Culinary historian Lois Ellen Frank shares the “magic eight” ingredients Indigenous peoples gave the world in the newly released cookbook Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky.


Culinary historian Dr. Lois Ellen Native American recipes in newly released cookbook Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky.

Santa Fe–based chef Lois Ellen Frank, PhD, is a Native foods historian whose passions overflow from the plate into her educational work with Indigenous communities. This work inspired her August 2023 release, Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients. The book celebrates Native American cuisine through more than 100 recipes centered on eight ingredients — corn, beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, cacao, and vanilla. She shares how these ingredients, which she calls the “magic eight,” have changed world cuisine as we know it. This produce is still the focal point of Indigenous diets and plays an important role in Native American culture. The ingredients are also valuable for anyone seeking to incorporate healthy, plant-based recipes into their life. She teamed with culinary adviser Walter Whitewater (Diné) on this cookbook. He is also her partner in the catering company Red Mesa Cuisine and served in a similar role on Frank’s James Beard Award–winning Foods of the Southwest Indian Nations: Traditional and Contemporary Native American Recipes (Ten Speed Press, 2002).

Here Frank shares about the inspirations and mission behind the new book. Read on for recipes to make at home.

What inspired this book?

Chef Walter and I work with the New Mexico Department of Health and tribal communities. Diabetes is prevalent in Native communities. The question becomes how we can use food as medicine to reverse diabetes or help people to get off medications. Although you have to work with your health professionals, what we found was that people want to eat plants. In mainstream America, there’s also more and more doctors saying to eat plant forward, to eat the rainbow. We started to think about what we could do to help people make traditional [Native American] meals and incorporate more plants into their diet for health and wellness.

Tell us about the “magic eight” — corn, beans, squash, chiles, tomatoes, potatoes, vanilla, and cacao.

These are the eight foods that Native people gave to the world. They make a good foundation for making a cuisine, and they create recipes and menus that are savory, nutritious, and varied so we don’t get in ruts.

It’s fun to be able to educate people on the origins of foods they eat every day and how they changed world cuisine upon their introduction. People will ask, “What do you mean that chiles weren’t in Asian cuisine until the 1500s?” or “What do you mean Britain didn’t have fish and chips — that they only had fish?” I feel really good about bringing that history to light.

What’s an example of a traditional recipe that you modernized for today’s cooks?

Navajo Kneel Down Bread (Nitsidigo’i’) is something that Chef Walter grew up with that’s just made with corn. We provided the traditional version, as well as a fruit version that added apples, golden raisins, and dried currants — all ingredients that are modern, accessible ingredients across Northern New Mexico.

Another is the No Fry Frybread, which deviates from traditional frybread because instead of frying, we grill it. Then we added blue corn to the normal frybread to give it more nutrients, more fiber, and beautiful color. A lot of Natives don’t do well with wheat, so by adding blue corn we make it more readily digestible for people who are more acclimated to eating corn.

What’s your hope with this book?

Our wish is for everybody — all colors, all nations, all ages — to be healthy and well. We hope they incorporate more plants into their diet for wellness but also to honor with respect the lineage of these recipes that have been passed down — acknowledging the richness of this cuisine and these eight plants and how much we revere them. We also hope they make the recipes their own.

The following recipes are excerpted from “Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky: Modern Plant-Based Recipes Using Native American Ingredients” by Lois Ellen Frank. Copyright © 2023. Available from Hachette Go, an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Seed to Plate, Soil to Sky.






Santa Fe New Mexican