New cooking contest for Native American cuisine

wild-rice-ballWild rice and cranberry dishes show up on many restaurant menus, especially in autumn, but rare is the restaurant that regularly serves fry bread or venison in Wisconsin.

I dine at many types of ethnic and specialty restaurants but have yet to see one devoted to Native American cuisine. Is this a gaping hole in our culinary offerings or proof of not enough interest to successfully frame a restaurant this way?

Native American Tourism of Wisconsin this month presented its first cooking contest with a winner-take-all prize of $500 and a two-night hotel stay. Six entrants filled Nesco roasters with venison stew, corn soups, salt pork stew with dumplings, berry-rich porridge and more.

Professional chefs were welcome to enter but didn’t.

“Traditional Native foods from the tribes of Wisconsin … have been harvested and consumed by Native Wisconsin tribes for generations,” notes Ernest Stevens III, NATOW executive director.

“We want to share these healthy, delicious, sustainable foods with everyone, in their traditional form or perhaps with a contemporary twist.”

Oneida chef Arlie Doxtator of 4 Winds Food Service says Native American cooking continues to evolve. “Chili didn’t come from the cowboys,” he observes, and it is the same with baked beans, barbecued meats and other examples of outdoor cooking that we take for granted.

Contest winner Kathy Ciskoski of Menomonee Falls credits her mother, Val Goodwill, for having enthusiasm to cook and experiment with indigenous ingredients. Her stuffed wild rice balls, served on lettuce with a cranberry vinaigrette, were accompanied with thyme-flavored fry bread served with a sweet, berry butter.

Judges included Dave Anderson, founder of the Famous Dave’s barbecue restaurant empire. He declared the entry “colorful and creative, with a lot of energy and passion to it.”

Although Kathy works as a community relations specialist at Potawatomi Bingo Casino, Milwaukee, she says her recipes were “in no way developed with a chef there or affiliated with the restaurants at Potawatomi at this time.”

Here are her winning recipes. The wild rice balls were first presented at an event for co-workers. Use beef broth for liquid when preparing the wild rice, she advises.

STUFFED WILD RICE BALLS
(5-6 servings)

Filling:
1/2 pound ground venison
Olive oil, for sauteeing
1/2 cup beef broth
1/4 cup Shiraz red wine
Salt and pepper, to taste
8 ounces cremini and portobello mushrooms, chopped fine
Butter, as needed
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
1 small sweet onion, chopped fine
1 3/4 cups cooked wild rice, drained
2 poblano peppers, roasted and chopped fine
Nutmeg, freshly ground, to taste
3-4 cups canola oil, for frying

Breading:
1 1/2 cup flour
4-5 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Cook venison in frying pan with olive oil. Add beef broth, wine, salt and pepper. Braise until all liquid is gone and venison is tender. Set aside.

Sauté mushrooms in olive oil and butter until brown. Add thyme, salt and pepper. Set aside in a large bowl, separate from venison.

Sauté onions in olive oil and butter until caramelized. Add to mushrooms and combine. Add cooked rice and peppers. Season with nutmeg and stir well.

Spoon 1/3 cup of wild rice mixture into your hand. Add venison into the center. Form into a little cake. Keep doing this until all filling ingredients are used (making five or six cakes).

Dredge each cake with flour, dip into eggs and coat with bread crumbs.

Fry in medium hot canola oil, turning to brown both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Fry bread is a popular treat among Native Americans. Here is Kathy’s adaptation to the basic recipe. She serves it with berry butter, which is one softened stick of butter to which 2 or 3 tablespoons of honey is added; then 2/3 cup of crushed berries (she uses a mix of blackberries and red raspberries) are gently folded into the sweetened spread.

FRY BREAD WITH HERBS
AND BERRY BUTTER
(3 to 4 dozen pieces)

1 medium potato
5 cups water, divided
1/2 cup sugar (or to taste)
1 tablespoon salt (or to taste)
1/2 cake fresh yeast
5 pounds unbleached bread flour, divided
2 cups canola oil, for frying
2 tablespoons lard, for frying and lining pan
4-5 tablespoons thyme, freshly chopped

Peel potato and boil in saucepan with 3 cups of water. Remove potato when tender, mash it and return to water. Add sugar and salt, remove from heat and add remaining 2 cups of water to help cool.

When mixture is tepid, crumble in yeast and mix.

Place all but 2 cups of flour into a large bowl. Create a well in the middle, then add wet ingredients into the well and use a wooden spoon to slowly mix flour into the center.

When combined, knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 7-10 minutes. Add remaining 2 cups of flour as necessary.

Grease a large bowl with lard, turn the dough into the grease and cover it with a towel. When dough doubles in size, punch it down and let it double in size again, then knead in the thyme. Now it is ready to fry.

Heat oil and lard in a shallow frying pan at medium high heat.
(If using a deep fryer, heat oil to 350 degrees.) Flatten/stretch dough pieces into 4- or 5-inch rounds; poke a small hole into the center of each. Place in hot oil and turn when browned. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve warm with berry butter.

NATOW, a consortium of Wisconsin’s 11 tribal communities, lists powwows, other public events and cultural attractions at nativewisconsin.com.

Some powwows are traditional and ceremonial. Others are competitions with prize money, and one of the biggest is the July 4-6 Oneida Contest Powwow at Norbert Hill Center, N7210 Seminary Rd., Oneida. At least $84,000 in prize money will be awarded. exploreoneida.com, 800-236-2214

The Oneida Nation, near Green Bay, operates a cultural museum at W892 Hwy. EE, De Pere, and grounds contain a woodsy nature trail with medicinal plants identified and re-creations of a traditional longhouse and runner’s hut. 800-236-2214

Oneida Market, 501 Packerland Dr., Green Bay, sells grassfed beef and bison; the animals are raised on tribal farmland. Also for sale are herbal remedies, teas and other tribal products. 920-496-5127