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4 holiday recipes that give thanks to Indigenous cultures

Four recipes that honor the Indigenous cultures that are foundational to American foodways.

Thanksgiving recipes from top left, Harvest Salad with Squash and Quinoa, Wild Rice Dressing, Sweet Corn and Collards Soup,  Roasted turkey breast, Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart in Gingersnap crust.
Thanksgiving recipes from top left, Harvest Salad with Squash and Quinoa, Wild Rice Dressing, Sweet Corn and Collards Soup, Roasted turkey breast, Pumpkin Cheesecake Tart in Gingersnap crust.Read moreKainaz Amaria

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this year, with smaller menus and outdoor gatherings, many of us are rethinking our traditions, and finding ways to show generosity, gratitude, and community.

November is also Native American Heritage Month, which gives us an opportunity to celebrate the cultures that are foundational to the culinary traditions of our country.

Before the colonization of North America, the deep respect and connection to the earth was reflected in Native American cuisine Their diet was diverse, including corn, beans, squash, berries, greens, and wild rice..

You’ll find those at the center of these recipes inspired by Indigenous cultures.

Harvest Salad

As early as 3,000 years ago, a particular species of quinoa, commonly known “goosefoot seed” was being cultivated throughout North America. The earliest evidence of cultivation of this staple crop was discovered in what is now modern-day Kentucky.

Serves 4-6

1 medium acorn squash (1 1/2 pounds), quartered lengthwise, seeded, cut into 1/3″ slices

1 medium delicata squash (1 pound), halved lengthwise, seeded, cut into 1/3″ slices

2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup grapeseed or olive oil, divided

Sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

4 teaspoons unpasteurized apple cider vinegar

½ cup crispy corn kernels (corn nuts)

2 ounces kale (about 4 cups, loosely packed)

2 ounces mustard greens (about 4 cups, loosely packed)

1/2 cup pecans (optional)

1/4 cup thinly sliced shallots

1/4 cup spiced toasted red quinoa

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss each squash with 1 tablespoon oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a pinch of pepper.

Place acorn squash slices on one tray and the sliced delicata on the other. Place in oven and roast for 30 minutes; flip squash, rotate the trays, and roast for another 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove from oven and set aside.

While squash is roasting, prepare the quinoa. Rinse and drain quinoa. Heat a large heavy sauté or cast-iron pan on medium-low heat. Add quinoa and, using a whisk, stir with 1/4 cup of water. Continue whisking as the water absorbs. The quinoa will begin to pop and smell nutty. Remove to a bowl and let cool. Toasted quinoa may be stored in the refrigerator, in an airtight container once it has cooled.

To make the dressing, whisk 1/4 cup vinegar, 1/4 cup oil, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste in a bowl.

To serve, spread half of the greens over a serving platter or bottom of a wide bowl, then add half of the acorn squash, delicata squash, shallots, crispy corn, and toasted quinoa. Drizzle with half of the dressing; repeat with remaining ingredients and dressing. Toss lightly; serve immediately.

» READ MORE: Craig LaBan's incredible barbecued turkey

Wild Rice Dressing with Sage Sausage and Apple

Wild rice is one of the only grains native to North America. Called manoomin, which means “the food that grows on water," it is cultivated by the Ojibwe people of Northern Minnesota, and is an essential part of the Ojibwe culture and ceremonies. Traditionally, this grain is harvested by hand and dried over fire. Ojibwe continue to parch the rice in large steel-drum barrels over wood fires

Serves 4


1 cup wild rice blend (such as Lundberg)

1 3/4 cups vegetable stock

1 cup diced celery (2-3 large stalks)

1 cup diced carrot (2 large)

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 cup diced peeled cored apple, such as Honeycrisp

½ pound sage sausage, removed from casing

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon butter

¼ cup unsalted chicken stock

1 tablespoon honey

¼ teaspoon salt

2 bay leaves

¼ teaspoon chopped fresh sage

3 thyme sprigs, leaves removed

¼ teaspoon dried parsley

To prepare rice:

Rinse and drain the rice. Using a pot, add rice to a saucepan with the vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the bay leaf, cover, and cook until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is split and tender about 45 minutes. Remove the bay leaf, drain and rinse under cool water, shake excess water. Whisk chicken stock, 1 tablespoon butter, and honey in a large bowl, then add cooked rice.

As rice cooks prepare vegetable mixture and brown the sausage. Heat butter in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Add sausage; sauté until cooked and brown, breaking into pieces with a spoon, about 8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer sausage to a large bowl. Add celery, onions, and carrot, sage, thyme, and parsley to the drippings in the skillet. Sauté over medium heat until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes. Add mixture to reserved sausage.

Add rice and diced apples to the warm sausage mixture. Season dressing with salt and pepper. For more texture, add toasted pecans, pumpkin seeds, and cranberries.

Pro tip: Rice cooking times can vary, so bite-test it while cooking. The rice can be made a day ahead.

» READ MORE: Don’t want to cook Thanksgiving dinner? No problem.

» READ MORE: Will the pandemic shrink your Thanksgiving turkey? Don’t count on it.

Sweet Corn and Navy Bean Soup with Collards

There are more than 250 varieties of corn or maize cultivated in the Americas, the first in the area of Mexico roughly 7,000 years ago. Indigenous American nations likely bred their first corn crops from wild grasses and crossed high-yielding plants to make hybrids. Maize is part of the Indigenous tradition known a the “three sisters” (maize, beans, and squash, often considered a gift or blessing of thanks or a gift of Cautantowwit, a deity associated with the southwestern direction.

Serves 4-6

1 package (13-14 oz. ) cooked kielbasa

1 tablespoon butter

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon coriander

1 tablespoon black pepper

1 can (14 ½ oz. ) fire-roasted diced tomatoes

1 can (14 ½ oz.) navy beans, drained

1 jalapeño seeded and chopped (optional)

2 cups chicken stock

¼ cups chopped cilantro, plus more for garnish

½ medium onion medium, diced

2 sticks celery medium, diced

2 cups collard greens, chopped small

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced

2 cups corn (fresh or frozen)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon salt

Salt and pepper to taste

Cut kielbasa in half lengthwise, then crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Cook in a large pot over medium-high heat, stirring until browned and the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Reduce heat to medium and add butter and oil to remaining fat. Once the butter is melted, add cumin, coriander, and paprika, stirring gently until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add celery, carrots, jalapeño, collards, onions, salt, and pepper, stirring until soft, about 5 minutes. Add diced tomato, beans, and garlic, then stir in chicken stock. Add corn then bring to a boil.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, cook until the collards are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the cooked kielbasa. Let the soup rest for 5-7 minutes as kielbasa warms.

Pro tip: Make your soup a day ahead, giving it a day to rest allow the flavors to mix and meld. It’s worth the wait.

Vegetarian/vegan variations: Leave out the kielbasa and substitute chicken stock with vegetable stock. Replace butter with olive oil.

Not-so-spicy: Skip the jalapeño

» READ MORE: An easy pumpkin cheesecake tart for dessert

Pine Nut-crusted Salmon

As early as the 16th century, Indigenous residents of North America would grind pine nuts for flour and mash them to make a savory spread.

Note: This recipe requires salting the fish for at least 1 hour. Look for a fillet that is uniformly thick from end to end. Sprinkle flesh side of salmon evenly with 1 tablespoon salt and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 1 hour or up to 4 hours.

1 (4-pound) skin-on side of salmon, pin bones removed and belly fat trimmed

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup finely chopped pine nuts

3 tablespoons chopped tarragon

2 tablespoons whole grain mustard

4 tablespoons honey

4 tablespoons grapeseed (or other neutral) oil

2 teaspoons orange zest, divided

1 teaspoon black pepper


Using a knife or a food processor, finely chop 1 cup of pine nuts with a knife or food processor. Add to a large mixing bowl, then stir in 1 cup of cornmeal, tarragon and 1 teaspoon orange zest, until well combined.

In a separate bowl, make a honey mustard paste by combining mustard, 2 tablespoons of whole grain mustard, honey, grapeseed oil, and 1 teaspoon of orange zest. Spread a thin, even layer of the honey-mustard mixture to coat the flesh side of the salmon. Follow with an even layer of the pine nut-cornmeal mixture.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place salmon skin side down on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake for approximately 15-25 minutes (time varies with thickness of fillet). The pine nuts will be lightly golden and the fish flakes easily.

Allergy note: Substitute pine nuts with sunflower seeds. For gluten-free option, replace the cornmeal with panko bread crumbs.