Venison Bean Soup from the Wet’suwet’en Culture

Whether you are a newly arrived Canadian or one who has been here for many generations, First Nation traditions surround us all. Living in this beautiful land, we grow to appreciate the sacred place that so many before us have called home.

For many people, unique Aboriginal art is the most prominent and visible aspect of these traditional cultures, but the rich heritage extends far beyond that. Hearty, comforting cuisine has kept First Nations people warm and healthy during the long, cold Canadian winters for thousands of years.

While resources may have been scarce during the colder months, substantial and hearty soups were able to feed and maintain a large, hungry family. These days, we often rely on central heat to keep us warm but we can still learn a thing or two about staying healthy during these chilly winter months from the traditional medicinal recipes of Canada’s Indigenous ancestors.

This soothing and delicious venison bean soup, adapted from Modern Native Feasts by Andrew George (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2013), puts a spin on the classic beef stew. It is often served by the people of the Wet’suwet’en territories in British Columbia in their feast (potlatch) halls. Whether you substitute beef or use venison, it’s hard to beat the comforting power of this dish.

Venison Bean Soup

Makes 4 to 6 servings

1 1/2 lbs          venison or stewing beef, cut into 1/2-inch chunks

1 tsp                kosher salt, plus more if needed

1/2 tsp             freshly ground black pepper, plus more if needed

2 tbsp              extra virgin olive oil, plus more if needed

2                      onions, diced

1                      leek, white and light green parts only, diced

3                      carrots, sliced

2                      stalks celery, sliced

2 tbsp              tomato paste

8 cups              venison or beef broth

1 cup               cooked or drained canned navy beans or kidney beans

3                      sprigs fresh thyme, tied together with kitchen twine

2                      bay leaves

Fresh parsley (optional)

Season the meat all over with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. In a large pot over medium-high heat, add the oil. Add the meat, lightly browning it on each side. Transfer the meat to a plate.

Reduce the heat to medium. Add the onions and leek (and 1 tablespoon of additional oil if required) and cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 minutes. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring continuously, for one minute. Stir in the broth, beans, thyme, bay leaves, and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper.

Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, partially cover the pot, and simmer until the meat is tender, about 60 minutes. Remove the thyme and bay leaves. Taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Garnish with parsley, if desired.