Eating your way through history (or: Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!)

stuffed squashFor as long as I can remember, people have been taking bites out of the notion that Christopher Columbus was a hero. Maybe it was just my liberal New York upbringing, but I just cannot recall a lesson or discussion about the guy without a crack about how mistaken he was and what a terrible thing Americans did trying to say he discovered our country.

Even my grandmother got into it, and was fond of reciting the following poem about him:

In 1492, what did Columbus do?

He sat on the grass

And scratched his ass

In 1492

So yes, it’s not new to me to prod that gallant story with a sharp-tined fork. But still I will offer a little suggestion for how to celebrate this Columbus Day–a.k.a. Indigenous Peoples Day–in politically-correct foodie style.

I say to eat the “Three Sisters”–the trio of corn, beans, and squash–that was a part of the real, original American food culture.

Some ideas:

Black bean and zucchini quesadillas on corn tortillas

Tanzanian ugali (corn porridge) with boiled pumpkin and curried kidney beans

Three-bean soup with butternut squash biscuits

If that got your thoughts flowing but you don’t have recipes on hand for those things, here are a couple of squashy-corny-beany dish ideas with all the particulars.

Picante polenta-stuffed squash
Makes 6-12 servings

Ingredients

3 medium to large winter squash (like butternut) or 6 small ones (like sweet dumpling or acorn)
1 cup cornmeal
4 cups water
Dash of salt
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 jalapeños (or hotter pepper like serranos, for more bite), finely diced
About 1 cup cheddar and jack cheese, shredded (optional)

What to do

Preheat oven to 375 F. Pierce the whole squashes with a fork several times. If you have a cleaver or you’re feeling macho, hack open each squash (preferably cutting it right down the middle into 2 identical pieces) and remove the seeds. Place whole squash right side up or squash halves cut side down on an oiled baking tray. Bake for 30-60 minutes or until a fork goes in with a little resistance.

While the squash is cooking, you can prepare the polenta. Heat the olive oil in a skillet and sauté the onion for a few minutes, then add the garlic and jalapeño and sauté a few minutes more. Set the veggie aside.

In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat the 4 cups water to a simmer and slowly add the cornmeal, stirring constantly. Add a dash of salt. Lower heat and continue at a leisurely simmer for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. When the polenta is thick and smooth, remove from heat and stir in the veggies. Taste and add salt to taste.

Now go back to the squash. If you’re using acorn squash or another smallish, round squash and you’ve baked them whole, at this point you can cut off the tops. They will look like they’re about to become mini jack-o-lanterns. Set the tops aside and do not re-bake them. They’re just for show. If you’re using larger squash, cut them in half.

With whatever kind of squash you’re using, at this point you’ll need to remove the seeds. Also scoop out some of the insides until you have a generous amount of stuffing space.

Stuff each squash up to the top or a little more. Return to the oven to bake at 375 for another 30 minutes or until the squash is good and soft. If using cheese, sprinkle it on top of the squash at this point and bake or broil until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Serve with the tops on or near the squashies, or cut squash into wedges. Try it with salsa!

Black-eyed pea and sorrel stew

Serves about 2

What you need:

2 Tbs olive oil

1/2 large or 1 small onion, diced

a few cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup dried black-eyed peas, picked over for stones and aliens

Enough water to cover the peas and then some

A few inches of kombu seaweed (optional)

1 handful sorrel leaves, coarsely chopped
Salt, to taste

What to do:

Heat oil in a medium saucepan on med-high. When hot, add onions. Cook for a few minutes, stirring occassionally, then add the garlic and stir again for about 30 seconds. Add the peas, water to cover the beans plus another 1/2-1?, and the kombu.

Cover and bring to a boil. Let simmer for 25-35 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding water to keep the water level about 1/2-1? above the roiling stew. Oh, add the salt somewhere in there, preferably when the beans are getting soft and not before. Check the beans for doneness and cook more if necessary. Adjust salt and add other seasonings if you so desire. Add the sorrel and simmer another 2 minutes, then remove from heat.

 As far as the kombu goes, when the stew is done, I recommend fishing it out and then either chopping it up and throwing it back in or eating it right then and there. You can also throw it away. At that point, it’s done its job of adding flavor to the beans and making them more digestible, but I think there’s still more life to it.

That’s all, folks! Enjoy this stew over rice or just dig in with a spoon. I predict you’ll feel very Southern.

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2 thoughts on “Eating your way through history (or: Happy Indigenous Peoples Day!)

  1. Celebrating the Three Sisters would be very appropriate (and delicious) for Indigenous Peoples Day! People should pay them a little more reverence or at least remembrance throughout the harvest season. Where would we be without them? Corn especially?

    The recipes sound good, though I think “Black-eyed pea and sorrel stew” could use a better name…

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