I first became aware of Chef Lois Ellen Frank when I watched her cooking demonstration during a Wine and Chile Festival in Santa Fe 25 years ago. She made an exquisite and simple tomato sauce, and the fact that I still remember it so clearly speaks to her profound influence.
Chef Frank, part Kiowa, is a Native food historian, photographer, teacher and culinary anthropologist. You can find her biography, menus and other information on the Red Mesa Cuisine webpage.
We often go with friends to Santa Fe for “Art Feast” in February each year to enjoy a walking tour of the art galleries on Canyon Road. The galleries are paired with fine restaurants and caterers for a special evening to support art education. In 2010 Chef Frank paired with a gallery and served Pinon Chile Beans, which was perfect that night as it was snowing. My husband went for seconds and asked that I make it at home.
‘Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations,’ by Lois Ellen Frank, Ten Speed Press, 2002. Courtesy photo
Chef Frank reminded me that the recipe appears in her book, “Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations,” published by Ten Speed Press in 2002. I made the stew at home, and then at an Earth Day dinner for PEEC as part of the 2010 “Nativo Meal.” Most recently I served it at the reception for the Fuller Lodge Art Show “Canyons, Mesa, Mountains and Skies.” The use of slow-cooked, fresh-crop pinto beans makes a difference in my opinion, but canned beans work, too.
Don’t let the apparent simplicity of the recipe fool you—this dish is notably delicious. Chef Frank notes that the recipe comes from the Begay family on the Diné (Navajo) reservation in Pinon, Arizona. She serves it with warm Indian Frybread or Adobe Bread; I usually pair it with cornbread. The published recipe calls for ground beef; I have always used bison instead. My only other adaptation is to add a bit of chicken stock and/or white wine as necessary during simmering to prevent scorching on the bottom of the pot—there is not much liquid otherwise. The recipe is easily multiplied—just don’t leave the pot unstirred for long.
Pinon Chile Beans
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Sauté the onions until translucent, about 5 minutes, add the bell peppers and sauté another 5 minutes. Add the bison, stir and sauté until brown, about 10 minutes.
Cut tomatoes into eight pieces, add and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Stir in the beans and corn. Bring to a boil, decrease the heat to low, and stir in the chile powder and salt. Let simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Serve hot. Serves 6-8.
Felicia is a local home cook; she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org