Tag Archives: Food

Prairie Turnips

A prairie turnip.

A cluster of prairie turnips.

Where some see a prairie-scape of oblivion, others see a culinary buffet. Just last night I was cruising around in some old digital photos on the desktop, and I came across a couple shots of prairie turnips. I photographed them a couple years ago in the kitchen of a downtown Bismarck apartment I used to live in (the historic Mason Building), I think around 2008 or 2009.

During those summers, Tim Mentz, Jr., of Standing Rock, showed me on the northern Great Plains how to identify the prairie turnip. You can read the landscape for prairie turnips in July. This is when the vegetation sprouts above ground, making them visible. They also grow in certain areas on a hill (it may or may not have something to do with the ph levels of the soil — I’m in the humanities, folks). This, of course, leads to the idea that if you have two different people look at the same landscape, they will see it in a variety of different ways. I like listening to what others have to say about the landscape. Tim Mentz, Jr. always had my ear. We would often joke, too — when a bull was once staring at us and uprooting the topsoil with his front hoof, I asked Tim, “What does that mean?” Tim responded with, “That means we give him distance.”

It is customary to braid the turnips by the root ends, and then hang them to dry. Just like mushrooms (and other dried goods), they will reconstitute in liquid or water. I made turnip soup out of this batch.

With the husk pulled back, this is what the edible flesh of a prairie turnip looks like.

With the husk pulled back, this is what the edible flesh of a prairie turnip looks like.

Central Asian Shashlyk

Shashlyk on the grill during the 237th American Independence Day. Note: photo does not show the eagles bursting through American flags just above this patio grill out.

Shashlyk on the grill during the 237th American Independence Day. Note: photo does not show the eagles bursting through American flags just above this patio grill out.

I want to do whatever I can to encourage the preparation and spread of shashlyk — Central Asian or former-Soviet state kebabs, the wikipedia link here — on the northern Great Plains. Considering how the landscape is infused with German-Russian and Levantine (among others) ethnicities, and considering how North Dakota was a frontline of the Cold War, a person could easily make an argument for themselves as to why they should be preparing shashlyk for their families and friends this weekend. So here are a couple photos of what I did for America’s Independence Day, July 4th (237 years and still kicking).

Last Wednesday I grabbed a half bottle of grapefruit juice from the fridge (this leftover from the Kingsley Amis-style salty dogs I prepared the week prior), dumped this in with olive oil and raw lamb chunks. To that I added a whole bunch of herbs and spices that dominate Central Asia and the former Ottoman Empire (I’m not going to list them all, but just think cumin and curry and paprika and rosemary and even a dash or two of ground cinnamon). Skewer these with the bamboo, and also add to that red bell peppers, onion, tomatoes and mushrooms.

For grilling: use a charcoal grill if you have one handy. If all you have is a propane hibachi (which is what I had at the time), then obviously that is what you’ll have to use. During the actual grilling process, douse or spritz the shashlyk skewers with some apple cider vinegar. This will enhance the end flavor, and also get everyone’s taste buds roaring from the smell. The important thing about shashlyk preparation: first, think about this at least 2 days prior, because you’ll need the prep time. Also, the citrus and/or vinegar as central to the overnight soak for the lamb meat.

Getting Pickled On the Northern Great Plains

Getting pickled with jars of local farmer's market pickled vegetables.

Getting pickled with jars of local farmer’s market pickled vegetables.

A culinary note: the season of the pickle is here, well established, this on the eve of July 1, 2013. It’s not just a cucumber, folks. This jar was picked up from Becky at the Valley City Farmer’s Market in downtown Valley City, North Dakota. In the past the family has locally raised and sold Christmas/jultid trees, and today they pickle vegetables.

This jar includes chili peppers, cauliflower, broccoli, garlic, carrots, and sturdy dill sprigs. The recommendation is that it be paired and digested with a good dose of Summit Ale. I have to go put the wild rice brats and salmon on the grill now. The onion and garlic saute is already happening (with butter and a shot of course ground mustard). Happy Sunday evening. July, here we come, glorious farmer’s markets and all.

Bloody Bull from the Northern Great Plains

A ceremonial bloody bull just 10" to my left.

A ceremonial bloody bull, a Smithwick’s northern Great Plains beer back, and a salty anchovy snack just 10″ to my left.

The following is a morally decent sacrament for St. Patrick’s Day this March 17, 2013. The drink combination is Irish and English in origin, but has northern Great Plains-inspiration. Some years ago I was made aware of the Bloody Bull, or what some folks call the Bull Shot (The New York Times has the former Ben Benson’s Steakhouse Bloody Bull recipe linked to here). For the bloody bull pictured: into the glass goes, approximately, 1.5 ounces of tomato juice, 1.5 ounces of vodka (Ed Phillips & Sons Prairie spirits from Benson, Minnesota), and about 2 ounces of beef broth. Then a dose or two of Lea and Perrins Worcestershire sauce, a couple dashes of Tabasco sauce, a couple lemon wedges, and some ground pepper. The linked to recipes I found insisted on “Campbell’s double-strength beef broth.” But Nash Brother’s Trading Company broth was on sale, so I added that. To substitute the Campbell’s sodium content, I added just a sprinkle or two of Himalayan Pink sea salt.

Also note the Smithwick’s Irish Ale. At least in Minnesota and North Dakota, we refer to this as a “beer back.” When someone puts a beer back in front of you, it is unnecessary to question it, or its origins. Were I writing from the Otto von Bismarck, North Dakota on St. Patrick’s Day, I would have purchased a growler of Laughing Sun’s Irish Red Lager, especially brewed for today. But we sometimes just have to grin and bear it, and take what we can get. Also pictured are King Oscar’s anchovies. These are a good salty snack, and when company is around, you rarely need to concern yourself about having to ever replenish the plate.

Anyhow, back to it on this end. And Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the northern Great Plains.

Sabir’s in Valley City, North Dakota

Sabir’s in Valley City, North Dakota, is owned and operated by a Kurdish family. It is an excellent place, just off I-94 (by the AmericInn motel exit). On occasions such as New Years Eve, Valentine’s Day, and Mother’s Day, a Kurdish-Levantine cuisine is rolled out, and the salads look like this:

Sabir's Salads

After finishing the main course (we had seafood-stuff shrimp and calgary-seasoned ribeye), a dessert cart is rolled around so a person can gorge on sweets that look like this:

Sabir's Desserts

Paleo Grilling in the Winter

Michael Pollan has been focusing our attention to what is on our table for some time now (the body of his work is listed here). It is probably a good idea: whether we verbalize it or not, when those huge anhydrous ammonia trucks pass us on the interstate, the thought that rattles through the mind has a kind of duality to it: “There goes the fertilizer truck with the death labels on it… should we be eating food that is juiced up with this stuff?… should we be feeding tomorrow’s generation with this stuff? It’s probably okay, right? I mean, they wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t okay… right?” We live on an industrial planet — or, more accurately, a planet industrialized by humanity (that’s us). But it wasn’t always this way.

A glorious flank steak.

A glorious flank steak.

This last weekend I thought about that as I prepped a flank steak (from a cow grazed on grass, the way cows have done throughout the forests of the Mediterranean region for ages). After letting the chunk of meat sit in a bath of spices, beer and lemon juice for a couple days, I decided to cook the flank steak paleo style, placing the chunk of meat directly on the hot coals. This in turn got me thinking about any number of archaeological digs where just a bit of charcoal surfaces, and is oh-so deliberately collected (usually it is placed in aluminum foil for storage). On a dig, the charcoal is saved. But this technical description often stops there, and that is where the mind really picks up and is left to wonder. That charcoal, buried under one stratigraphic layer after another, possibly provided a source of heat and fire for a small or large family thousands of years ago. Perhaps they grilled a chunk of bison or elk on this fire, placing it directly on the coals? Seems like one possible and reasonable idea. Here is some audio-video from that winter night of grilling:

Archaeologists should feel comfortable whipping up flank steaks directly on hot coals for any number of tasty reasons, and it also answers the call that Ian Hodder issued over 20 years ago in a post-processual statement (I blogged it here once, and below are his remarks in full, pulled from “Interpretive Archaeology and Its Role,” 1999, American Antiquity, Vol. 56, No. 1, page 9).

…new theories and the new ways of writing them often serve to make archaeological texts more obscure and difficult for anyone but the highly trained theorist to decipher. How can alternative groups have access to a past that is locked up both intellectually and institutionally? Subordinate groups who wish to be involved in archaeological interpretation need to be provided with the means and mechanisms for interacting with the archaeological past in different ways. This is not a matter of popularizing the past but of transforming the relations of production of archaeological knowledge into more democratic structures.

Alternative groups, such as flank-steak-charring cooks, should be brought into the broader archaeological discussion. There is the study of the past, but there is also the applied anthropology of trying to recreate some semblance of a paleo meal, but today.