“Why isn’t the original indigenous diet all the rage today?” Sean Sherman, the Oglala Lakota chef, asks in the introduction to his book, “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen,” written with Beth Dooley. “It’s hyperlocal, ultraseasonal, uberhealthy. … Mostly, it’s utterly delicious.” It’s the way of eating Native Americans thrived on for generations before Europeans arrived, and it’s guided by respect for the food and connection with nature and community.
This rich, flavorful stew drives that point home. Like every recipe in the book, it is made with ingredients native to North America, which, yes, can be purchased in well-stocked grocery stores — but also can be found by stepping outside. Traditionally made with naturally lean, exceptionally eco-friendly game meat and a savory mix of dried and fresh mushrooms and onions, the stew is earthy and sumptuous, with deep flavor and notes of herbal brightness from sumac, juniper and oregano. The fork-tender meat, mushrooms and sauce, served over bright orange mashed squash, makes for a beautiful and nourishing meal.
You can use any stew cut of game meat you have access to (if you are not a hunter yourself, it’s worth befriending — or marrying — one, like I did). But if you’re relying on the grocery store, your best options will probably be farmed bison, venison or lamb. And although you could forage for the mushrooms, onions, sumac and juniper berries, please do so only with a knowledgeable guide. (Most botanical gardens have foraging classes.)
When I made the dish, I bought all the ingredients at the store, yet it still opened my eyes to the wealth of nourishing foods this land provides. Such awareness is integral to this way of eating, says Dana Thompson, the senior director of health and wellness at NATIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems). “It’s about understanding the world that is all around us, understanding the trees and the plants, and that no matter the season we can walk outside and gather healthful food.”
This stew is a delicious way to begin to foster that connection.
Storage: Refrigerate for up to 4 days.
Where to Buy: Juniper berries and sumac can be found at well-stocked supermarkets, spice shops and online.
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- 1 ounce dried mushrooms, such as chanterelles, trumpet, morels or any type you choose
- 1 cup boiling water
- 3 tablespoons sunflower oil, or another neutral oil
- 2 1/2 pounds stew meat from bison, lamb or any game meat such as venison, cut into 2-inch cubes
- 1 teaspoon ground juniper berries (may substitute 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper)
- 3/4 teaspoon fine salt, plus more to taste
- 1 1/2 cups chopped leeks, or diced yellow onions or shallots
- 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh oregano, plus additional leaves for garnish
- 2 teaspoons ground sumac, plus more to taste
- 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth
- Mashed cooked winter squash, for serving (optional)
In a small bowl, cover the dried mushrooms with the boiling water and let soak until softened, about 20 minutes. Drain and reserve the soaking liquid; chop the mushrooms.
In a large, heavy, lidded pot over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Pat the meat dry and season with the juniper and salt. Working in two to three batches to avoid overcrowding, add the meat to the pot and cook until browned on all sides, 5 to 15 minutes per batch, depending on the type of meat. Transfer to a large plate and repeat with the remaining meat.
Reduce the heat to medium, add the leeks, onions or shallots, fresh mushrooms, oregano and sumac, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion softens and the mushrooms release some of their liquid, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the chopped reconstituted mushrooms and their soaking liquid, followed by the broth, stirring to dislodge any brown bits that stick to the bottom of the pan.
Return the meat to the pot, along with any accumulated juices, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat so the stew is at a low simmer, partially cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the meat is fork-tender, about 2 hours. Taste, and season with more salt and/or sumac if desired. Serve with the mashed squash, if using, garnished with oregano leaves.
Per serving (1 cup), based on 6
Calories: 325; Total Fat: 12 g; Saturated Fat: 3 g; Cholesterol: 161 mg; Sodium: 416 mg; Carbohydrates: 7 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 2 g; Protein: 46 g
This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.
Adapted by cookbook author and registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger from “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” by Sean Sherman with Beth Dooely (University of Minnesota Press, 2017).
Tested by Hattie Ulan; email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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