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As many of you know, I spent some time living on the Navajo (Dine, meaning “The People” ) Reservation, at Black Mesa/ Big Mountain many years ago.

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It was a very transformation period in my life, educationally, personally and spiritually. I always look back on this time fondly, not only because of my own personal development, but because of the people I met, the bits of language I learned and especially how these people who really don’t have much, made delicious food based on the foods that are around and the plants and animals their people have raised for generations. If it were not for their sheep (and other livestock) and their gardens, many would be on the verge of hunger all the time, or relegated to eating foods full of preservatives and chemicals from the government. The people I lived with tried to feed the government cheese to their dogs, and they wouldn’t touch it.

Perhaps the most important food in the Dine’ culture (besides sheep) are the Three Sisters: corn, squash and beans. These three crops form the foundation of their diet and are planted together in mounds – corn in the middle and squash and beans surrounding it. The corn is planted first, once it has grown some, it provides a structure for the beans to climb, eliminating the need for poles. The beans provide necessary nitrogen to the soil that the other plants need to grow and the squash spreads along the ground, using up most of the sunlight, preventing weeds. The squash leaves also act as a “living mulch,” that retains moisture in the soil, while the prickly hairs of the vine deter pests.

Pretty cool, huh?

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Well, what is just as cool, is Valli and Ivy‘s food blogging event based on, World Food Day held by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Their goal is to raise awareness through the blogosphere for “World Food Security: the Challenges of Climate Change and Bioenergy.” Something that I felt driven to participate in.

Since the Dine’ are environmentalists at the core of their culture and many of them don’t even have electricity or running water where they live, I felt food that reflects their culture and relationship to the Earth and the planet would be appropriate here. For Val and Ivy’s event they are asking that we submit a recipe which represents our country (these are the first Americans) that would feed at least 6 people (check). They are looking especially for family favourites, regional favourites that uses local and perhaps seasonal ingredients (check again!)

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So in order to honor the time I spent with the Dine’ I really wanted to make a dish that incorporates the Three Sisters and serve it with some fry bread. Fry bread is a necessary part of all Dine’ meals. Sometimes there is corn bread (some of the best corn bread is made with blue corn meal), but fry bread is the most common. I know that with the family I stayed with, it was made first thing in the morning – each loaf was kneaded and then fried in a cast iron skillet. Usually enough was made to last the whole day. It took me quite a long time to get it halfway decent- as I am not a kneader by nature. Everyone always knew when the billigana (“white girl”) made the fry bread as it was usually not as soft and always oddly shaped…still is… :)

This time, I also tried to make the fry bread a tinsy bit healthier by using some whole wheat flour as well!

Hope you enjoy this Native American inspired meal! Great for the fall, especially….click through to meet our newest family member…

Three Sisters Casserole w/ Polenta :

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INGREDIENTS:

Polenta:

1 1/2 cups instant polenta
1 TBS chili powder
1 tsp cumin
salt and pepper
5 cups boiling water

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Casserole:

3 TBS olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
1 large bell pepper, chopped
1 small jalapeno (less if you are not spicy!), minced
2 large cloves of garlic minced
1 lb of squash – (I used a funky kabocha squash, because I had never had one before), cooked and chopped into cubes (about 2 cups)
1 small can of tomatoes
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp green chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 can of pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn kernels – fresh is best, but frozen is fine too

METHOD:

Make the polenta. Whisk together polenta, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. Add it to the 5 cups of boiling water. Stir together and reduce heat to low. Stir continuously for about 3 minutes, or until polenta is cooked and thick. Set aside.

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Preheat oven to 400F. Heat 2 TBS of olive oil in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Over medium heat cook the onion for about 6-8 minutes until soft. Add the peppers (bell and jalapeño) and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. Stir in the squash, can of tomatoes, coriander, cumin and green chili. Cook for about 5 minutes. Add some water (only a few TBS at a time) if the mixture becomes too dry. Stir in the beans and corn and cook another 5 minutes.

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Coat a large baking dish with a little olive oil. Spread about 2 cups of polenta on the bottom of the pan. Spoon three sisters mixture on top and smooth the remaining polenta over the top. Brush top with a little more olive oil and bake for about 30 minutes or until top is golden. Serve with Fry Bread.

Fry Bread:

INGREDIENTS:

1/2 cup of unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup of whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup powdered milk
1/4 tsp salt
warm water

METHOD:

Combine the first 5 ingredients and slowly add enough warm water to form dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead dough until it is smooth soft and not sticky. Cover and let rest 1 hour. Shape into small balls and pat into flat circles about 1/4-1/2 inch thick. Set aside.

In skillet, heat 1/2 inch vegetable oil. Brown dough circles on each side and drain on paper towels.

Oh and speaking of little peppers ( jalapeno) in the casserole, here is our newest little pepper – Peperoncino, our new puppy!

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(Sorry for the picture quality – can you believe we lost the camera battery charger!!!!! ARGH!)

He is a one year old Italian Greyhound/ Chihuahua mix and he is an absolute angel!

Look forward to spicy food posts in “Peperoncino’s Corner” soon! :)