Sumpweed? Goosefoot? How about a Squash Salad Instead

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Squash Salad? You say Squash Salad and I think about the squash seeds found in an 800-year-old Native American pot that led to the reintroduction of a species eaten long ago. That’s because I can be quite the food geek. I also like to read up on anthropology. The “whys and hows” of human society and the culture that develops around it. Did you know that the anthropology of food is a real thing? If I were inclined to go back to college and study something new it would be culinary anthropology with a particular emphasis on the cultural aspects of food. I told you I was a food geek.

But this is a food blog. I know you expect pithy remarks and useable recipes, and I’ll get to those. But first I have to warn you – you may learn more today about culinary anthropology than you presume you’ ll ever need to know. That’s because I think useless information is very useful. It comes in handy at dinner parties and business lunches. You never know when a trip to the grocery store, the dog park, or even the dentist’s office will turn into an opportunity to divulge some of that useless information you’ve accumulated. I’m talking about anywhere you have an audience that thinks it might be rude to interrupt you. So take notes.

Traditionally anthropologists have studied five regions of the world they consider the “hearths” of world food. These are the areas where ancient humans first began to veer away from a migrant hunting and gathering lifestyle and began cultivating their own food from the indigenous plants and animals. This seemingly useless fact is very important because you can’t make cities and societies until you develop surplus agriculture. The five regions that have survived as primary food sources are Mexico (corn), Peru (potatoes), the Middle East (wheat and barley), Africa (legumes and millet), and Southeast Asia (rice).

Smith, Bruce D. (1995). The Emergence of Agriculture. New York: Scientific American Library. p. 184. However, I’ve also been reading that the North American woodlands east of the Mississippi river may soon be officially recognized as the sixth world food hearth (sometimes referred to as Appalachia). There’s evidence to suggest that some of the modern “seeds” humans consume today may have originally been cultivated in this broad swath of North America. These indigenous crops include sunflower and sumpweed seeds (for oil), as well as grassy grains like goosefoot, maygrass, knotweed, ragweed and amaranth as digestible starches, and possibly even a relative of what modern humans would call squash. However, unlike the North American grassy grains I mentioned (or the Peruvian potatoes and African millet), cultivated squash seems to have migrated to this sixth “hearth” and taken root (so to speak) in the diets of Native Americans. Growing food changed native peoples’ relationship to the natural environment by allowing these nomads to settle in one place.

Once people began to settle into organized social units the Native Americans of the present-day United States and Canada slowly changed from growing indigenous plants to a maize-based (introduced from Mexico) agricultural economy. The cultivation of indigenous plants declined and was eventually abandoned, the formerly domesticated plants reverting to their wild forms. Doesn’t this sound like something going on in food news today? See what I mean? Useless information can be very interesting!

Delicata Squash Salad with Apples and Chanterelle Mushrooms

As usual, I’ve talked myself into a corner and probably bored you senseless. It also leaves me with another problem: how to get to that usable recipe I promised. I don’t have any sumpweed or goosefoot recipes at my fingertips. But I’ve got a Delicata Squash Salad with Apples and Chanterelle Mushrooms inspired by Chefs Joshua McFadden and Naomi Pomeroy I’ve been meaning to share. GREG

Squash Mushrooms Delicata Squash, Chanterelle Mushroom, and Apple Salad

Delicata Squash, Chanterelle Mushroom, and Apple Salad

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4Source Inspired by Joshua McFadden and Naomi PomeroyPublished
Delicata Squash, Chanterelle Mushroom and Apple Salad

Ingredients

  • 1 delicata squash (or other thin-skinned winter squash, about 1-pound)
  • ½ pound chanterelle mushrooms
  • 1 bunch scallions
  • extra-virgin olive oil (as needed for cooking squash and dressing)
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 4 cup loosely packed arugula
  • 2 cup loosely packed fresh whole mint leaves
  • 1 large apple (cut into ½-inch wedges)
  • Champagne vinegar (or other mild vinegar, as needed for dressing)
  • 1 cup pumpkin seeds

Directions

Carefully cut the stem ends off the squash, then cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out and discard the seeds. Cut each half crosswise into half-moons about 1/8-inch thick. Try and keep each slice uniform in thickness for even cooking. You don’t need to peel thin-skinned varieties like Delicata if you slice them thinly enough. Set aside.

Clean and pull the chanterelles apart into strips lengthwise. This lets the heat get to a lot more edges of the mushroom, adding to the diverse textures in this salad. Set aside.

Cut scallions on a bias and soak in ice water to get them good and crisp. Drain and set aside.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add half the squash in as close to a single layer as possible (it should sizzle); season with a bit of salt and pepper. Cook until well-browned (about 2-3 minutes), then turn carefully and continue cooking until tender. Don’t be afraid to them get really charred in some places. Remove from heat and place onto a plate to cool slightly. Set aside. Repeat with remaining squash. Retain saute pan for mushrooms

Add another tablespoon oil to the warm saute pan, lay chanterelles in a single layer and cook, tossing occasionally until softened about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Toss warm squash and chanterelles with chilled scallions, arugula, mint, apple slices, and a good splash each of oil and vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer the tossed salad to a serving plate and top with pumpkin seeds. Serve immediately.

Winter Squash Salad with Apples and Chanterelle Mushrooms

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