I have never given much thought to Native American fare. Not on purpose, mind you. It is just not a topic I have encountered living along the expanse of the eastern corridor. There just is not much in the way of blue corn, masa de harina or green chile. Coming in to summer, though, I started to think of warm weather food. So it follows that when you think balmy, you think "Desert!" Lois Frank's Indian Nations: Foods of the Southwest is all about food in hot places. So, in I dove, headlong into this unfamiliar fare.
Living just one toll bridge away from some of the best corn these United States have to offer, I was anxious to see what treatment Lois Frank would give to New Jersey's pride. There is plenty on posole, hominy and corn tortillas, as one would expect, however she gives more than a fair shake to making masa from scratch. This ash-laden cornmeal mixture is a staple in Native cookery. So much on corn, in fact, the opening chapter of this recipe and lure rich work is dedicated to its role in the food of the Southwest. Of particular interest, a lengthy vignette on roasting corn requiring a big, big pit as well as a heap of wood and wheelbarrows of corn.
As you might predict, there is a nod to the 'nouvelle' southwest. Not glitzy, mind you. More of tasty color between the covers. Frank does well to pay homage to the established culinary habits and ancestry of these remarkable peoples and maintain contemporary appeal. The Pumpkin Corn Soup with Ginger-Lime Cream smacks of contemporary semi-fusion, but keeps it roots well cemented in the sand. It is tastes great, too. There are the token pasta dishes to explore, as well. Behold, the Spicy Pinto Bean Ravioli with Corn and Chile Cream Sauce. Again, some flair for the new will keeping true to its rich origins.
But, I am here to flavor my summer. And Miss Frank does not disappoint. Her section on the Native Harvest is unlike anything I have come across an expansive look at indigenous fruits and vegetables that I had never knew existed. She notes that a lot of the greens consumed grow wild and are readily consumed. There is even a recipe with tumbleweeds. Isn't that a kicker! If I were back living in Santa Fe, I would definitely search out tumbleweeds. In lieu of a haphazard shipment of tumbleweeds making it to the east coast, I will have to put the Fresh Herb Jelly and White Sage Bread to test as well as the Squash Blossom Soup.
We have put Indian Tacos on the table with great success. These are a far cry from the Mexican taco, with its lighter and fluffier 'fybread' dough versus that crunch-once-and-wear-it shell that is so much a part of our popular drive-throughs and cafeteria trays. Rather, a substantial and tasty addition to the spring/summer repertoire. Much respect, also, is given to the protein-laden beans that we associate with the southwest. And fear not fire-eaters there is plenty to keep your capsicum levels in check. The Fresh Chile and Corn Fritters with Julienne of Tart Indian Apples have been permanently earmarked as a "do again" for another outing.
Mark Miller, of Coyote Café fame, gives his stamp of approval to Indian Nation that is like Thomas Keller or Charlie Trotter giving you the 'thumbs up' on your latest contemporary confabulation. Well dotted with inspired photography, the 100+ recipes are endearing, enlightening and will make Lois Frank's latest a popular piece. Explore the southwest by way of Indian Nation and discover from the very learned, Miss Frank.