Many of the foods that we now enjoy and take for granted are American Indian in origin. Until the discovery of the Americas the rest of the world knew nothing about such foods as corn, squash, melons, gourds, pumpkins, beans, and chile peppers-crops which were coaxed from an arid land centuries before Columbus, and which are still cultivated today.
The Pueblos and Navajos are accomplished cooks who prepare food by instinct and consider cooking an art that cannot be restricted by measuring cups. Many of their favorite dishes are familiar to all of us-chile, bean soups, bread puddings, and barbecue sauces. Others are exotic and intriguing-posole, piñon cake, and Navajo kneel-down bread.
Among the Pueblos and Navajos each meal is preceded by a prayer. The American Indian regards food as a precious gift and so treats it with reverence. This sacred nature of food is everywhere evident in Indian culture. The dances, prayers, and ceremonies all reflect the significance and value of food in daily existence. Buffalo, Deer, Bean, Turtle, Eagle, Corn, and Evergreen dances have been an integral part of Indian ceremonies for centuries. And when food is taken, a little is always given back-either to the fire or to the earth-in order to replenish the source in a symbolic gesture of thanks.
Food is a source of healing as well as nourishment in the Southwest. Corn pollen is placed in a Navajo sand painting to cure the sick, and special herbs have been used as medicines for centuries.
According to Zuñi belief:
"Five things alone are necessary to the sustenance and
comfort of the Indians among the children of the earth.
The sun, who is the Father of all,
The earth, who is the Mother of men,
The water, who is the Grandfather,
The fire, who is the Grandmother,
Our brothers and sisters the Corn and seeds of growing things."
Other special songs are sung as the seeds are planted, and all who have experienced a traditional Indian dance know the intimacy, harmony and intangible bond between Mother Earth and her children.
According to a Zuni Pueblo chant:
"Watch well o'er your seed-things and children!
Speak wisely to these our new children!
Henceforth they shall be your first speakers,
And the peace-making shields of your people."
When I set about to create my Southwest Indian Cookbook, I discovered that many of my Pueblo and Navajo friends never had measured their recipes. They had been cooking using "a hand of this, a pinch of that"¦" I took their hands and measured the amounts, and now many of my friends at the Pueblos use the book for cooking!
Here are a few of the recipes from my Southwest Indian Cookbook (Clear Light Publishing):