6 Native American Ingredients

On a recent visit to Arizona, I stopped for lunch at the Desert Rain Café, on the Tohono O'odham reservation 60 miles west of Tucson. The café serves dishes built on the ingredients that sustained the Native American tribe, who farmed and foraged in the Sonoran Desert for generations. I try some cactus buds, which look like asparagus tips and taste like artichokes. Boiled and tossed in a citrus dressing, they are so delicious that I buy a bag of dried buds to take home with me. The Tohono O'odham is just one of many Native American communities across the country reclaiming a culinary heritage, returning to heirloom crops and wild foraged foods—and in the process, bringing back flavors nearly lost over the past centuries of cultural disruption. Here are six ways to savor the revival. —Karen Shimizu

Tepary beans
Tepary Beans

Tepary beans are a flavor-packed desert legume. The white variety is slightly sweet—wonderful for hummus—while brown tepary beans are dense and earthy.

Saguaro cactus syrup
Saguaro Cactus Syrup

Saguaro cactus syrup, another desert ingredient from TOCA, is made by boiling cactus fruit over a mesquite fire. It has a smoky, molasses-like flavor that complements grilled meats, and is outstanding drizzled on Manchego cheese.

Wild rice
Wild Rice

Wild rice, the dark brown, nutty grains of an aquatic grass, is harvested on the Ojibwe reservation in northern Minnesota. The Ojibwe traditionally mixed the grains with maple syrup and cranberries for a sweet breakfast, but it’s also great in stuffing and savory pilafs.

parched corn
Parched Corn

To make parched corn, the Santa Ana Pueblo in New Mexico grow, roast, and salt indigenous blue corn. With a taste that falls between peanuts and popcorn, it’s a crunchy, addictive snack.

roasted blue corn meal
Roasted Blue Corn Meal

Typically used in atole, a warm, porridge-like drink, Santa Ana Pueblo’s roasted blue corn meal has a ripe, sweet corn flavor that shines in muffins or cornbread.

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