Wednesday, September 02, 2015


Somehow or another The Flavor Principle was mislaid last week. Youngest Daughter is trying a month of dinners from different cuisines, and while the official recipes are nice it is sometimes expensive to get the exact ingredients. And devotees of each cuisine substitute local equivalents, why shouldn't we?

I was looking up some Ojibwa recipes, and ran across this collection from many tribes: lots of substitutions there. Wheat, sheep fat, baking powder... just like the Italians took to tomatoes. (Norwegians say they don't eat lutefisk anymore--they have refrigerators now. Only in Wisconsin...)

Several Navajo recipes used juniper ash. The ash was mixed with water and then strained out to provide an alkali to mix with the corn. Corn needs a little tweaking to get full nutrition out of it. Cooking is enough for most foods, but corn needs a little "nixtamalization" to make the niacin available. (I gather that there were epidemics of pellagra when corn became a staple in Italy. Italian cuisine didn't include the extra tweaks needed.)

One side effect of the processing with alkali is that the corn hull softens, and another is that you can mash the corn up to make a dough. Those effects would probably be the goals for using alkali water--it isn't something I'd think of adding just for the heck of it. And the extra nutrition comes along as an extra benefit. But who knows--the developers of corn didn't leave any records and they might have indulged in systematic nutritional studies on mice the way we do. Which ones get fatter?

1 comment:

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I confirm the Norski sentiment. Chris has lived there for 4.5 years and never seen lutefisk, not even at Christmas. "Authentic" dishes is usually code for "things poor people ate from the scraps and leftovers." Cf blood sausage, goulash, scrapple, baked beans.

Which is fine. I like the historicity of Pease Porridge Hot (baked beans), Moussaka (Greek leftovers), or haggis (don't ask). But Americans have this unhealthy curiosity about things other cultures left behind. For good reason. Shamans burying you up to your neck in dung and singing over you is not actually medicine. Cow's milk more than six weeks old that has not been made into cheese is not actually "food." My peasant Romanian sons laugh at the crazy Americans.

Buy your daughter some onion rings and tell her to dash me a note, which I will pass on to Bethany at Graph Paper Diaries, who has vegan, organic, gluten-free, slow food roots all over her family and a brother who is studying in Italy, Turkey, Arizona, and Idaho about sustainable foods.