3 Indigenous inspired recipes for giving thanks
Harvest dishes perfect for the coming holidays
Indigenous cuisine is about so much more than Indian tacos and bannock. Don't get me wrong … those are delicious treats to indulge in. But our ancestral, culinary history is rich with healthy practices and traditional foods, providing the nourishment a body and mind needs to thrive.
It's often high in animal protein, always dense in nutrients and "healthy fats" (Omega 3 fatty acids), and includes wild, foraged and seasonal ingredients grown and hunted from the land. And I'm not just talking your average garden veggies or meats. We use it all. Think dandelion roots and leaves for stews, soups, teas and medicines, wild game and fish head soup. When an animal is hunted, we use the whole animal, and honour that animal's sacrifice. For example, on the West Coast, many traditional feasts and ceremonies celebrate the return of the salmon each year by enjoying salmon smoked, steamed, or grilled and preserved in any number of ways in order to continue enjoying it through the winter months.
As a modern day, mixed Indigenous woman who loves to cook, I try to incorporate wild and seasonally harvested ingredients into my cooking whenever possible. These days, I make the time to can and preserve as much as I can from our garden hauls, and take up any and all offers of fresh fish caught and wild meat hunted by friends and family — sadly, I am not a fisher or a hunter. But I'm a great cook, so I make up for it through sharing my cooking abundantly, which is another lovely aspect to traditional Indigenous cuisine. It's all about community.
Whether feasting for ceremony and/or holidays, expressing gratitude through community giving is a generational value that has been upheld with integrity and love. It is in this spirit that I share a few of my own favourite recipes to enjoy, share with loved ones and gift in gratitude.
"Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food."
Preserved Wild Salmon with Garlic + Sage
This makes a great appetizer for your holiday spread, or to bring to a gathering served with pickled red onions, olives, fermented veggies, capers, etc. on crackers. This also makes a fabulous gift — double or triple the recipe as needed!
2 lbs wild salmon fillet, skin removed
4 tbsps pink himalayan salt, or kosher salt
6 tbsps sea salt, or coarse salt
6 tbsps maple sugar
6 shallots, thinly sliced
4-6 garlic cloves (1 per jar)
4-6 bay leaves (1 per jar)
Fresh sage leaves (2 per small jar, 4 per medium jar)
Sprigs fresh thyme (1 per small jar, 4 per medium jar)
1 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tbsp juniper berries
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar per jar
2 cups olive oil, or enough to cover each jar as final step
Cut the salmon fillet on a bias into thin slices. Combine the salt and maple sugar in a small (non-reactive) bowl with the salmon. Cover with cheesecloth and place a heavy pot, pie weights or something else on top to weigh it down. Place in the fridge to cure for 12 - 24 hours.The fish is cured when it's firm to the touch throughout.
Rinse the salmon slices well under running water and pat dry. Place them in mason jars and layer with the remaining ingredients to preserve, alternating the fresh herbs and spreading the rest of the ingredients evenly throughout, adding the oil last until fully covered.
Seal and store in the fridge for at least a day to let the ingredients infuse.
Yield: About 6 8-ounce mason jars, or 4 16-ounce mason jars
Wild Rice Gitigan Stuffing
Wild meat isn't as difficult to find as one might think. Google is always your friend, as is your local farmer's market. Place a few phone calls to your local farms before popping in, to avoid disappointment.
3 lbs elk sausage (or use Italian sausage if you can't source the elk)
4 cups of beef, chicken bone broth or stock, or vegetarian broth, plus 1 cup more
1 cup uncooked wild rice, rinsed and soaked for 15-20 minutes
1 tsp pink himalayan salt, or kosher salt, plus 1/2 tsps
1/2 cup quinoa flakes
1/2 cup melted butter or ghee, plus 2 tbsp more
1 cup diced onion
2 cups diced celery
2 cups diced granny smith apple
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh sage
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsps finely chopped fresh sage, or 1 1/2 tsps dried
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme, minced, or 1/4 tsp dried
1/2 tsp cracked black pepper
1 cup dried cranberries
3/4 cup dried apricots, julienned
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1/2 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 375F degrees. Place sausages on a parchment or silpat-lined baking sheet and slide into the oven to cook, flipping midway, for a total cooking time about 20-25 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring broth to a boil in a medium pot over medium high heat, add rice, ½ tsp. salt, and cook, covered, until rice is tender and most grains puff open, about 1 - 1 ½ hours, depending on how puffy you would like the rice. It's okay if all liquid is not absorbed.
Melt butter or ghee in a large cast iron pan over medium heat, sauteing onion celery and garlic until translucent and aromatic. Stir in apples and cook for a few minutes until tender. Stir in herbs, pepper, and remaining salt and cook for a couple of minutes more. Transfer to a large bowl and toss with quinoa flakes, sliced almonds, seeds, dried cranberries and apricots.
Once the sausages are done, let them cool slightly, then slice them. Increase oven temperature to 400F degrees and grease a large baking dish, casserole dish or dutch oven and add sausages and the rice mixture. Mix and spread the stuffing out evenly and drizzle with the broth and the rest of the melted ghee or butter. Cover tightly with foil, or a lid, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake until top is browned,10 minutes more.
Serve with your holiday spread or as the main attraction anytime; or as a casserole with a simple green salad!
Yield: 10 - 12 servings
Apple, Cranberry + Wild Sage Crisp
When baking pies, galettes, or in this case ― easy-peasy crisp ― tart and crunchy apples are best. I like a mix of Granny Smith and Honeycrisp, whereas Macintosh and other softer apples are great for applesauce and chutneys.
Crisping the sage may seem fussy, but the result: sweet and salty when sprinkled on top of the ice cream is well worth it, and many ooh's and ahh's shall ensue. This crisp itself makes a fabulous breakfast too, with some coconut milk or other milk.
1 tsp butter or coconut oil
6 apples, peeled, cored and cut into thin wedges
1 1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp maple or coconut sugar
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp coconut flour
2 tbsp arrowroot flour
2 cup almond flour
1 1/2 cup cup quinoa flakes
1 tsp teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
3/4 cup melted butter, ghee or coconut oil
1 cup fresh sage leaves: use the small and medium ones, wash and dry thoroughly
1/2 cup butter
2 tbsp avocado oil (excellent for high heat cooking), or vegetable oil
1 tbsp maple syrup
1/4 tsp sea salt
Preheat oven to 375F degrees and grease 1 large baking dish (9 qt. pyrex baking dish is what I use), with the 1 tsp of butter or ghee. Combine the apples, cranberries, lemon juice and sugar right in the baking dish.
Combine the maple syrup, salt, flours, cinnamon, nutmeg, quinoa flakes and melted oil or butter in a bowl and drizzle over top of the fruit mixture, baking for 40 minutes, or until bubbling.
Place the sage leaves in a wire mesh strainer, that you can dip into the hot melted butter in the next step.
Using a heavy-bottomed cast iron or stainless steel pan, bring the butter and oil to a gentle bubble over medium heat. Drizzle in the maple syrup and stir with spatula.
Press the strainer into the pan to submerge in the hot butter mixture and swirl carefully in the pan for 20 seconds or so; lift the strainer out, then gently flip the sage right into the pan for the last 30-40 seconds. You want the leaves to crisp and curl up, but not burn! Quickly but carefully scoop the sage leaves out, onto a saucer and let cool a few seconds, before gently peeling apart any leaves that have stuck together.
Serve with vanilla ice cream (coconut or other vegan ice cream if you desire) and top with the crispy sage
Yield: 12 servings, enough for big holiday spreads and/or leftovers
Selena Mills creates digital content, art, shares stories, wrangles children, and cooks delicious food whenever and however she can. When the chaos permits, she looks for other parents to revel (and/or kvetch) in motherhood with. Follow her on Instagram @selenamaemills.