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Indigenous Cooking and New Traditions

Indigenous Cooking and New Traditions

Jennifer Jordan, Children’s Librarian

Cover image of "The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen". Grey background with a circle in the middle, split evenly into four photos of berries, herbs, and chopped fruit. With Thanksgiving coming up and the pandemic still affecting our family gatherings, I’ve started thinking about my plans. My partner and I decided that we’ll have a small dinner for us and our toddler and maybe video chat our families throughout the day. I don’t want to do the “traditional” Thanksgiving like I had growing up and I do not want to teach my child the schoolhouse story of the first Thanksgiving.  I want him to celebrate Indigenous culture and learn the long history of what the United States, along with other countries, have done to Indigenous populations. The first step I want to take as a family is to learn and celebrate Indigenous food.

As I was searching recipes and ideas of what to make for two adults and a small child, I came across the idea of making all Indigenous food to help learn about their culture. In my search through the Manhattan Public Library’s catalog for the perfect cookbook, I found “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” by Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota). This book is full of amazing recipes from Omníča Aǧúyapi Saksáka (Crispy Bean Cakes) to Pté Wasná (Bison Wasna).

The first recipe that caught my eye will be the main dish for my family, Ȟaŋte úŋ Pté Lolóbyapi (Cedar-Braised Bison). I love slow cooking and having all the flavors mix and soak into meat to create a tender and savory meal. Sherman has a simple recipe that merges sweet, nut and herbal flavors. As a side to pair with the slow cooked bison, I will make his Wagmíza Aǧúyabskuyela (Crispy Corn Cakes). It’s a simple, four ingredient recipe using cornmeal, salt, water and oil. Serving tender bison over a dense and crispy corn patty will create an amazing bite filled with tons of flavor and textures. As the second side, I will make Čhaŋnákpa na Bló Skúya na Omníča Waháŋpi (Hearty Mushroom, Sweet Potato and Bean Soup). This warming soup will also pair with the corn cakes and add a lightness when eating the savory bison. The last dish I will be making is Ptaŋyétu Wóksapi Aǧúyabskuyela (Autumn Harvest Cookies) and Psíŋ Čhaȟsníyaŋ (Wild Rice Sorbet). The cookies are a mix of acorn flour and cornmeal for the base and allows for any optional mix-ins like dried cranberries, wild rice or walnuts. The sorbet is a creamy and nutty frozen dish that will serve well with the warm cookies. These desserts will be a sweet but not too sweet way to finish our meal.

Along with the recipes, Sherman wrote about his journey as a chef and the importance of food to Indigenous people. One of the main values Sherman gave us in his writings is respecting the food and ingredients. He says, “nothing was ever wasted; every bit was put to use.” This is something that lines up with my values of keeping food waste down and nature being sacred. This value is what I want to start with and expand when teaching my child about Indigenous culture. One day we may forage for the food around us and start cooking what we grow and find but today we can learn together and teach each other. Sherman’s cookbook and writings are eye opening to how Indigenous people cook and create food. Food is how I connect with my partner, my child, my mother and Filipino culture. Sherman says, “food weaves people together, connects families through generations, is a life force of identity and social structure.”

The Manhattan Public Library has an amazing ReadMHK podcast to go along with the reading program. This month they talked with Dr. Debra Bolton, the Director of Intercultural Learning and Academic Success at Kansas State University, about Native American and Indigenous authors. You can signup for monthly ReadMHK challenges on the library’s website or by stopping in.