Back to the land.
Native American cuisine is poorly understood. Diverse, healthful, and deep with tradition, Native American cuisine is not a monolith, but a collection of regional foods that reflect the land, its native plants and game, and above all else, history. We see this history reflected in this Native American recipe for wild rice, from culinary historian Lois Ellen Frank, Ph.D.
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What is “Native American food”?
When is the last time you enjoyed food from an Italian restaurant? Mexican? An Irish pub, maybe? My guess is way more than you have ever eaten Native American food. And yet, its influences reach far and wide.
Native American cuisine dates back millennia, and reflects the local plants, game, and geography of individual tribes. For example, the native cuisines of the arid Southwest desert tribes would have been different from the tribes of what is now, say, New England. The climates, wildlife, and fauna are completely different. The common thread, though, would have been hyperlocal ingredients.
Ancient trade routes influenced cuisine as well. According to chef and Native American food historian Lois Ellen Frank, evidence of non-native foods like chocolate and quinoa have been found in various Native American archaeological sites as far away as North Dakota.
Later, Native American food took a sad turn when vast populations were either killed or forcibly removed from their land — the only land they knew — by white settlers and government programs. This forced Native Americans to rely on unfamiliar (and often unhealthy) commodity rations and other foods they did not know how to raise by themselves.
Today, though myriad issues still remain, there has been a movement toward a “New Native” cuisine, going back to the original ingredients and foodways of indigenous people, adopting a sustainable, regional Native American diet focused on fruits, grains, beans, vegetables, and some wild game.
Recipe Notes: Native American Wild Rice Sauté With Sweet Potato
- Wild rice. Dr. Frank writes that wild rice “is a Native American grain that is part of the Ojibwe communities and native to the Great Lakes regions.” She recommends purchasing from Native Harvest, where the heirloom rice is “hand harvested by canoe as it has been for generations, and grows naturally in the lakes of these areas.”
- Practically speaking, wild rice takes a long time to cook — over an hour. So be sure to cook your wild rice in advance.
- This wild rice sauté is delicious on its own, but serving it over a baked sweet potato is even better.
Did you make this Native American rice dish? How did it go?
American Indian Wild Rice Sauté With Sweet Potato
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium yellow onion, diced
- 8 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 cups white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (about 10 ounces)
- 2 cups brown cremini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
- 1/2 cup dried tart cherries or dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 2 cups cooked wild rice (from about 3/4 cups dried)
- salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 tablespoons fresh green scallions, finely sliced (about 3 to 4 scallions)
- Roasted sweet potatoes, to serve (optional)
- Cook the wild rice according to the package directions. This will take about an hour.
- While the rice cooks, heat a small skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add the garlic cloves and cook until they start to blacken. Toss and lightly blacken on all sides. remove from heat and place into a small bowl to cool. Once the garlic cloves are cooled, finely chop them.
- Heat a medium- to large-sized pan. Add the olive oil and add the onions and sauté, stirring for 4 minutes to prevent burning. Add the blackened garlic and sauté for 2 more minutes, stirring constantly to prevent burning. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring, for 4 to 6 minutes. Add the dried cherries or cranberries and stir. Cook for another few minutes and then add the corn kernels. Stir and cook for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. Add the cooked rice, salt, and pepper. Stir for two minutes more, until completely hot. Ed. Note: I used about 1 1/4 teaspoons of salt.
- Remove from heat, garnish with fresh sliced scallions, and serve immediately. This wild rice sauté can be served on its own, or over a roasted, halved sweet potatoes that have been drizzled with a mixture of 1 cup maple syrup, juice of 1 lime, and 2 teaspoons mild to medium chili powder.