Cities, and it’s young Native people who are working with Elders on growing the gardens.  Their website can be accessed through:  http://dreamofwildhealth.org/     Heritage seeds stocks insure bio-diversity, revitalize cultures and conserve the intangible assets of Native people.

When I grew up  in Alaska I also ate Bush food. I’m Yupik, Eskimo (yes you can say Eskimo, because we’re not Inuit speakers). And I have two families of amazing people, one biological, one adoptive, one brown, one white.  I spoke Yupik until I was about age 4, they tell me – I mean, I grew up bi-lingual.  That’s probably more accurate. The village where I was born is called Mamerterilluq, which means ‘The place where food is cached’ or sometimes, ‘Smokehouse’. I know I ate lots of salmon and moose (note: not salmon mousse), fresh tundra berries folded into akutaq, often referred to as Eskimo Ice Cream, about which more later. I’ve also had walrus and seal since spending time back in Alaska. Frozen dried whitefish with seal oil- it’s very good with Pilot Bread (a kind of dry, big cracker) and Tundra Tea- the better known name is Labrador Tea. Here in Minnesota the Ojibwe people call it Swamp Tea, and it’s just as good as at home, although the leaves seem to be smaller than Alaska’s.

It may take me a while to get the hang of this site, but I think a blog is a good way of sharing with other people who are interested in food. Now I just have to figure out how to get the pictures to stick where they’re supposed to stick.  In the meantime, they’re parked in big stacks here on the front page until I give them their own entries.  I hope you like the blog.

all images and content (c) 2012 Richard LaFortune