Monthly Archives: July 2016

The Best Mesquite Brownies

Carolyn Niethammer with you here today talking about one of my favorite subjects, mesquite meal. The first crop of mesquite pods ripened early this year on the lower desert. Here in Tucson, Desert Harvesters sponsored a milling in June. (A milling is this miraculous process of putting whole pods in a hammermill and getting lovely, silky flour at the end.) Because of the early summer rains, there is a huge second crop of pods ripening on the trees now(see the photo above). If you missed the first round, there will be opportunities to get your pods ground in communities throughout Arizona later in the fall after the weather has dried out.

Dry mesquite pods ready for milling.

Dry mesquite pods ready for milling.

So what to do with all that mesquite meal after you have had your fill of pancakes?

I have been cooking with mesquite pods since the early 1970s and have published in my cookbooks lots of recipes using the ground pods. But until now, I’ve never been completely satisfied with a mesquite brownie recipe. But this one that I made for a potluck at Native Seeds/SEARCH earlier this summer is close to perfect. I used pepitas (hulled pumpkin seeds) because I think the flavor goes well with mesquite, but pecans would work too. If you cannot bear to bake anything without chocolate, feel free to toss in some chocolate chips and maybe a little cocoa powder as well. The familiar warm flavor of mesquite will still come through.

 

The recipe has a considerable amount of fat and sugar, but those are the ingredients that make up what we consider a proper brownie. Just go easy on how many you eat.

If you aren’t up to making your own mesquite meal, you can purchase it from the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store or order on-line from NS/S or Flor de Mayo. Mesquite meal is also available at farmers’ markets throughout Arizona.

Ummm, don't these look good?

Ummm, don’t these look good?

Best Mesquite Brownies

2/3 cup melted butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3/4 cup mesquite meal

2 cups brown sugar

4 eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1- 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt (if using unsalted butter)

1/2 cup pepitas or chopped pecans

2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9×13-inch baking pan. Set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine mesquite meal, flour, baking powder and salt if using. Set aside.
  3. Combine melted butter and oil in a large bowl. Stir in sugar and add eggs, one at a time, combining well after each addition. Stir in vanilla.
  4. Stir in mesquite and flour mixture. Add chocolate chips if using.
  5. Spread batter into the prepared pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. When cool, cut into squares.

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Cooling in the pan, ready to cut into squares.

Mesquite brownies cooling in the pan, ready to cut into squares.

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Want more recipes for mesquite meal? Check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants available at Native Seeds/SEARCH or from Amazon or B&N.  There you’ll find my favorite recipes for Apple-Mesquite Coffee Cake and a killer Banana Mesquite layer cake.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

I can’t eat a whole watermelon!

You got a beautiful watermelon, cut it with anticipation…and it is mushy. Sweet but mealy. Or maybe someone “helped” you harvest melon from the garden before its ready, and it tastes more like a cucumber. Or the only watermelon available at the farmers’ market is the size of your entire refrigerator. You took it to a potluck, but there is so much left.

Amy here this week with aqua de sandía and watermelon gazpacho!

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Trim the green and white parts off the watermelon (or any other melon), mash the fruit in the blender, seeds and all. Liquify. Strain and/or let it sit for a few minutes, allowing the seed bits sink to the bottom. Then it is easy to decant the the liquid off the top.

For aqua de sandía, just serve in a glass over ice with a squeeze of lime and garnish with salt and red chile powder. Or Mano Y Metate Mole Negro powder.

To make this into a meal, I ate it with the rest of my CSA share as gazpacho. I diced the garnishes to make each bowl, even each spoonful, a custom blend to suit each diner or my whim. Sometimes I toss all the would-be garnishes in the blender with the soup. It is fast and perfect for traveling.

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The Armenian cucumbers are huge now, so I removed the seeds and peeled them. If the cucumbers are young, just dice. Also dice green onions, my favorite.

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I also diced  a small red pepper, but any color sweet or hot pepper is perfect. This makes it taste like gazpacho to me, so bought these, from a store! A few tomatoes are best used as a garnish rather than getting pureed in a sea of watermelon. Slices of bread are optional. I have eaten them whole on the side, cubed in the bowl, or blended into the mix. If you have fresh herbs, use them. Nothing is more summery then basil.

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Preserved from a few weeks ago, fermented carrots and radishes and a nice tang and saltiness. To make, simply submerge veggies, ginger and garlic in a brine of 4 cups water to 3 tablespoons salt in a jar. Let sit on the counter for a couple days or until sour, then store in the refrigerator.

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Drizzle with olive oil and plenty of prickly pear or red wine vinegar. Be generous with salt and black pepper. The key to this dish is balancing the sweet melon with salt and sour. Yum!

 

 

Categories: Sonoran Native | 5 Comments

Promise, Preparedness, Present Fulfillment–with Fruits of the Desert

small fishhook Mammillaria microcarpa celebration the monsoon with a promise of future fruitlets (MABurgess photo)

Fishhook Mammillaria microcarpa celebrating the monsoon with a promise of future fruitlets (MABurgess photo)

Crowns of Mammillaria flowers make pink arches like miniature 4th of July fireworks now suddenly visible among desert rocks and under greening bursage.  They are rain celebrations–the PROMISES of fruits to come!  In a few weeks the little fishhook pincushions will sport a crown of shiny red fruitlets.  Keep watch for them.  Known in Sonora as pitayita de raton (little mouse’s pitaya), each long red droplet will give you a sweet tangy zing– like a mini-organpipe-cactus fruit.  Tia Marta here to share ways of enjoying the cornucopia that is beginning to spill out flavorfully all around us in town and out in the desert in this monsoon time.

Late fruiting prickly pear--still green and full of promise

Late fruiting prickly pear–unripe green but full of promise this week (July 8)

Opuntia lendheimeri alba barely turning pink--more promises...

Opuntia lindheimeri alba barely turning pink this week–more promises…(July 8)

Opuntia engelmannii in first stages of ripening...

Opuntia engelmannii in first stages of ripening…not yet (week of July 8)

All around the desert and through every neighborhood, I see the promise of a good prickly pear harvest, inspired by our elongated spring and nurtured by good monsoon rain.  Each prickly pear seems to march to a different drummer.  Right now you can see every shade of color–unripe to ripening tunas–very green, to rosy, to deepening red.  These are PROMISES so don’t jump the gun!  They are not ready quite yet–but this is the signal to get your kitchen PREPARED.  Stay tuned–There will be more blog posts to detail prickly pear ideas in coming weeks.  Make space now in your freezer, and make time on your calendar for the August TUNA HARVEST.

 

Opuntia engelmannii in full ripening fruit--but not ready yet!

Opuntia engelmannii full of ripening fruit–But don’t salivate yet (week of July 8)!  Wait for a dark maroon color to extend all the way to the bottom attachment of the tuna AND through the tuna‘s entire interior before they are fully ripe and ready to eat or cook.

What a glorious monsoon our Sonoran Desert has enjoyed over the last couple of weeks!  The explosion of life in such a short time is astounding on the heels of record-breaking heat and drought.  This is when the desert shows its tropical heritage with a surge of energy, fecundity, productivity.  Isn’t it interesting that the “outsider’s” view of the desert is of hazardous scarcity?  More interesting instead is to understand and appreciate the waves of nutritious plenty that can erupt suddenly here in the Sonoran Desert.  Native People know how to rally, to harvest in the times of plenty and to store short-lived fruits of the desert against lean times–lessons worth exercising.   Plentiful foothills palo verde seeds (Parkinsonia microphylla) are a case in point.

Mature dry pods of foothills paloverde--They have potential for making flour!

Mature dry pods of foothills paloverde–with potential for making nutritious flour!

Foothills palo verde seed milled raw for baking

Foothills palo verde seed milled raw for baking

Seeds of foothills palo verde dry and hard as little stones

Seeds of foothills palo verde– dry and hard as little stones

 

At PRESENT, lasting perhaps through July, there are copious “fruits-of-the-desert” hanging on foothills palo verde trees (aka little-leaf paloverde) covering desert hillsides.  In early June, palo verde pods were offering soft sweetpeas for fresh picking (described in the June13,2015 Savor blog on this site).   Now in July, palo verde pods are rattling with shrunken stone-hard seeds.  When ground, or when toasted and milled, these little dry seeds can produce two fabulous gluten-free flours for adding to baked goods, hot cereal, gravies etc.

Dry foothills palo verde seed milled raw on L, toasted and milled fine in center, toasted coarse-milled on R

Dry foothills palo verde seeds:  milled raw-Left; toasted and milled fine-Center; toasted & coarse-milled-Right

Foothills palo verde seed toasting in a dry iron skillet

Foothills palo verde seed toasting in a dry iron skillet

Oh how I wish that technology could keep up with our needs for scratch, sniff, and taste in this blog!!  The distinctly different flavors and textures of these two flours are so pleasant.  Desert People traditionally parched and ground these seeds in bedrock mortars.  I used a coffee mill to grind them.  The raw flour has a wonderful bean-i-ness bouquet coming through.  Then I toasted (parched) a separate batch of seeds in an un-greased skillet before milling, and WOW the roasty aroma of this gluten-free flour is rich.  I am using it to add flavor –not to mention high protein and complex carbs–to multigrain breads and biscuits.  So FULFILLING!  A friend who tried these different preparations for palo verde flour even wants to use it as a spice or seasoning!

With the monsoon (and with the help of many hummingbird pollinators) has come another edible surprise to my desert garden–octopus cactus fruit–that I just have to share with you:

Stenocereus alamosensis with hummer- and perhaps ant-pollinated flower, June26,2016 (MABurgess photo)

Stenocereus alamosensis with hummer- and perhaps ant-pollinated flower, June26,2016.  Note happy ant on petal.  (MABurgess photo)

Fruit of octopus cactus Stenocereus alamosensis, ripe and splitting July 4, 2016

Fruit of octopus cactus Stenocereus alamosensis, ripe and splitting July 4, 2016 (MABurgess photo)

Sliced octopus cactus fruit on palo chino bowl (MABurgess photo)

Juicy sliced octopus cactus fruit (Stenocereus alamosensis) on palo chino bowl (MABurgess photo)

Years ago I collected seed for it near Alamos, Sonora, and grew it out in Tucson.  Surviving frosty winters, and flowering in previous years, it never bore fruit before.  This year, fertilization happened at last, and voila–there are sensational, gently sweet delicacies to eat right off the cactus.  The fruit’s fresh crispy texture is like watermelon and its seeds are tiny protein crunches.  [Light bulb idea]–With climate change, this flavorful cactus fruit–and others like it–could become an appropriate specialty food to grow locally.

Keep your eyes peeled and prepare for more harvests from the latest new “promises” blooming for multiple times this season in the desert…..Check out these potential edibles:

This is the third bloom of saguaros this season--with pollination may give another fruit harvest

This is the third bloom of saguaros this season–if  pollinated may give yet another fruit harvest

Green swelling Padre Kino fig--watch for preparing heirloom fruit ideas next month….

Green swelling Padre Kino fig–Young trees are available next week at the NSS plant sale!

A new wave of mesquite flowers and green pods promise a second harvest this season.

A new wave of mesquite flowers and green pods promise a second harvest this season.

Don’t miss the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Monsoon Plant Sale this next weekend, Friday-Sunday, July 15-17, 2016!  For your own garden-to-table promises and preparations, check out the many starts of NSS heirloom summer vegetables and monsoon wildflowers.  There will be tomatillo plants, heirloom chile varieties, cucumber, many squash and melon varieties to give your garden a jump-start.  A few 5-gallon  Father Kino fig trees propagated at Mission Garden will be available for sale, so come early.

For well-seasoned ideas for desert cookery, two fabulously useful books continue to inspire:    Tucsonan Sandal English’s cookbook from the 1970’s Fruits of the Desert published by the Arizona Daily Star, and desert-foods aficionado (& Blog-Sister) Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest published by University of Arizona Press.  Borrow or buy, and use them with joy.

I wish you happy harvesting as the desert’s present promises become a cornucopia of fulfilling plenty!

[For anyone seeking heirloom foods and products made with wild foods, check out http://www.flordemayoarts.com and http://www.nativeseeds.org, or visit the Baggesen Family booth at Sunday St Philips farmers market.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Taste. Attention. Independence.

Linda here on this first day of July. How is it July already? Life seems to fly by these days. It feels accelerated. As if life is moving so fast that can I feel  wind on my face; but what is flying by is not in focus.

Ahhh. but food helps with focus.

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As we approach July 4th, I seek another kind of Independence. One where I call my Attention back. Where I feel independent from distraction, whether internal or external. Freer from getting hijacked by some silly or compelling event, or thought, without my even knowing I’ve been taken hostage.

Taste is one way I call my attention back.

More specifically, tasting  food. While eating.

It seems so basic that it feels uncomfortable to even admit it: we forget to notice what is happening inside our very mouths. So often the flavors inside our mouths go unnoticed, even in the act of eating, chewing, and swallowing.

Certain foods have a way of calling us back to flavor and sensation. We find that our mouths are transformed into tiny universes of pleasure.  Like chile. And chocolate. Fresh picked fruit.

Today’s Recipe: Chocolate Chiltepin Mousse.

Ingredients: for 3-4 people.

1/4  cup honey – raw and local if possible.

2 ripe avocado’s

1 ripe banana

Seeds from a vanilla bean or a teaspoon of vanilla.

1/3 cup raw cacao powder.

1-2 crushed chiltepin chiles. Seeds included.

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and blend until you have the consistency you like. If it feels too dense to you add some milk or coconut milk .. almond milk … until you like it. Place in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes to “set”. Add the edible garnishes you like and enjoy.

For Edible Garnish: chocolate chips, or nibs, fresh fruit that you love. Chitlepin if you want more heat. Drizzle honey or add more fruit if you desire sweet.

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raw cacao and avocado in blender

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I like to remember where ingredients come from – honey is strained from wax comb …

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…and both the honey and the peaches in this recipe come from the intimate dance between bees and flowers

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Here you can see a baby nectarine with it’s flower still “on”.

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