Most of us have a preconceived view of what American food is - Tex-Mex, chowder, burgers and so on – and whilst these are typical of foods Stateside, the US is also a true melting pot of cuisines from around the World. What many people don’t know is that there were established food cultures there well before any European settlers arrived on the East Coast. Those food cultures are what is now referred to as Native American cuisine, and they were following the principles of sustainability and seasonality well before the rest of us!
Native American influence on cuisine
Native American cuisine has also played a part in shaping today’s American cuisine. Lots of Tex-Mex dishes have their origins in Native American cooking, and the cuisine can be split into 3 broad styles:
Northern/Eastern Woodlands – staple ingredients from this region included the ‘3 sisters’ of maize/corn, beans and squash, plus quinoa, maple syrup and cranberries.
Did you know?
The ‘3 sisters’ are interdependent. The maize/corn grows tall, the beans use the corn plants as bean stalks, and the squash provides ground cover, helping keep the soil moist and the weeds under control.
The Great Plains – dishes included local ingredients such as bison, the ‘3 sisters’, turnips, sweet potatoes, onions, wild rice, fruits and berries. Bison was usually roasted, preserved as jerky or dried and mixed with tallow and other ingredients to flavour it.
The North West Coast – the diet was made up of salmon, other fish and seafood, berries, mushrooms, venison, duck and rabbit.
Corn, in its many varieties, was the staple of many Indian tribes’ diets and play a big part in native American food such as soups, breads, salads and fried foods. Another staple was the ‘fry bread’ – a dough made today with flour, baking powder, salt and warm water, and made into flat rounds with a hole in the middle. These are shallow fried and used like a taco base for other toppings.
The Mitsitam Cafe cookbook
Where can I try Native American cuisine?
One of the best places to try contemporary Native American cuisine is the Mitsitam Café in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC – a must-visit café in DC! The Mitsitam Café Cookbook (ISBN 978-1555917470 and available in the UK online) has some mouth watering traditional dishes and modern interpretations that are well worth a try. For example:
· Cedar plank roasted salmon with wild berry glaze
· Home ground buffalo and duck burger with smoked tomatoes and squash slaw
· Dried hominy (maize) and venison stew with toasted pumpkin seeds
· Smoked trout and new potato chowder
· Cranberry braised winter greens
If you have any comments about food you've tried or would like to try then please leave us a comment in the box below.