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Happy Native American Day!

By Wolfgang Puck, Tribune Media Services on

It can sometimes seem a long way from Labor Day to Halloween. During that two-month-long stretch, it can feel like not much is happening in the form of those nonreligious, nationally celebrated holidays that give us a good reason to celebrate by cooking something special.

Sure, we've got Columbus Day coming in just over a week. That Italian-American celebration certainly allows everyone the opportunity to indulge in pasta or pizza if they like.

But I've just recently discovered that the season is here for another holiday worth observing. It's one that lovers of all things American, and of good food, can celebrate: Native American Day.

Here in California, where I live, none other than Gov. Ronald Reagan signed an official state resolution in 1968 calling for the holiday to be observed on the fourth Friday of September; and, with the usual speed at which government moves, thirty years later the state legislature made it official. A couple of other states have passed similar measures, and I hope that it's only a matter of time before its observation spreads.

After all, the Indians were the first Americans, the native culture of our continent. And, from my perspective as a chef, there is so much about Native Americans for which I have to be thankful. Without them and the early gathering and cultivation they practiced, we wouldn't have such ingredients as corn, beans, tomatoes, squashes, chili peppers, and various kinds of berries, among other produce. Of course, they hunted and even domesticated turkeys -- which some early American legislators, including Ben Franklin, preferred to name the national bird over the eagle.

So please allow me to suggest that this coming Friday, you celebrate Native American Day with a home-cooked meal featuring your favorite indigenous ingredients. Two of mine, beans and tomatoes, contribute their special character to my satisfying, colorful, and delicious recipe for a one-dish meal: Pan-Seared Fish Fillets with White Bean Ragout and Cherry Tomato Vinaigrette.

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Though there are three separate elements to this recipe, as the name suggests, each is very simple to prepare. You start out by cooking the beans, which you should first pick through the evening before to remove any stones or debris, and then soak overnight in cold water. Then, as they near the end of cooking, you can quickly stir up the tomato vinaigrette. Finally, you quickly pan-sear the fish fillets in a little olive oil, and assemble the dish just before serving.

The recipe makes a spectacular main course for a casual dinner party or a family supper alike. And, as a bonus, with the garlic and basil it includes you can also feel perfectly confident serving it again a week or so later, for Columbus Day!


Serves 6


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