Local. Seasonal. Sustainable. Those are big food goals for chefs and home cooks alike. They’re also the core and enduring tenets of Native American cooking.
Want to Learn About Indigenous Foods? Here’s Where to Start.
Today, Indigenous chefs and educators have begun reviving the foodways that were lost after colonization, when generations of Native Americans were removed from familiar lands and sent to reservations. Before that, an estimated 15 million Indigenous people lived in North America, enjoying a rich, varied diet with foods they hunted, gathered, and farmed.
Two Indigenous cooks at the forefront of this revitalization are Sean Sherman and Mariah Gladstone.
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Sean Sherman (Oglala Lakota) is the award-winning founder, CEO, and chef of Owamni by the Sioux Chef in Minneapolis, named Best Restaurant in America in 2022 by the James Beard Association, and author (with Beth Dooley) of The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen, winner of the James Beard Foundation Book Award. He was named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people of 2023.
Mariah Gladstone (Blackfeet, Cherokee) is the founder of Indigikitchen, an online cooking site dedicated to “re-indigenizing our diets.” Gladstone has been recognized as a Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellow through the First Nations Development Institute, a Culture of Health Leader by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and an MIT Solve Indigenous Communities Fellow.
We spoke with Sherman and Gladstone about how to learn about Indigenous foodways, the best places to buy ingredients (all available online!), and Native-owned food purveyors you should know about. Here are six of their recommendations.
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1. Ramona Farms
Sherman frequents Ramona Farms, a husband-and-wife–owned farm in Sacaton, Arizona. They sell heritage grains and beans, including wheat berries, flour, cornmeal, grits, garbanzo, and tepary beans. The bafv (tepary bean) is one of their specialties, and had nearly become extinct until they focused on revitalization efforts in the 1970s.
2. Bow and Arrow
Bow and Arrow is another favorite of Sherman’s. This purveyor has sold its own non-GMO blue, white, and yellow cornmeal; polenta; and corn products from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe in Colorado since 1962. The corn is grown on their 7,700-acre farm.
3. Sakari Farms
Sakari Farms is a favorite stop of Gladstone’s for sauces and finishing salts. “I love everything but especially recommend the Salsa Morada Hot Sauce, Fire Roasted Hot Sauce, and Cedar Smoked Salt,” she said of this tribal-run producer based in Central Oregon.
4. O-gah-pah Coffee
Another favorite of Gladstone’s? O-Gah-Pah Coffee, a product of the Quapaw Nation in Northeastern Oklahoma. “This coffee always gets rave reviews,” Gladstone says. O-Gah-Pah Coffee was founded in 2016 and boasts an in-house roastery in a 2,500-square-foot warehouse to keep up with demands.
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5. “The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen” cookbook
Sean Sherman and Beth Dooley’s book keeps to simple, approachable tools and techniques for recipes such as Maple Brined Smoked Turkey, Hominy Cakes, and Sunflower Milk Sorbet, with plenty of instruction regarding what Sherman calls “The Indigenous Pantry.”
You can purchase the book online, but those who are looking to experience the food in-person can head to Sherman’s restaurant in Minneapolis. “We’re also getting ready to launch a market in Minneapolis for indigenous foods in the coming months,” he says.
Try a few recipes on Gladstone’s site, Indigikitchen, which features approachable recipes and cooking videos demonstrating a variety of savory and sweet dishes, including Mesquite Blue Cornbread, Sunflower Maple Cookies, and Salmon Cornmeal Cakes.
The purveyors listed above are just a starting point. Continue seeking out ingredients from Native-owned businesses when cooking Indigenous-inspired recipes and otherwise.
Sherman and his team created a site listing places to order Indigenous food products. For many more Native foods to explore, Gladstone suggests checking out the producer directory at the American Indian Foods program.
Sean Sherman photo credit: Lisa McManus
Mariah Gladstone photo credit: Thae A• Gho Weñs Cook