Throughout his first cookbook, The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, Sean Sherman educates. Sherman founded The Sioux Chef in 2014, “a pure leap of faith,” he writes. The mission-driven enterprise consists of indigenous team members, who together run a full-service catering company, and soon, a restaurant in Minneapolis: The Sioux Chef: An Indigenous Kitchen. Over the course of two years, the Sioux Chef team also developed an indigenous food systems curriculum. Sherman shares much of that ancestral culinary knowledge in his cookbook, between gorgeous photography and recipes.
For instance, he identifies Turtle Island’s myriad wild greens; sheds light on the diversity of corn, beans and squash; highlights the indigenous types of seeds and stocks; and explains the indigenous ingredients for everything, such as flour: wild rice flour, vegetable flour, acorn meal flour, hazelnut flour, chestnut flour.
The book also shares stories. In the introduction to The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, Sherman paints an intimate portrait of his adventurous youth on the prairies of the Pine Ridge Reservation. He, his younger sister, and his cousins—“a motley and feral group of kids”—spent days scouting wildlife in the grasslands and sandhills. Sherman’s vivid, sensory imagery evokes scenes of a kid hunting game birds and digging wild turnip, sounds of the “musical” Lakota language, and “the warm, sweet aroma” of simmering Wojape, the Lakota berry soup.
In honor of the upcoming Feast of the Wild Rice Moon (Maoominike-giizis in Ojibwe) in late summer, Indian Country Media Network requested to feature two recipes, of many, that Sherman has previously prepared in honor of this full moon in August and September. “The Sioux Chef honors full moons with special pop-up dinners that feature traditional music, drumming, spoken word poetry, and prayer,” his book states.
The below recipes for Wild Rice-Crusted Walleye and Wojape were once prepared by Sherman for a Maoominike-giizis feast with Wozupi Tribal Gardens of the Mdewakanton Sioux. “All across the Great Lakes region, families set up rice camps and spend several weeks harvesting wild rice,” Sherman states in the book. “When the rice has been threshed and winnowed, and is ready to store throughout the year, they gather to feast.”
Excerpts and recipes from The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, courtesy of Sherman, exclusive to Indian Country Media Network:
Wild Rice-Crusted Walleye
The Red Lake Nation is an Ojibwe community in northern Minnesota, home of our ethnobotanist Tashia, who shares her knowledge with our team. In the late fall of 2015 we participated in an Indigenous Sustainable Food Summit focused on our region’s Native heirloom varieties of corn, beans, and squash, and Red Lake’s wild rice, smoked fish, and game. We source all of our fish—the walleye, northerns, and whitefish—from the Red Lake Nation Fishery. The Red Lake community protects its beautiful and pristine waters by fishing sustainably.
For an impressive presentation, butterfly the fish (so that it’s filleted but whole) and served head on. Garnish with fresh cranberries, chopped apple, or berries lightly tossed into the pan, right before serving. This recipe works nicely with trout, too.
4 to 6 walleye or trout fillets, or butterflied fish
½ cup Wild Rice Flour or finely ground cornmeal
Pinch smoked salt
Pinch crushed juniper berries
¼ cup sunflower oil, or more as needed
Rinse the fillets, remove any pin bones, and pat dry. Pour the wild rice flour onto a flat plate and stir in the smoked salt and juniper. Dredge both sides of the fillets in the seasoned flour to thoroughly coat.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over a high flame. Without crowding the pan, fry one or two of the fillets in the oil for about 2 to 4 minutes per side until nicely crisped and cooked through. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.
Makes about 4 to 6 cups
The scent of this traditional sauce simmering on the stove takes me back to my freewheeling six-year-old self. Our family relied on the local chokecherries I gathered as a kid. We’d spread a blanket under the trees and gather buckets full. There’s no need to pit them because the pits drop to the bottom of the pot as the sauce becomes thick and lush. We’d sweeten it for a dessert or serve it as a tangy sauce for meat and game and vegetables, and as a dressing.
6 cups fresh berries—chokecherries or a mix of blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, elderberries, cranberries, blackberries
1 to 1½ cups water
Honey or maple syrup to taste
Put the berries and water into a saucepan and set over low heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick. Taste and season with honey or maple syrup as desired.