Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A culinary tour around the world - second stop: Alaska

photo from Ervin Skalamera's awesome Alaska gallery:

 Did I complain about Panamanian food? I must have been a bit muzzy. How could I, with all the beans and maize and tomatoes and all kind of veggies. Alaska on the other hand is a vegan's nightmare. I looked up the index in a cooking book on amazon.com called 'Cooking Alaskan' and I found interesting things like skinning, dressing, and cooking beaver....yeah, well....nope not for me...recipes with salmon, halibut, crabs, moose roast, squirrel fricassee, pickled beaver tail, and lynx steak....again, nope not quite what I want on my plate. Not that I don't like the animals, they are beautiful and awesome .... to watch, but not to eat. Look at them, aren't they majestic and just too wonderful to hunt down and slaughter? How could I ever eat such beauty?


At last I thought maybe a desert, so I looked up Diaxsh  icecream and the Agutuk desert. I don't want to deprive you of their recipes. First the Diaxsh iceream:

"Mix some of the second fall of snow with melted or heated ooligan grease. Beat it up with the hands until it fluffs. Add a bit of sugar to your taste. Pour some blueberries over this and you have Tsimpshean ice cream. This can be frozen and saved for the summer."
So ooligan grease makes it typical Alaskan? What the heck is ooligan grease?? 

Some google time later I found this: 'Ooligan grease is made from a small smelt-like fish that's rich in monounsaturated fat'. Well, a desert doesn't have to be healthy, so monounsaturated fats are survivable, but fish in my ice cream? Thanks, but no thanks, wasabi ice cream is already weird enough for me.

Then just make the Agatuk desert, I thought to myself.

I didn't have to finish reading the recipe, both are btw from Raven's Ruff Stuff And Other Things Native.
"Agutuk or Akutaq or ackutuk or Eskimo ice cream in the past always began with tallow from big game and seal oil as the base for whipping various kinds of berries into a fluffy dessert."

Alaska suddenly became the most undesirable place in the world. Not that I don't like Alaska, maybe I don't like the politics coming from there and the food, but all the rest....just look at the landscape, what is there not to love:

And, probably the most important thing (for me at least) is the absolutely fantastic archaeology. Think only of the recently discovered beautifully preserved artefacts one can find nowadays thanks to Global Warming like this arrowshaft complete with sinew:

Dixon et al. n.d., fig. 6 http://www.nps.gov/akso/akparkscience/climatechange/dixon.pdf

Or all the problems linked to the migration of the first people into the Americas! We still are not sure when exactly and on which routes America was peopled.

Araujo et al. 2008, fig. 1
Mitochondrial DNA analyses differ as to when and what route it happened. According to some Siberian ancestors who came via Beringia was the only DNA input (Nelson et al. 2008) and to others their were different inputs which happened at different migrating events (Volodko et al. 2008). Investigation of parasitic worms in humans suggested rather coastal routes and, since tropical parasites were present in prehistoric humans, a water route from Asia is very likely (Araujo et al. 2008). A similar study looking at the bacteria Heliobacter pylori which lives in our stomach showed that Southamerican Indians had the South-Asian strain of this bacterium, not the Eurasian one (Yamaoka 2009). Also looking at the artefacts leaves us enough puzzles to keep some generations of archaeologists busy. If the only route to America was via Beringia, clovis artefacts from Alaska should be the oldest. However, artefacts from the Alaskan Mesa site or the newly discovered Beringia site Serpentine Hot Springs only showed younger points so far. The oldest one actually being from Mesoamerica and Southamerica (Waters et al. 2007).

But let me go back to the kitchen before I blissfully drown in early American prehistory.

What did I do in the end? I actually found a completely vegan drink, an easily veganizable salad and desert and a -with some effort- a veganizable main dish.

  • Main dish: Alaska salmon tofu with horseradish, walnuts and herbs
  • Salad: Alaska cole slaw
  • Desert: Blueberry buckle
  • Drink:  Alaska tea
You see, no Palin-names in my recipes, someone else had dips on them *hehe*

To imitate the fishy marine flavour I soaked the tofu in lemon juice and wakame algae:

and here the end result, a totally tasty dish, the sauce alone was worth making this recipe (adapted from a recipe from alaskafood.org)

Alaska Tofu with Horseradish, Walnuts, and Herbs

1 block of Tofu (ca. 500 g)
lemon juice from 1 lemon for marinating
wakame for marinating
olive oil for frying
horseradish sauce (I made a oat milk bechamel and added grated horseradish)
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 tablespoon each fresh chives, parsley and tarragon
1 tablespoon good margarine
salt, freshly ground black pepper

Put tofu between a dish towel or kitchen paper and gently squeeze out water. Cut tofu into slices and marinate for a couple of hourse with lemon juice and wakame. Pat dry and turn in cornstarch, then fry in olive oil until tofu becomes a bit crisp.
Meanwhile make a white roux and add horseradish (about 2 -3 inch piece), walnuts, herbs and margarine. Season with salt and pepper. Remove tofu from pan and spread mixture evenly over the tofu fillets.
You can roast it in the oven for a about 5 minutes, but I didn't, it was delicious without this step.

Glenda posted the recipe for an Alaska coleslaw on this webpage and she ate it at a goldmine camp in Alaska, so it has to be authentic. Look at the recipe from that forum. The only difference was that I used fresh cranberries (since I had the opportunity), left out the honey, and used a vegan mayonnaise obviously. For my taste the fresh cranberries were a bit tart, but my husband and son loved them.

The desert was a blueberry buckle. The recipe was based on a recipe from Vegetarian Times. Super yummie, too. This is a photo before it is put in the oven, so you can see the ultimate cinnamon streusel on top of the cake:

and this is after baking, it didn't last long:

The only truely vegan Alaskan recipe, however, was the Alaskan tea. No fish-fats involved and a really recommandable winter drink. You can find the original recipe here.

Alaska Tea

1 cup of dried cranberries
1 cinnamon stick
4 cups of water
juice from 1/2 lemon
juice from 1 orange
1 tablespoon of suger or to taste

Heat up the dried cranberries and the cinnamon stick in the water and let soak for about an hour. Strain and add the lemon and orange juice and the sugar. Reheat until the sugar is completely dissolved. Serve hot.

Makes 4 cups.

I leave you here, and will see you all back in Turkey next week.


  1. Bravo! You worked hard to make a very creative menu. Congratulations on a fun post and a job well done!

  2. I really enjoy the new terms that come to light when you read other people's posts - I'd never heard of a buckle - no wonder the blueberry version didn't last long. I loved Alaska (sssshh - don't tell Pananma) and might see you in Turkey.

  3. What a great menu and beautiful post.

    To answer your question I used regular long grain rice, Carolina. I followed their instructions, but pressed it into the bowl.

  4. @Joan: thanks, yes, it was a difficult delivery :) but a very enjoyable one.

    @Sally: I loved it, too *hehe* it is so enlightening to read other peoples perspectives and approaches to a common aim

    @Norma: Thank you, I really have to try this, I guess a mushroom or veggie filling will go perfectly well with an igloo *ahem*

  5. I'm a fan of tofu, your preparation sounds great.
    Thanks for commenting on my black cod with truffle. I see you are vegetarian/vegan, please stop by again and take a look at the post right before the cod, it is an awesome vegan soup with fragrant soy milk and soba. Very colorful/flavorful, a big hit all around!

  6. What a hard work! I never eat tofu but I have to! you gave me the inspiration! very fun description of alaska too!