I started cooking with the Thíŋpsiŋla / Timpsila / Prairie Turnips, and they are so, so delicious.
I was lucky enough to get invited out near the Standing Rock Reservation by my friend, Native American ethnobotanist Linda Black Elk this past summer, and for two days, I worked hard enjoying the timpsila harvest with them. Thankfully my pale skin survived the prairie sun, and the rattlesnakes. I managed to get two large braids of dried timpsila for two days of good work, and I'm glad I did.
After drying, the prairie turnips are very hard, but with a quick soak in water and long, slow braise, they come back to life like new, and make a great addition to soups and stews, especially those with meat. I really wanted to do the wild tubers justice, so there's no funny business here: I took what Linda's mother in-law Candace told me and put it right to work.
Candace mentioned a bunch of things to do with them, the first being cooking them with bison tripe. Fresh out of bison tripe (I don't know that anyone even sells it) I went to her next suggestion: using them in a soup. The first method she mentioned used wasna (sounds like Wahznaah) or dried bison. I ended up just using stew meat to make it approachable, but I plan on getting around to using wasna in the future.
Speaking of buffalo, it can be hard to find, and even if you find some, it isn't necessarily great. If there's one thing my experience has told me about bison meat, it's that it can be inconsistent. Most commerical purveyors I've dealt with usually source from a collection of farms to ensure consistent supply, but, unfortunately, management practices can differ between farms, which can mean the products can end up tasting different from one another (too much corn, etc) and the meat can be weak flavored and light in color: watery. If I pay the bison price, I want the real deal.
Sustainably Raised, Grass-fed Buffalo
The folks over at Wild Idea Buffalo were kind enough to send me of their Bison just for this, and it's good stuff, in fact, I'd say it's some of the best I've had. The meat is deep garnet and richly flavored as it should be, and the quality of the meat goes hand in hand with their regenerative management practices and prairie restoration--another thing I really appreciate in suppliers. Their company has a great story, and sells a quality product, so if you want to try some great bison, head on over to their website.
The best part of the stew though is the timpsila. After braiding and drying, you'd think they would be rock hard or too tough to eat, but they're not. Like magic, the little tubers rehydrate, doubling in size and cooking up just as if they were fresh. It's really remarkable, and I don't know another food, wild or cultivated, that cooks quite like they do. If that wasn't cool enough, they're just plain delicious. As they cook, the tubers soak up the broth of whatever they're cooking with, and it makes them eat a bit like meat flavored potatoes or vegetables. If you don't have wild onions or buffalo, you can still make a good version of this, but there's really no substitute for the praire turnips.
Bison Stew with Timpsila, Hominy, and Ramps
- 1 lb Venison or bison shoulder neck, or stew meat, cubed
- Cooking oil or lard as needed, a few tablespoons
- 4 oz wild onions ramps, or 1 small yellow onion
- 2.5 oz dried timpsila
- 2 oz dried hominy
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
- Generous pinch dried ramp leaf spice optional
- 2 tablespoons cornflour
- Garnishes like fresh cut chives and or wildflowers optional
Bison and hominy
- The night before cooking (if possible), season the venison all over with salt and pepper. Put the hominy and timpsila in separate containers, then cover both with twice their volume of boiling water.
Assembling and cooking
- The next day, or a few hours later, Remove the timpsila, reserving the liquid, and cut into pieces about the size of the venison. Large timpsila should be cut in half through the tap root, then cut into smaller pieces from there (roughly ⅛ths for large ones) very small timpsila can be cut into rounds or quartered.
- Brown the meat well in a heavy pot, then add the cornmeal, cook until golden, add the onions and cook for 1 minute. Add the hominy and timpsila and soaking water along with the pinch of ramp spice or dried ramp leaves. Add water just to barely cover the ingredients, bring to a simmer, covered on the lowest heat for 1.5 hours or until the meat, timpsila, and hominy are tender.
- The hominy and timpsila will be slightly chewy, this is normal, and delicious.
- Double check the seasoning for salt and pepper, adjust as needed, and consider the body/viscocity of the liquid, if you think you’d like it thicker, toss in another spoonful of cornflour and cook until it tightens up a bit.
- When the stew tastes good to you, ladle into warmed soup bowls, garnish and serve. Like most stews, it improves with time.