Heritage influences cooking
By Betty Street
Vivian Billy is such an experienced cook that she doesn’t really need to measure ingredients for her recipes. She first considers the size of the main pot she’s using and then adjusts the ratio of ingredients to the pan’s size.
“I don’t use measurements,” she said. “I use my senses and mind and my mood while cooking. Good loving energy is a vital requirement and is my secret.”
Vivian works part-time as an advertising sales representative for the Mobridge Tribune and Reminder. She also attends school full-time at Sitting Bull College and will graduate later this spring with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. And she and fiancé Reuben Fast Horse enjoy a working partnership in which he’s a professional magician and she’s a professional face painter, psychic and tarot card reader and henna applicator.
When Reuben finishes his Lakota Language Educational Action Program (LLEAP), he will be a high school Lakota language teacher.
Vivian has traveled all around the United States, Canada and Mexico. She was born in Oakland, Calif., and lived in Oklahoma, where her mother’s family lives. Vivian worked and went to school in New York City for five years—she and a friend hitch hiked to get there—and immersed herself in several different cultures including Greek, Japanese and Punjab Indian. While in New York, she worked in a Japanese bank and a sushi restaurant and attended the John Jay College of Criminal Justice (not all at the same time). She has lived on and off the Standing Rock Reservation for a total of 15 years.
When talking about family, Vivian’s is widespread. She has two living brothers in California and two sisters in Oklahoma with her mother. Two brothers are deceased, as is her father and a 4-year-old son, Baby Frank Leone White Bull, Jr.
Vivian’s son John White Bull, age 15, lives in Kenel. Her son Charlie LeClair, 20, lives in Mobridge with his wife, Dawn (Otter Robe) LeClair, also 20. They are parents of a 2-year-old daughter, Kai’yah Emiliana LeClair.
Vivian said she learned to cook from her dad’s side of the family. “The only thing I got from my mom’s side of the family was fry bread from my grandma.” She said there’s a secret to making good fry bread; and when asked what it is, she emphasized repeatedly that fry bread dough must not be handled too much. And you have to slice it in the middle when it’s frying, otherwise it gets cooked around the edges and makes a bubble in the middle.
Making fry bread, Vivian said, is very different from making flour tortillas (see below) because you have to knead tortillas and roll them out.
Going back briefly to not measuring ingredients in her recipes, Vivian added, for me it’s “experience and intuition. I’ll pour until it feels right. It’s a sense that I get” when the balance of solids to spices to liquids is perfect. And then she said, “The only thing to mess anything up is an electric stove.” She feels she can best control the heat in a gas or propane stove.
For her funny cooking story, Vivian said, “When cooking Mexican food, I destroy every pot and pan in the kitchen, and get chili sauce all over from floor to ceiling. I do wear aprons for this. I always forget I have capsaicin on my fingers from working with chili peppers and I rub my eyes every time. One hundred percent rate!”
The top of her blender has flown off while making a chili sauce. “Did you know,” she said, that chili sauce stains things?”
A fascinating woman, a colorful storyteller with infectious laughter, Vivian’s Indian-Scots-Irish-Mexican-Italian-Russian heritage has given her a wonderful cooking and life heritage. -
VIVIAN BILLY’S RECIPES
Mix 2 tsp. baking powder with each cup of flour. Cut in 2 Tbs. shortening (never oil or butter) to each cup flour. Add salt to taste. Add warm water slowly until the batter forms a ball. Knead on a floured surface with floured hands. Pinch off a ball of dough (palm-size) and roll into a round tortilla. Do this by flattening ball with palm on floured surface, then roll up then down. Turn it over then roll left then right. Always roll from the center out (that’s the trick). Never roll all the way out. Cook on un-greased surface (cast iron is best, or a “comal”-griddle-type). Turn by hand. Should bubble up before turning. Have to get the hang of it.
1 can chipotles (use 2 or 3 of them)
5 large fresh tomatoes
1 large onion
3 large cloves of garlic
Powdered chicken/Tomato broth ideally, or just chicken broth
3 1/2 lbs. hamburger/ground turkey/ground chicken
1 c. or to taste dried chopped onions or onion soup mix
1 small can diced mild or hot green chiles
3 Tbsp. rosemary or to taste
1 1/2 c. cooked rice
3 raw eggs
Broth: Boil fresh tomatoes, onions and whole garlic cloves until skin just peels from tomatoes. Blend in a blender with 2 or 3 chipotles and just a bit of boiled water. Pour into a large pot and add powdered chicken/tomato broth or just chicken broth. This meal is supposed to be soupy.
Meatballs: Brown meat with dried chopped onions or onion soup mix, green chiles and rosemary. Strain excess fat and combine with boiled rice and raw eggs. Roll into meatballs (measure diameter by touching thumb to forefinger, or making the OK sign—that’s what I do). Make a tight meatball and roll in flour. Put the meatballs into the soup. Cook for half an hour, or until meatballs are thoroughly cooked.
Serving suggestions: tortilla chips, cilantro, lemon, green onions, radishes.
10 dried chili pods (New Mexico or Ancho)
3 large tomatoes 1 large onion
3 whole garlic cloves
1/2 c. oregano
Powdered chicken/tomato broth or just chicken broth
Pork roast, the biggest one you can find
2 cans hominy
Boil dried chili pods (without stems), tomatoes, onion, whole garlic cloves and oregano until tomato skins peel. Blend in blender. In a full pot of water, add powdered chicken/tomato broth ideally or just chicken broth and pork roast. Cook 4-6 hours until meat shreds easily. Add hominy. Serve with condiments such as tortilla chips, cilantro, lemons, green onions, radishes, diced jalapenos or green chiles.