The Sioux Chef revitalizes native cuisine
FARGO — There's something special about eating the way your ancestors did. I remember one Christmas, my sister and I chose to make an authentic British Christmas dinner complete with beef Wellington, Yorkshire pudding and plum pudding. It was a ton of work, but it felt pretty cool to know that we were enjoying the flavors our forefathers and foremothers did before they came to America.
The same could be said for Oglala Lakota Chef Sean Sherman. The difference is his ancestors didn't need to bring their food traditions to America — they were already here. Sherman, who was born in Pine Ridge, S.D., is the founder of The Sioux Chef, where he works as a caterer and food educator. His mission — along with others involved in the business — is to revitalize Native American cuisine and make indigenous foods more accessible.
This month, Sherman released his first book, "The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen," where he shares recipes made with what he calls "real food" — indigenous fruits and vegetables including wild and foraged ingredients, and game and fish.
Sherman dispels the outdated idea that Native American food means fry bread or Indian tacos. He points out that the food "originated 150 years ago when the U.S. government forced our ancestors from the homelands they farmed, foraged and hunted, and the waters they fished," he writes. Native Americans relied on government-issued commodities including flour, sugar and lard which they used to make less nutritious foods such as fry bread.
Sherman wants to reintroduce us to healthful plates of native North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Montana that embrace things like venison, quail, blueberries and sage. The foods are boldly seasoned, vibrant, and both elegant and easy.
I decided to try his hearty recipe for wild rice pilaf with mushrooms, roasted chestnuts and dried cranberries. I like the nutty flavor of the rice combined with the meaty flavor and texture of the mushrooms. The dish's bright red pops of color would make this a hit on the holiday table (and it's probably a little more nutritious than my British puddings).
Sherman's book is available at Barnes & Noble and Zandbroz and online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and online independent book stores found at indiebound.org.
For more information, visit upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/the-sioux-chef.
Wild Rice Pilaf with Wild Mushrooms, Roasted Chestnuts and Dried Cranberries
Serves 4 to 6
2 tablespoons sunflower or walnut oil
1 pound assorted mushrooms, cleaned
1 tablespoon sage, chopped
½ cup wild onion or shallots, chopped
½ cup vegetable stock
2 cups wild rice, cooked
½ cup dried cranberries
1 cup chestnuts; roasted, peeled and chopped*
1 tablespoon maple syrup, to taste
½ to 1 teaspoon smoked salt, to taste
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat and add the mushrooms, sage and onion. Cook, stirring until the mushrooms are nicely browned and the onion is soft — about 5 minutes. Stir in the stock, wild rice and cranberries; cook until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Stir in the roasted chestnuts. Season with maple syrup and smoked salt to taste.
*To roast and peel chestnuts, use the sharp point of a small knife to score an X on the flat side of the chestnut and place on a baking sheet. Roast in a 350-degree Fahrenheit oven until the skins begin to peel back. The length of roasting time will depend on the freshness and size of the chestnuts and range from 10 to 25 minutes. Remove, and when cool enough to handle, peel.
Recipe from "The Sioux Chef's Indigenous Kitchen" by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooley (University of Minnesota Press, October 2017) Copyright 2017 Ghost Dancer, LLC. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the University of Minnesota Press. More information can be found at www.upress.umn.edu.