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Native flavors: Pueblo Harvest Café menu features ‘diet from 800 years ago’

Re-creating the diet of Native Americans from about 800 years ago is the center of Pueblo Harvest Café’s winter dinner menu.

“I started to do a lot of research on where I could take the menu next,” said David Ruiz, executive chef at Pueblo Harvest Café. “There’s a few Native chefs out there who were doing what we call Native American cuisine, which they were basically creating menus that were pre-contact, pre-colonization of the Spanish. They’re basically bringing back a diet from about 800 years ago. … It’s a naturally gluten-free, paleo-style diet that is very healthy for you.”

Ruiz felt there was a disconnect between the restaurant and the museum, which are in the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. A walk-through of the museum changed that.

“The stories that they’re telling in (the museum) reflect the stories that we’re telling on our menu,” Ruiz said. “We’re bringing this back to a diet hundreds of years ago, which is a very traditional, Native New Mexican and Native American experience.”

The new menu offers six pre-colonization entrees. It also has two pre-colonization desserts: wojapi, which is a berry stew; and a pumpkin pudding created from butternut squash, curry, pumpkin, acorn squash and walnut milk. The entrees and desserts will not feature ingredients introduced after European colonization, including beef, chicken, milk, eggs, cream, refined flours or refined sugars.

“I picked the things that were local to New Mexico as much as I could, so things like yucca, agave, pumpkin, squash, trout, I wanted to pull out of New Mexico as much I could, so I based the menu on our region,” Ruiz said. “You know, New Mexico, West Texas, southern Colorado and eastern Arizona. As we continue to develop the menu, we’ll expand throughout the United States, but for now we want to kind of really highlight this true traditional food, America’s first foods as seen through New Mexican pueblos’ eyes.”

Ingredients will be sourced from pueblos in New Mexico and reservations around the country.

“We are sourcing from not only pueblos here in New Mexico but we’re sourcing from tribes across the United States, which is cool,” Ruiz said. “Some of the stuff we’re getting is not from here in New Mexico, but we’re helping the economies of other tribes. And we have a couple farmers here, a couple of the pueblos here in New Mexico, who are setting plots of land aside for us that will be growing specifically for us this next coming year.”

The Bison Poyha entree is a meatloaf that comes from the Plains tribe. It is bound by corn and cornmeal. It will be served with blue corn dumplings, asparagus and topped with wojapi compote. The Hazique Stew, a traditional Hopi stew, will be made with pork.

“Pork was brought over by the Spanish, but wild hogs did exist, so we are actually making the pork on this one,” Ruiz said. “We’re basically doing a corn broth with cedar, wild sage, carrots and some other herbs and spices and corn. It’s like a corn sage cedar broth, and then we’re doing bean sprouts, piki bread and hominy.”

Mostly seen in the Hopi tribe, piki bread is hundreds of years old. It is made on a heated carved rock and considered sacred.

“Most people won’t talk to you about it,” Ruiz said. “Only women were allowed to make it. … Native women would make like this blue corn batter with juniper ash. They would put it in their hand and spread it from one side to the other side and then obviously the bread would heat up on this rock. … It’s very traditional and very sacred.”

Another entree features a rabbit leg and thigh glazed in maple and served with three sisters calabacitas and manoomin a wild rice that is cultivated as it was 1,000 years ago. The rice is being sourced from a tribe in Minnesota. The seared ruby red trout entree features a fried squash blossom in a prickly pear syrup, wilted spinach and a yam puree. The puree is made by cooking yams in a corn stock and finishing it with duck fat, Ruiz said.