Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Real Thanksgiving: The 10 Best Native American Harvest Dishes

In the spirit of the holiday (whatever that means), we've decided to highlight truly traditional American cookery with this week's list. In no particular order...

Dearly beloved by Native Americans, but not by deer.

10. Sobaheg

In Wompanoag society, women would tend the fields and the hearth, while the men hunted plentiful wild fowl and hoofed forest beats. What they would make with a day's game: sobaheg, a rib-sticking meat stew. Grits, squash, and powdered seeds and nuts helped thicken this artichoke-laden soup.

9. Cornbread

Most Native Indian tribes prepared dough from maize, since it grew throughout the Americas. The Wompanoag did too. At the first Thanksgiving, it is possible that this starchy staple came served with curds -- a dairy product similar to modern-day cottage cheese.

Thumbnail image for 5221884154_5c080d053b.jpg
Seth Anderson /
Gourds are good.

8. Baked Squash and Wild Onions

Another dish, besides corn, that's often found at American Indian harvest festivals. Many versions of roasted gourd still wind up on the Thanksgiving table -- making it one of the only traditional dishes that has been preserved in popular American cookery.

7. Wild Rice and Cranberries

This tart, red fruit comes from the Northeast. A favorite way to prep it?
American Indians would blend cranberries with wild rice, sometimes adding other fruits or nuts. Variations of this dish -- which reflect the plants of a region -- can be found throughout the Americas.

Robert Sietsema
Nice rice.

6. Chippewa Wild Rice

This casserole boasts strips of beaten wild fowl, eggs, and chunks of smoked meat. Typically, wild boar bacon gets used in this dish, but smoked deer meat also works. Garnish with wild chives.

5. Wild Salmon Poached in Sea Water

Many Native Indians in the Pacific Northwest prepped red salmon steaks in a willow basket cooked at a bare boil. They then spiced the filets with chiles and herbs.

Robert Sietsema
Children of corn, birthed by mothers of maize.

4. Roasted Sweet Corn in its Husk

A favorite of southern tribes, Indian corn cobs cook slowly in their vegetal shells, preserving moisture. Said to be tastier than straight-up boiled or grilled corn, the damp charred husk perfumes the air with a sweet scent.

3. Zuni Green Chili Stew

This lamb stew simmers in a fresh, local chili puree. Juniper, green onions, and wild garlic add flavor to the broth.

Heather Culligan / Flickr
Lookin' fry.

2. Fry Bread

Also a palate-pleaser with Native Americans, this crispy, flattened dough has the vibe of a beignet. Fry bread gets served as a side dish, or as a beef-topped main or honey-drizzled dessert.

1. Pinon Soup

A toasted pine-nut soup with a lamb-bone, wild bird, and milk broth, have hearty and hot components, owing to red chile powder, coriander, mint, and plentiful scallions