Long before Emeril — long before even Julia Child and James Beard — America had its first great cooks: American Indians.
According to cultural anthropologist and chef Lois Ellen Frank of Santa Fe, regional cuisines from Creole to California were often inspired by southwest American Indian traditions.
And the modern concept of using fresh, seasonal ingredients in the kitchen? The American Indians did it first, though out of necessity, not trend-setting.
In her newly published cookbook, "Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations," Frank redefines the scope of Southwest Indian cuisine in collaboration with culinary advisers Walter Whitewater and Sam Etheridge. Frank is part Kiowa and Whitewater is Navajo, and both are chefs in Santa Fe. Etheridge tested and photographed many of the recipes.
"In addition to rediscovering the nutritional benefits of these desert foods, we have also begun to honor their heritage," Frank says.
"Whether you actually gather and cook some of these foods or just read about the recipes, I hope that the knowledge of how important these foods are will help you appreciate more fully the Southwest and the Indian nations that live here."
Chapters are organized by main ingredients and based on the tribes’ seasonal eating habits. Chapter introductions illuminate the beliefs and practices that often accompany the foods’ preparation. The book’s 100-plus recipes include traditional foods and contemporary adaptations, such as Blue Corn Gnocchi Arrowheads and the Guajillo Chile Sauce.
Frank has documented American Indian cuisine and Southwest Indian reservation life for more than 15 years and has published more than 15 culinary posters and 20 cookbooks. She is working on her doctorateinfood research and medicinal and spiritual plants at the University of New Mexico. She also teaches Native Foods at the Santa Fe School of Cooking.
Q: With whom would you most like to "do lunch?"
A: With a Native American or Mexican chef from maybe 1,000 years ago so I could ask questions about ingredients, types of food preparation and techniques that are no longer used. And in contemporary time: Mark Miller, chef and owner of Coyote Café in Santa Fe.
Q: What’s your favorite dish to make at home?
A: A local rack of lamb that has been marinating in a Southwest chili rub for 24 hours, served with sautéed wild bitter greens and mashed Peruvian blue potatoes.
Q: What culinary gadget could you not cook without?
A: An asador. This is a small mesh grill that I can place over my gas stove burners to roast green chilies, tomatoes and garlic at home. It also works great forcorn, both in and out of the husk.
Q: What three ingredients could younot cook without?
A: Corn, chilies and tomatoes.
Q: When it comes to eating, what’s your guilty pleasure?
A: Homemade mole sauce. Mole is a sauce originating in Mexico that is made from ground cacao (chocolate), chilies, nuts and toasted spices and is usually served with turkey or chicken over rice.
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant?
A: It varies from city to city. In San Francisco, it’s Fleur de Lys with chef Hubert Keller for a French meal or Manora’s for Thai. In Los Angeles, it’s Versailles for Cuban food and Tommy Tang’s for Thai.
Q: What one cooking tip could you offertoreaders to make their time in the kitchen easier?
A: Plan a menu in advance and do whatever preparation you can ahead of time. That way when you make the meal you’ve planned, it’s easier.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake you’ve made while cooking?
A:Iforgottoadd eggs to a pumpkin cookie recipe. I didn’t realize it until after I had cooked the first two dozen cookies and saw that they weren’t looking quite right.