Spirit of the Harvest: Buffalo High-energy Bar Goes Gourmet

January 20, 2010

Spirit of the Harvest: Buffalo High-energy Bar Goes Gourmet

Renowned food author Beverly Cox, winner of the James Beard cookbook award, a Julia Child award and a IACP cookbook award, and food editor for Native Peoples Magazine, has agreed to contribute a monthly column and weekly recipes to the TankaBar.com website.

The Spirit of the Harvest columns by Beverly (with photos by her longtime collaborator Martin Jacobs) will be published the second Wednesday of every month. Recipes from Beverly will run on the intervening Wednesdays. We're kicking off this inaugural column with Beverly's inventive Buffalo, Cranberry and Wild Rice Salad starring Tanka Bars!

Thank you, Beverly and Native Peoples Magazine, for your ongoing support of our efforts here at Native American Natural Foods.

'Tanka' means great or grand in Lakota

In March 2008, at Natural Products Expo West, the country's largest natural, organic, and healthy products trade show, held in Anaheim, California, people crowded around an attractive booth featuring products from Native American producers. Among the exhibitors was Native American Natural Foods, a native-owned company, based on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. CEO Karlene Hunter, an Oglala Lakota, and her co-founder and President Mark Tilsen, chose this important venue for the national launching of a new product, the Tanka Bar, a high protein buffalo and cranberry bar based on wasna, a traditional Lakota recipe similar to pemmican.

Tanka Bars were a big hit with attendees at the show. Mark and Karlene were pleased, but not surprised, because the bars had already been approved by some much tougher critics- the kids on the reservation. Knowing that if a healthy snack is going to be a success, children and teenagers will have to like it, they involved young people at Pine Ridge in tastings and focus groups throughout the products development. In fact, it was a group of kids who came up with the name "Tanka" which means "great" or "grand" in the Lakota language, and it was a remark made by one of the youngsters that led to the product's slogan "Taste the Energy." They really knew that they had a winner when samples of the bars were handed out at powwows, and excited kids came running to taste the "Buffalo candy."

Wasna trail food that warriors and hunters carried

Tatanka, the buffalo, is a sacred animal for the Lakota People, and wasna, made with buffalo meat and choke cherries, is a sacred food. Wasna was the trail food that warriors and hunters carried with them, packed in a hollow buffalo horn. It lasted a long time and could be eaten out of hand as a quick high-energy snack or boiled with water and parched corn, wild rice, or greens and tubers gathered on the trail to make a substantial soup or stew. Though wasna remained an important ceremonial food, after the great buffalo herds were decimated in the late 19th Century, it was no longer every day fare for the Lakota.

In founding Native American Natural Foods, Karlene and Mark looked to the past and to the future. They looked to the buffalo, the majestic animal that had provided the Lakota with nourishing food, clothing and shelter in the pre-reservation days when heart disease, obesity, and diabetes were almost unknown. Now, as Karlene explains, "Diabetes and obesity are at epic levels among my people, and our leadership and health professionals are working hard to reverse those trends. Our decision, to create a buffalo-based product was no accident. Buffalo are raised on open grassland, and there are no low-level antibiotics, no hormones, no drug residues and no preservatives in buffalo."

Elders helped develop Tanka products

To develop the new product, Karlene and Mark put together a team that included, respected elders like Kay Red Hail (Oglala Lakota), who knew the secrets of making traditional wasna, modern food scientists like Dr. Duane Wulf at the University of South Dakota, who helped develop a natural herbal-based preservative to increase the product's shelf life, producers like the Oglala Sioux Tribe parks department who donated the first buffalo for the project, and specialty meat processors, Jon and Stephanie Frohling. Working together, over a two year period of trial and error, the team came up with a recipe that combines tradition and innovation. Because choke cherries are not available in large quantities and have a somewhat bitter taste, they chose cranberries, another indigenous North American fruit.

Cranberries were used in early recipes for wasna, that date back to the time when the Lakota lived further east in Minnesota and around the Great Lakes. Like choke cherries they have acids that help to naturally preserve buffalo meat. Cranberries also contain ellagic acid, a cancer fighting phytochemical, and they are extremely rich in antioxidants. To complete the process, the mixture is formed into bars and slow-smoked for nine hours. The result, is a bar with a moist, chewy texture, and a meaty, pleasantly smoky flavor that contrasts nicely with the sweet-tart taste of cranberries. I guess you might say that it tastes a bit like "Buffalo Candy!"

Though you may be happy just eating a Tanka Bar for a snack, like traditional wasna, it has other recipe possibilities. The salad recipe that follows, combines the bars with traditionally grown and harvested wild rice from Native Harvest, a tribally owned food company, located on the reservation of the White Earth Band of Chippewa in Northern Minnesota.

Buffalo, Cranberry, Wild Rice Salad

Serves 6

2 cups hand harvested & wood parched wild rice*
5 cups water
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt

Maple-ginger Vinaigrette Dressing:
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon-mustard
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup safflower oil

1 cup thinly sliced green onions
1 cup sweetened dried cranberries
Salt and ground pepper to taste
6, 1-ounce, Tanka Bars*, sliced
4 to 5 cups baby salad greens, rinsed and dried
1 cup hulled sunflower seeds

Wash wild rice in three changes of hot tap water, and drain. In a saucepan, combine rice, water, and salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer 15 to 20 minutes until water is absorbed and wild rice is tender, but not "rolled back". If water remains, drain the cooked rice. Set the rice aside.

While rice is cooling, in a small bowl combine ginger, mustard, maple syrup and vinegar. Gradually whisk in oil.

In a large bowl, toss the wild rice, green onions and dried cranberries with all but 1/4 cup of the dressing. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Arrange greens on 6 dinner plates. Spoon a mound of wild rice salad over the greens. Arrange Tanka Bar slices on top of the salad and sprinkle with sunflower seeds. Drizzle the salads with remaining dressing and serve.

Tanka Bars:

Wild Rice:

Beverly Cox is the food editor of Native Peoples Magazine and a former food editor and director of food styling for Cook's Magazine. She holds a Grand Diplome from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and apprenticed with Gaston LeNotre.

Beverly has written 13 cookbooks, including Spirit of the Harvest, North American Indian Cooking, winner of the James Beard and IACP cookbook awards in 1992, and Spirit of the West, Cooking from Ranch House and Range, winner of a Julia Child award in 1997, and Spirit of the Earth, Native Cooking from Latin America, an IACP cookbook award finalist in 2002, all co-authored with food photographer Martin Jacobs. Their most recent book is Eating Cuban, 120 Authentic Recipes from the Streets of Havana to American Shores.

Beverly and her husband, Gordon Black, an architect turned rancher, live on the historic Eagle Rock Ranch in Northern Colorado where her great grandfather homesteaded in 1872. Beverly teaches hands-on cooking classes for small groups who want to combine cooking with the experience of visiting a working cattle ranch.

You can contact Beverly at BeverlyCox@TankaBar.com

For more information about Beverly's cookbooks featuring Native American recipes:
Body, Mind and Spirit: Native Cooking of the Americas

Spirit of the Harvest: North American Indian Cooking

Spirit of the Earth: Native Cooking from Latin America

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