Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Kaya's Bison Burgers, with a Berry and Pine Nut Salad

A simple, tasty and healthy meal!

Kaya has been my most difficult doll to find recipes and recipe ideas for, mostly because most of the foods she eats are native to the Pacific Northwest, and I live on the other side of the country. The other issue is that while the Nez Perce diet in 1764 was very restricted by location, there's less possible authentic historic variation, and a limited number of ways you can interpret the dishes in a more modern way, if only because there are simply less ingredients to work with compared to say Rebecca or Felicity, as they both came from cultures that relied more heavily on trade and urban centers for ingredients, and Kaya's doesn't. This isn't to say that there was no trade going on between the Nez Perce and other cultural groups, but it's obviously easier to transport food quickly with things like railroads and more modern ships.

This has meant that finding ways to get her represented on the blog have required a little more creativity and brainpower than some of my other dolls, which is fine by me. It's kind of fun to work without a recipe, or to find ones that have a connection to Kaya without being immediately obvious. Each part of this dinner has some connection to the foods she would have eaten, while putting an East Coast, modern spin on it, because there's just no way I'd be able to get my hands on some of the authentic ingredients.

I really wanted to do a nice, simple and hopefully healthy dinner tonight, considering most of the stuff I've made for the blog thus far has not exactly been waistline friendly, and the lunch I had today definitely wanted a lighter dinner. Thus, we decided to do something with a simple protein and lots of vegetable and fruit accompaniments, so I did a little bit of research into how to get my hands on plants Kaya and her family would have harvested while they were in season out in their neck of the woods.

Unfortunately, if there's a way to get your hands on edible camas roots, I haven't found it yet. This is very disappointing to me, as I've wanted to try one since I was very little - before American Girl had even released Kaya - so this definitely isn't a project I've abandoned. I did, however, find out that they apparently taste very similar to a sweet potato, but sweeter, when they're roasted, so we decided to add that to the menu, since sweet potatoes are definitely easy to find around here. The Nez Perce - and other groups - harvested the bulbs in the autumn, and would boil or roast them whole, or pound them into flour or shape the pulp of the root into finger cakes.

Wild carrots were also a staple, as were various berries (like raspberries and blackberries, which we've talked about before) and nuts, like pine nuts.

Sorry it's a little blurry! 

Most of this is pretty self explanatory in terms of preparation. My mom likes to roast sweet potatoes in the oven after slicing them up in french fry-ish shapes, so that's what I did. There's no seasoning or anything on them, although they taste good with salt and pepper, and apparently cinnamon.

We peeled, chopped and steamed the carrots, and then threw on some parsley from our garden. Apparently it's been reseeding itself instead of needing to be replanted every year, which I'm not sure it's supposed to do.

Next up was roasting the pine nuts. You might know them as pignoli nuts if you're more familiar with Italian cooking, and I've never roasted them before. I've never really gone out of my way to eat them before either, even though I have definitely had them on salads and things before. These were going to go on a salad of just some basic greens we picked up at the grocery store, along with some berries and oil.

Apparently I actually left them in the pan a little too long, so some of them were a little overcooked and bitter tasting. I haven't decided if I actually like eating them yet, even though they've got a really interesting, buttery texture. I cooked the whole jar, but we had a lot left over even after making the salad, so I guess we'll have some to snack on later in the week too.

Toss on as many as you want along with some berries, and you're good to go!

Now, I am not much of a salad person. I'll eat it, but it's definitely not a favorite thing for me, and I usually prefer to just have some raw veggies to pick at over having a complicated salad with a million ingredients and fancy dressing to try to make it taste a little more interesting. But I really enjoyed this little creation! The pine nuts and berries paired up well with the greens and the simple dressing - we just used oil and vinegar - and gave it a nice body that made the salad feel a little more filling than I'm used to. Maybe I should start revisiting my attitude towards fancier salads!

It's extremely simple to recreate yourself if you're looking for a way to spice up a boring salad, and I'd definitely recommend it, even though I wasn't all that sure about it when we started.

Next up came cooking the bison burgers. Now, the Nez Perce didn't always hunt buffalo - they live a decent ways away from the traditional Nez Perce homeland, but when horses were introduced to North America and Nez Perce culture adapted to the change incredibly impressively, they were able to take their horses east and hunt buffalo with the Flathead people in what we know as Montana. This means that Kaya would have had access to bison meat and products, and often to many people's surprise, we do, too!

The American Bison was hunted to near extinction during the settlement of the west by Europeans and other non native cultural groups, and to many people, that's about the end of the story. Buffalo exist in national parks and are protected, so modern people don't rely on them as a food source anymore.

This isn't explicitly true, and hasn't been true for quite a while. Although it's still less common to see in restaurants than beef or pork, bison has become a popular food choice thanks to ranchers who raise populations for their meat and other products, which means you can enjoy bison meat without worrying about harming the wild populations. In another piece of good news, the wild populations are far more stable than they were decades ago thanks to increased awareness and more vigorous conservation strategies, which means hopefully, the threat of extinction has been avoided, however narrowly.

Bison meat is also popular because it's lower in fat and cholesterol than beef, but is also higher in protein. It tastes pretty similar to beef, although I find the meat to often be a lot more tender, and I'm pretty sure it would take a very observant eater to tell the difference between the two if you didn't let them know in advance that you're putting bison in the chili instead of beef.

There's not too much to say about how we cooked them, which seems to be an ongoing theme here. I divided the meat, made some patties, put some seasoning on them and tossed them in the pan to cook.

And that's it! It was a really simple meal that was pretty quick to make, but since that's what we were going for, I honestly can't say I have any complaints. It was filling, tasty and honestly, just kind of fresh. I'm usually not one for very vegetable heavy meals, but I enjoyed this, and I would definitely eat it again, so I think I'm just going to go with it and call this a success.

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