Traditional Ingredients, Today’s Native American Cuisine

June 30, 2023

Native American cuisine is one of the oldest cuisines to exist in North America. Over time, the introduction of other foods , like Chinese, Mexican, Thai, Greek, and Korean , became popular, while Native American cuisine humbly remained in the background — until now.

Native American cuisine is making a well-deserved comeback in North America and Americans are learning the history of Indigenous ingredients. This rediscovered education and appreciation for Indigenous food staples is inspiring people to look for ways to incorporate Native and Indigenous ingredients in their everyday meals. 

Native American Foods

Native Americans have set the stage for how we can appreciate the Earth and all it provides, sourcing ingredients straight from their Native lands from the beginning. You may not even realize how many Indigenous sourced foods there are, including:

Top 3 Reasons to Cook with Indigenous Ingredients

There are ample reasons to incorporate Indigenous food into your normal cooking routine, but here are our top 3: 

1. ACCESSIBILITY – Curious where you can buy Native American food? It’s more attainable than you might think. Indigenous foods are oftentimes only available in their Native regions. However, there are Native Americans who want to change that so everyone can enjoy the delicious, nutrient rich benefits of Indigenous cuisine. 

Our Indigenous Marketplace is simplifying the supply chain by making Native American foods more accessible with regional shopping local to everyone, thanks to our Native American Market

2. NUTRITION – Native American foods are highly nutritious. 

Bison is full of protein, iron, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin A, vitamin E, thiamine and selenium. Pine nuts are full of monounsaturated fats. Rose hips are full of vitamin C. Tepary beans are an ancient superfood that are packed with magnesium, zinc, iron and niacin. Both squash and kale are excellent sources of fiber. 

3. VERSATILITY – In addition to now being more easily accessible, every type of Indigenous ingredient is loaded with health benefits and is extremely versatile.

Tepary beans are delicious paired alongside a juicy cut of grass-fed bison. They’re equally tasty when mixed into a salad with seasonal vegetables, fruits, nuts or even grains. 

Corn is arguably the most versatile Indigenous food.Corn can be eaten directly off of the cob, as a  side dish,, tossed into a salad, ground into cornmeal (red cornmeal, white cornmeal or blue cornmeal) and used for frying (mmm, fry bread!) or for baking ( blue corn pancakes – yum!). 

How Chefs Are Using Traditional Ingredients in Today’s Native American Cuisine

Native American chefs have played a major role in bringing  Indigenous ingredients to the forefront, while celebrating their Native culinary traditions. By teaching others  the history of  Native American foods and encouraging at-home chefs to incorporate Native ingredients into their own cooking, the possibilities for new takes on tradional ingredients are endless! 

Shane Chartrand, Executive Chef of the River Cree Resort and Casino in Alberta, Canada, uses his Native roots to create dishes like Honey Brined Roast Pheasant, Seared Salmon with Cracked Wild Rice and Bee Pollen, Poached Sweet and Savory Autumn Apples. 

Chef Crystal Wahpepah, owner of Wahpepah’s Kitchen in Oakland,and member of the Kickapoo Nation, is sourcing foods from her hometown in California to make her Veggie Bowl which is an homage to the Three Sisters planting method as it features white corn, squash, and heirloom beans. 

(You can learn more about the Three Sisters planting method by checking out our other article Companion Plant The Indigenous Way: Three Sisters.)

Chef Pyet Despain’sPrairie Band Potawatomi heritage inspires her work as a private chef  cooking with  Native American foods

As part of the Osage Nation,  Tocabe:utilizes our American Indian roots to help educate people on Indigenous culture. Tocabe is currently the only American Indian owned and operated restaurant in  Metro Denver specializing in Native American cuisine. Our co-owners, Ben Jacobs & Matt Chandra, were inspired to open Tocabe by Grayhorse: An American Indian Eatery, which was established in 1989 by the Jacobs family.

At Tocabe: An American Indian Eatery, our menu is overflowing with traditional ingredients that we’ use to make delicious Native American dishes such as:

  • Indian Tacos – A Native American spin on your traditional taco, using our Native American staple of “fry bread” piled high with vegan beans, lettuce, cheese and two house-made salsas. 
  • Melting Pot Salad – A bed of lettuce topped with your choice of vegan beans, protein and two house-made salsas. 
  • Stuffed Fry Bread – Taking Native American fry bread and turning it into a fun bite-sized piece of perfection, stuffed with your choice of beans, protein and cheese, then topped with two house-made salsas, Ancho Chipotle and sour cream. 
  • Medicine Wheel Nachos – Sourcing Indigenous corn to create Red, White and Blue Corn Chips, smothered in either melted or shredded cheese, then topped with vegan beans, your choice of protein, lettuce and two house-made salsas. 
  • Bison Ribs – The Tocabe Favorite! Start with grass-fed bison ribs, cure for 24 hours, braised in house-made bison stock, glazed and grilled in Rotating Berry BBQ Sauce, served with a side of two fry bread biscuits. 

Our mission is  to not only provide you with delicious, nutrient rich Native American meals  from our Indigenous restaurant, but also to introduce you to  Indigenous ingredients, which we’ve made readily available to you to purchase from our  Indigenous Marketplace.

How You Can Use Traditional Ingredients in your Cooking 

While chefs all over the United States are finding ways to reintroduce traditional Native American ingredients into their signature dishes, you don’t have to be a professional chef to join in the fun.

Indigenous ingredients are full of nutrients that our bodies need in order to thrive. Here are some helpful tips to help you get started: 

  • Shop Indigenous ingredients
  • Find a new recipe that uses Indigenous ingredients
  • Incorporate seasonal ingredients into your meals for freshness and keeping your go-to recipes from becoming too repetitive throughout the year
  • Get creative with your recipes! Combine fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, proteins, grains, sauces, and spices that you’ve never paired together for new, bold flavors
  • Test out your “green thumb” by practicing companion planting. Bonus points if you use the Traditional Three Sisters planting method practiced by Native Americans. This will keep your pantry stocked with fresh ingredients such as corn, beans, and squash. 
  • Remember to share your recipes with others to keep the tradition of cooking with Indigenous foods alive and thriving! 
  • While traveling, look for Indigenous restaurants or make a pit stop along your journey to fuel up with Indigenous ingredients. Better yet stop by and like Tocabe, A Native American Eatery, if you’re passing through Denver, Colorado.

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