“. . . everything on the earth has a purpose, every disease an herb to cure it, and every person a mission. This is the Indian theory of existence.”
— Mourning Dove (Salish), 1888-1936
Christopher Columbus gets all the fanfare today, but it’s the Native Americans who gave us:
Together, they’re known as the Magic 8, and with reason — these foods are essential to almost every cuisine. These and more indigenous, ancestral foods feature on the menu at Mitsitam, the cafe at the National Museum of the American Indian. I lunched there recently with Robin Asbell, chef, author and the bestie I hardly ever get to see.
From an autumnal salad of apples and chard to three sisters stew, Mitsitam’s menu not only integrates Native American indigenous ingredients, it reflects a conscious effort by James Beard-award-winning chef Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) to showcase them. One of the best ways to understand a people is to experience their food.
In fact, integrated and conscious describe the culture of all Native American tribes, from their rich tradition of dance, art, myth and oral storytelling to their respect for the land — saving heirloom seeds for future crops, synergistic ways of farming. The three sisters in that stew are corn, squash and beans, three of the Magic 8. They taste great together, and grow better together, too. The tall corn stalks support the leggy bean vines, the beans roots improve the soil by adding nitrogen, the broad leaves of the squash provide shade. They support and protect each other naturally. That’s two more lessons from indigenous people — valuing community and valuing place.
The Seminole, South Florida’s native tribe, take their name from a term meaning in its natural place. They and all America’s 573 indigenous peoples are the ones to celebrate today.
Hominy, Bean and Green Chili Stew
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic chopped
- 1 onion chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 stalks celery chopped (about 3/4 cup)
- 4 cups cooked hominy drained or 2 15-ounce can prepared hominy, rinsed and drained
- 2 cups cooked white pink or pinto beans or 1 15-ounce can of white, pink or pinto beans, rinsed and drained
- 2 poblano peppers roasted, cooled, seeded and chopped
- 1 mild green pepper roasted, cooled, seeded and chopped
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds toasted
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 2 to 3 cups vegetable broth
- sea salt to taste
- 4 cups of spinach watercress or chard, chopped
- 1/2 cup cilantro chopped
- Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add chopped garlic, onion and celery. Sauté for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are translucent and softened. Add drained hominy and beans, poblano and green pepper, cumin and coriander. Stir well to coat.
- When it reaches boiling point, pour in 2 cups of broth and stir. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Then cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Hominy and beans will have swelled and soaked up much of the broth by this point and will be deliciously tender. Season with sea salt to taste.
- If the stew is all beans and hominy and not enough broth, slowly stir in some or all of the remaining cup of broth until it’s of a consistency that pleases you. May be kept covered and chilled up to this point.
- To serve, heat stew over medium-high heat. Stir in chopped spinach, watercress or chard and cilantro. It should take only a minute or so in the heated mixture for the greens to wilt them right into the stew. Taste again for salt.