From the outset of our effort here at GreatLakesCuisine.com, we have believed the foods of indigenous peoples in the Great Lakes region should be included in the conversation, both as tribute and inspiration. The failure to celebrate the peoples who thrived in the Great Lakes region before settlement by primarily European immigrants would be a loss of heritage and tradition. Wild rice, venison, and blueberries are staples of that diet, and wonderful flavor components for many Great Lakes dishes. Of course the major obstacle for the current chef is a lack of written recipes compounded by the systemic elimination of the indigenous cultural traditions, breaking the continuity of food traditions as well.
Sean Sherman is promoting a “Pre-Contact” Dinner to be held in coming weeks in Minneapolis. Some of the traditions he draws from are more from the Plains states, which likely had a distinct culinary tradition from the Great Lakes region. Nevertheless, we admire the effort to bring focus to a culinary tradition long marginalized to our collective detriment. The menu will include:
dehydrated rabbit – honey hominy cake – toasted walnut – berry jus – wilted dandelion
stewed white bean – cedar broth – seared smoked whitefish – sorrel
buffalo ribs – wasna cake of dried berries – puffed wild rice – sweet potatoes – watercress blooms
smoked duck – dried blueberry – amaranth cracker – blueberry jus – crisp – amaranth leaf – maple – pepitas
squash puree – maple sun seed – cranberry – mountain mint
There is inspiration aplenty in those dishes and our soup echoes some of the flavors Chef Sherman includes above. The following recipe is hardly “pre-contact” indigenous by any definition, but some of the same flavors and ideas are permeating through this belly-warming offering. A wild shot turkey, brined and then smoked over cherry-wood would be ideal (might we suggest something like this approach adapted for the much larger bird), but you may have to settle, as we did, for the store purchased variety. Leftover turkey breast was well-utilized here.
Smoked Turkey, White Bean Soup
1 Smoked Turkey Leg
4 cups Turkey Broth
4 cups Water
2 bay leaves
1 medium onion diced
2 cups raw corn kernels
2 15 oz cans of white beans or 4 cups cooked beans
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp chili powder
2 cups cooked turkey breast, large dice (leftovers work well)
1 bunch fresh herbs (cilantro, parsley, or lemon thyme work well)
Feta or Cotija for grating (frozen, see note)
Bring broth and water to boil in a large stock pot. Add turkey leg and bay leaves and return to a boil then reduce to a simmer for two hours. Discard bay leaves and remove leg and set aside to cool. In a medium skillet over medium heat, add 1 tbs. butter with the onions. Cook until slightly caramelized then add the corn. Continue to cook another 3 minutes stirring often and then add entire contents of skillet to stock pot. Add white beans and seasonings. Simmer for 30 minutes. While soup is simmering, remove all meat from the turkey leg, paying attention to remove all of the long pieces of cartilaginous “quills” from the meat, then dice into 1/2 inch pieces, set aside.
After beans have simmered for 30 minutes, using a slotted spoon, remove approximately half the beans and puree until smooth. Take care when pureeing hot liquids. Alternatively, use a stick blender to puree approximately half of the corn/bean mixture right in the pot. Leaving half of the corn and the beans whole adds some textural appeal to the soup. Return the puree to the pot, then add both leg and breast turkey meat and bring to a low simmer.
We served this with a herb oil, by taking the herbs and pureeing with just enough olive oil to liquefy and a clove of garlic with a pinch of salt. But this could just as easily be served with finely chopped fresh herbs. Our preference is for lemon thyme, which we grow in the backyard, but during the winter this is a bit harder to come by.
So in this version we went with the cilantro which adds a nice brightness. We’re assuming Sean Sherman in his white bean soup listed above is using the native wood sorrel (oxalis) rather than the French imported variety. Either would be a nice addition, but the wood sorrel would keep the recipe truer to our purposes here. The feta here is served grated with a Microplane grater after being frozen. We have used this approach before with blue cheese over a beet salad and similar applications. The cheese loses none of the flavor appeal as it warms in the soup, but the fine grate creates a more even dispersion. Not necessary, but a fun little wrinkle. Clearly the cheese is not an indigenous item, so leave it out if desired, though it adds a nice saltiness and creaminess to to the finished soup. In the end, this is more of a melting pot dish than a culturally accurate one.
Prepare this soup over an outdoor fire with house-smoked wild-turkey and the result would likely be far better and far closer to a more “pre-contact” experience. Inspiration can from anywhere, but history is a particularly rich source for Great Lakes Cuisine.