A comforting stew with a Southwest heritage
Juanita Tiger Kavena’s firsthand knowledge about foods of the Hopi people ― particularly those using indigenous plants and substances ― make her book Hopi Cookery (University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1980; $14.95; 800/426-3797) both an excellent reference and a practical cookbook. Though not Hopi-born herself (she is Native American), Kavena, a home economist and former cooperative extension agent, was adopted into the tribe and has been married to Hopi Wilmer Kavena for more than 50 years. And for much of that time she has devoted herself to learning why the basic Hopi diet has served its people so well. In her book, she describes how many regional ingredients, found in the wild or cultivated, contribute to the nutritional balance as well as the character of traditional dishes. Corn, for example, is at the heart of the nutrition matrix; it’s also a mystical part of the culture.
On the Hopi reservation, I met with Kavena and Dale McFarland, regional general manager for Aramark at Mesa Verde National Park. For lunch, we enjoyed a version of Hopi hominy and lamb stew with a companion dish of grilled fresh green chilies, one of Kavena’s favorite combinations. As we dined, Kavena lamented that making hominy from dried corn, a method she includes in her book, is one of many traditional processes and secrets being lost to progress and packaged foods. But she conceded to the reality that most cooks will start with canned hominy to make this very easy, slowly simmered stew. It’s just right for a chilly evening ― humble but satisfying.
Instead of serving fresh green chilies alongside, as Kavena does, I’ve taken the liberty of adding canned green chilies to simmer with the chunks of lamb.