Posts Tagged With: Cooking the Wild Southwest

Monsoon Mesquite Bosque Butter

Mature pods of velvet mesquite–ready for monsoon planting  or eating!  (JRMondt photo)

Tia Marta’s 12’x12″ pod net, slit into center on an imaginary radius to wrap around trunk and over understory plants, edged with duct tape on non-selvedge sides (MABurgess photos)

Mesquite pods shaken from tree onto harvesting net

I finished the split center edges of my pod-harvesting net with hems in which to optionally insert saguaro ribs or PVCpipe for easy set-up around a mesquite tree trunk

This past week, at the last hurrah before these wonderful monsoonal rains began, Tia Marta here was out with my handy dandy self-invented pod-harvesting net to bring in some of our Sonoran Desert’s bounty–just in time to avoid the aflatoxin hazard which comes with higher humidity.

Some velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) have a rich raspberry color–Wish you could taste this one–We compete with the wildlife for them. (MABurgess photo)

Plump pods of sweet velvet mesquite, full of pulp for making Bosque Butter. Every tree’s pods have different shapes and tastes.  Be choosy!–collect from the trees with the plumpest and sweetest pods. (MABurgess photo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mesquite orchardist, miller of primo mesquite flour, died June3, 2017

 

With a song of thanks for this desert super-food–and with thankful recollections of some amazing mesquite aficionados–I would like to share one of my favorite mesquite recipes.  This post about mesquite is a tribute to the “gotmesquite guy” Mark Moody who recently passed, and whose fabulous mesquite flour via farmers’ markets and NativeSeeds/SEARCH has fed many a happy desert-foods buff over the years.  (Check out my piece in the online EdibleBajaArizona for more about Mark.)

Mesquite “Bosque Butter” and “Bosque Sauce” a la Tia Marta

This delectable recipe for Mesquite Bosque (pronounced boss’kay) Butter was inspired by a crack team of Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Docents in the 1970s -80s who assisted in our first Mesquite Harvesting Workshops, possibly the first ever done in English.  In particular I’m honoring the memories of docents Mike and Jean Mentus, Gerry Dennison, and Linda Stillman, who helped me invent this condiment and teach Museum members about it.

This recipe uses the whole dry pods freshly harvested–not milled meal (although you could enhance it with extra mesquite meal if you desire.)

RECIPE for Muff’s “MESQUITE BOSQUE BUTTER”:

You will need:  3 bowls(2 for straining, 1 for compostable fiber), 2 stirring spoons, tasting spoon, 1-2 colanders, 1 lg. saucepan for stovetop or solar oven, cheesecloth, electric mixer with pulse setting (Your grandmother’s osterizer is fine.)

Ingredients:

Approx. 2 qts mesquite pods, clean, mature, dry (preferably fresh off the tree)

Approx. 1 quart drinking water

2 pk sure-jell (or other fruit pectin, ca.3.5oz.)

¼ C sugar (or honey optional) [Sugar helps set the gel.]

½ C raw organic agave nectar

1-2 tsp ground cinnamon

1 T butter (optional)

juice of 4 Mexican limes (or 2 lemons)

Washed pods, covered with drinking water, set in solar oven to cook (MABurgess photo)

Directions:

 1) Rinse mesquite pods until thoroughly clean of desert dust, and drain them.

2) Place pods in large saucepan with enough drinking water to cover. Add more water if 1qt is not enough to cover pods.

3) Simmer pods 30-40 minutes until fully softened. Softening time differs with dryness of pods.

4) Water will be sweet.  Through a colander over a bowl, drain pods, reserving ALL the liquid.

Cooked pods and reserved liquid being blendered

Check bottom of blender to remove all fiber from blade with each handful

Cooked, blendered pods draining thru cheesecloth in colander

5) In blender, whirl softened pods–handful by handful, each handful with ¼ cup of the reserved liquid– with gentle pulses, 8-10 short pulses max for each handful of pods.

6) Into a cheesecloth-lined colander over a bowl, hand-remove the entire loosened juice, pulp, seed, and fiber mass after each handful.  Check blender blades each time to prevent burnout of motor, as pod fibers can easily bind up the works!

7) In the colander over the bowl, drain as much of the blendered pulpy liquid from the fiber as possible, pressing, squeezing, twisting it out with cheesecloth.  You might extract more if you squeeze the cheesecloth after each handful is poured from the blender.

Squeezing cooked, blendered pods thru cheesecloth to extract pulpy liquid

After adding all other ingredients,, boil the sweet pulpy liquid

8) Transfer the strained pulpy liquid to a saucepan.  Bring it to a boil.  Add lime/lemon juice, sugar, agave nectar, cinnamon, pectin, and butter, stirring all in smoothly.

9) The liquid mixture must be cooked down to concentrate it.  Simmer 30-45 minutes to desired texture or thickness.

10) Funnel the mixture into jars.  Cool down; refrigerate when cool.

If it thickens it will be a delicious spread–like apple-butter.  If it does not gel it will be a fabulous mesquite syrup or sauce over pancakes, waffles, or ice cream!  If your mix has more liquid than pulp, when it thickens it can even be served as a very rich yummy pudding.

Mesquite Bosque Butter on buckwheat pancake–delish!

However it comes out, you will be enjoying the health benefits of mesquite’s complex carbohydrates and its unforgettable sweet and natural taste!  (Don’t forget to compost the leftover seeds and fiber—good nutrients for soil building.  Or, feed it to the birds in your “back forty.”)

Plan NOW and prep for future mesquite harvests!  Why not plant you own trees and enjoy their shade, their life-giving oxygen–and their nutritious food!  In the coolth of morning start digging a tree hole where you want future shade.  Monsoon time is a good time to plant, and there are Monsoon Plant Sales happening right now.  Three mesquite species are native to our Southwest region:  Velvet (Prosopis velutina), Honey mesquite (P. glandulosa), and Screwbean mesquite (P.pubescens).  All three make fabulous pod meal but the best for Bosque Butter are Velvet and Honey, as their pods can be plump and full of high-carb pulp.  For the most local varieties of mesquite visit Desert Survivors Nursery (desertsurvivors.org).   The Tohono Chul Park’s Monsoon Madness Plant Sale Friday-Saturday, July 28-29, 2017, will have several expert local growers represented (www.tohonochul.org).  NativeSeeds/SEARCH has mesquite meal in stock and expects the most recent local harvest to be available soon.  (NSS’s Monsoon Plant Sale is Fri-Sun, July 28-30, for monsoon gardening plants, http://www.nativeseeds.org).

Happy harvesting–happy tree-planting–y buen provecho! de Tia Marta.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wild Rhubarb Rises Again!

Wild rhubarb is emerging again this month from its hidden storage roots, dotting arroyo-banks and sandy places with green rosettes of leaves and colorful raspberry-pink stalks (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb is emerging again this month from its hidden storage roots, dotting arroyo-banks and sandy places with green rosettes of leaves and colorful raspberry-pink stalks (MABurgess photo)

It’s an unusual winter season when Canaigre (also known by many other names:  Wild Rhubarb, Desert Dock,  Hiwidchuls in O’odham language, Latin name Rumex hymenosepalus) creeps up out of its sandy hiding places to bloom and seed before spring weather gets too warm.  When conditions are right, it can dot the desert floor in early spring with its floppy leathery leaves and pink stalks similar to domestic rhubarb.  This recent cool season Nov.2016-Jan.2017, with its period of penetrating rains, has been the right trigger for awakening canaigre.  Right now it’s time to attune our vision to finding it!  If the weather heats up rapidly, as happened in the last couple of springs, its tender leaf rosettes will dry and crinkle leaving a brown organic “shadow” of itself on the sand, its stored life safely underground in fat roots.  Tia Marta here to share some experiences with canaigre or wild rhubarb.

Wild rhubarb dug out of sandy soil showing multiple tuberous roots and young leaves (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb dug out of sandy soil showing multiple tuberous roots and young leaves (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb storage roots (JRMondt photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb storage roots (JRMondt photo)

Canaigre isn’t just everywhere in the desert.  It’s elusive.  It usually likes sandy loose soil, like the flood plains of our desert rivers in Baja Arizona and Sonora, along major arroyo banks, and on pockets of ancient sand dunes.  Where you see one you usually see many.

Wild rhubarb on sandy soil in Paradox Valley, western CO (JRMondt photo)

Wild rhubarb on sandy soil in Paradox Valley, western CO (JRMondt photo)

Wild rhubarb emerging in ancient dune soil, Avra Valley , southern AZ (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb emerging in ancient dune soil, Avra Valley , southern AZ (MABurgess photo)

My late friend and mentor, Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil, would take me to her favorite harvesting grounds at the right time each February and March to collect the rosy stalks–if they had emerged.  Over the last 40 years, with deep regret, frustration and anguish, I’ve seen her special “harvesting gardens” go under the blade as development turned wild rhubarb habitat into apartments, golf courses, and strip malls.  Hopefully our Arizona Native Plant Society (www.AZNPS.com) will be able to advocate for setting aside some remaining sites on public lands, similar to the BLM Chiltepin Reserve at Rock Corral Canyon in the Atascosa Mountains.  Where wild rhubarb was once super-plentiful, they and their habitats are now greatly diminished, even threatened.

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Botanical illustration of wild rhubarb from Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, U.NewMexico Press (drawing by Mimi Kamp)

Botanical illustration of wild rhubarb from Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West by Michael Moore, U.NewMexico Press (drawing by Mimi Kamp)

Details of the parts of the plant that Juanita traditionally harvested are shown in Mimi Kamp’s sketch.  Contrary to some ethnographic reports, Juanita did not use the leaf petioles for food; she harvested the flower stalks, i.e. the stems, leaving the leaves to make more food for the plants to store for the next season.  Traditional knowledge is so attuned to Nature.  Hers was an awareness of the plant’s needs balanced with her own appetite.  Other reports of traditional use of wild rhubarb mention cooking the leaves after leaching/steaming out the oxalic acid from them which is not healthy to eat.

Juanita would also dig deeply into the sandy soil directly under an unusually large, robust hiwidchuls to harvest one or more (up to maybe 1/4 of the tubers) to use as medicine.  I recall her digging a big purplish tuber the size of an oblong sweet potato at a depth of 2 1/2 feet on the floodplain of the Rio Santa Cruz where ball parks now prevent any hiwidchuls growth at all.  She would dry it and powder it to use later on scrapes to staunch bleeding.  Her hiwidchuls harvesting dress was dotted with rosy brown patches of color dyed from the juice splashed on the cloth when she cut the tubers into slices for drying. (See Jacqueline Soule’s post on this blog from 2014, also Michael Moore’s Medicinal Plants books, for alternate uses.)

Wild rhubarb flower stalk close-up (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb flower stalk close-up  with buds and flowers  typical of buckwheats (MABurgess photo)

Canaigre/wild rhubarb is in the buckwheat family sporting clusters of little flowers that produce winged seeds.  Their papery membranes help catch the wind for flying to new planting grounds.  The green celery-like flower stalk or stem turns pink or raspberry-tinted as it matures.  That was when Juanita would cut the stem at its base to use for her hiwidchuls pas-tild, wild rhubarb pie!

Wild rhubarb stalk with colorful immature seeds forming (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk with colorful immature seeds forming (MABurgess photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb's membranous seeds (MABurgess photo)

Close-up of wild rhubarb’s membranous seeds (MABurgess photo)

In a good year, Juanita would harvest literally bundles of hiwidchuls stalks and we would set to work baking.  Her pies were sweet and tangy.  Here is what she would roughly put together in her off the cuff recipe.  But almost any rhubarb pie recipe should work with the wild rhubarb.  You can find great info on Southwest Native uses of canaigre in Blog-Sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book American Indian Food and Lore.

Juanita’s approximate Hiwidchuls Pas-tird RECIPE

Ingredients:

ca 4-6 cups chopped young wild rhubarb stems

1/4-1/2 cup white Sonora wheat flour

2-3 Tbsp butter

ca 2 cups sugar

pie crust–2 layers for top and bottom, or bottom crust and top lattice crust (A good variation is mesquite flour added to your crusts)

Directions:  Prep stems ahead.  Preheat oven to 450 F.  Chop young rhubarb stems in 1/2 inch cuts.  Stems are full of vascular bundles and can become very fibrous as stems become fully mature, so youthful stems are best.  (Be warned:  One year we harvested a little too late and our pies were so “chewy” with fiber that we had to eat our pies outside in order to be able to easily “spit out the quids.”)  Cook hiwidchuls chopped pieces in a small amount of water until tender.  Add in sugar, butter and flour and cook until mixture is thickening.  Pour mixture into your pie crust.  Cover with top pie crust and pierce for steam escape, or cover with lattice crust.  Begin baking in hot oven (at 450F) then reduce heat to medium oven (350F) for 45-50 minutes or until crust is golden brown and juice is bubbling through lattice or steam holes.  Enjoy it hot or cold!

 

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb stalk ready to harvest (MABurgess photo)

Now let’s head out into the desert washes to see if there are more stands of hiwidchuls popping up out of the ground, making solar food to keep themselves and other creatures alive and well!   Let’s get ready to be collecting their seeds (which also were used traditionally by Native People as food) in order to propagate and multiply them, adding them to our gardens for future late winter shows of color, good food and good medicine.  Happy gardening and eating from Tia Marta and traditional knowledge shared!

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Dye, dye plant, Edible Landscape Plant, medicinal plant, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

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

Everybody Cooks Desert Wild Plants

It’s Carolyn Niethammer with you this April Friday, my favorite time of year when the Sonoran Desert is bursting with life. The rains weren’t as heavy as El Niño had promised, but there was enough moisture so that our arid-adapted plants could produce a colorful and abundant spring. When I was a young reporter for the Arizona Daily Star we used to have a feature called “Everybody Cooks.” I loved going out into the community and talking to good cooks from all walks of life — Mexican nanas, musicians, business owners, Jewish homemakers — about what they made for holidays and everyday family meals. I recalled those good times earlier this month at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Arid Abundance Potluck.

People arrived at the Arid Abundance Potluck with so many creative uses of the delicacies of a Sonoran desert spring that I just had to document the event.

Chad Borseth shows off his cholla bud appetizer.

Chad Borseth shows off his cholla bud appetizer.

Chad Borseth, the manager of the NS/S retail store, started us out with a cholla bud appetizer. There’s an old joke about how a cook made chicken soup in 1880. It starts: first you catch the chicken. This is sort of like that. You do have to harvest, clean (meaning remove the thorns) and dry the cholla buds. Or you can go the the NS/S store and buy some already cleaned and dried. Chad boiled the dried cholla buds for about 45 minutes, drained them and then chilled them in white balsamic vinegar overnight. When he was ready to serve them at the potluck he cut  each of them in half and arranged them on a plate and drizzled them with prickly pear syrup. Toothpicks are handy for picking up the delicious little morsels.

 

 

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Nancy Reid serves up  her rich and delicious  Green Chile-Cholla Bud Quiche

Nancy Reid, a retail associate at the NS/S store,  brought a green chile and cholla bud quiche that she had modified from a recipe in a wonderful but out-of-print NS/S cookbook. She began by melting a tablespoon of butter in the bottom of an 8-inch round pan. In a bowl, she beat 4 eggs. Then she added 3/4 cup cooked cholla buds, 3/4 cup chopped green chiles, 1 cup of cottage cheese, 2 cups of shredded colby/jack cheese, and a little salt. It went in the oven at 325 degrees F. for 40 minutes.

 

 

 

Laura Neff with her salsa.

Laura Neff , NS/S retail associate, with her salsa.

 

 

What’s a southwestern meal without salsa? Laura Neff’s version includes 1/2 cup dried cholla buds boiled for 45 minutes and drained, 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup diced red onion, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1-2 finely minced jalapenos, and 1 tablespoon of lime juice. She combined everything except the cholla buds in a food processor. The cholla buds were chopped by hand and added  at the end.

 

 

 

My friend Connie Lauth wasn’t at the potluck but she made this gorgeous quiche recently for company. Connie lives on the desert at the very end of a road into the Tucson Mountains. While Chad and Laura used dried and reconstituted cholla buds, Connie just walked out her door and picked some fresh ones. She used nopalitos from Food City but by now there are plenty of fresh, new-growth prickly pear pads ready for harvest.

Nopalito-Cholla Bud Quiche

Connie’s Nopalito-Cholla Bud Quiche

Here’s Connie’s recipe:

Connie’s Desert Pie

1 cup of cholla buds

1 cup of nopalitos

½ cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

4 large eggs

1/2 cup milk,

1 ½ teaspoons pico de gallo seasoning

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro

1 frozen deep dish pie shell

1 cup shredded Mexican cheese

Dethorn cholla buds by holding them with tongs and burning them off over a gas stove.. Rinse. Microwave in a covered dish on high for 4 minutes.

Cut gathered or purchased nopalitos into 1/4-inch dice. Microwave with red bell peppers for about 4 minutes.  In a bowl, beat eggs and milk, add seasonings.  Layer egg mixture with vegetables and cheese in the pie shell. Bake at 400 degrees about 40 minutes until a knife inserted in center comes out clean

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If  you are inspired to try your hand at more desert gathering and cooking, my book Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicous Recipes for Desert Plants can be your guide to 23 easily recognized, gathered and cooked  desert edibles.  If you want to harvest some nopales (prickly pear pads), you can find lots of recipes in The Prickly Pear Cookbook. Both books  are available in the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store at 3061  N. Campbell or on their website. The books are also available from Amazon and B&N.

 

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Oh Yum! Tasty Mesquite Meal Enhances Pie Crust and Waffles

Bodie Robins offers a selection of delicious gluten-free baked goods at farmers markets in Tucson and Sierra Vista.

Bodie Robins offers a selection of delicious gluten-free baked goods at farmers markets in Tucson and Sierra Vista.

For thousands of years, mesquite pods were the primary food of people who lived on the Sonoran Desert. It’s Carolyn here today recalling that when I first started researching and experimenting with mesquite in 1972, hardly anybody was eating this sweet nutritious food. Although a few Tohono O’odham kept up with the old ways, it was on the verge of being forgotten.

Until recently,  it wasn’t easy to process mesquite pods. Early Native women made mesquite meal by pounding the pods in bedrock mortars. By the 1970s it hadn’t gotten much easier. But fortunately for all of us someone (I recall it was at the Desert Museum) figured that the pods could be crushed and sifted by a hammermill, a common piece of farm equipment. After some years, Desert Harvesters took up the challenge and offered to grind the pods of all comers for a modest fee. Getting a beautiful, smooth tasty flour was now easy. And the world of mesquite baking opened up.

Mesquite crust adds extra deliciousness to Big Skye's fruit pies.

Mesquite crust adds extra deliciousness to Big Skye’s sweet potato and fruit pies.

Bodie Robins of Big Skye Bakers is one of the folks who have brought mesquite baking into the twenty-first century selling mesquite baked goods at farmers’ markets in Tucson and Sierra Vista.

Bodie, an architectural designer, began baking with mesquite as therapy in 2008 when construction took a dive with the recession. His first experiment produced some dog biscuits that he shared with his neighbors. He decided there might be a future in mesquite baking when his neighbors admitted they were eating the dog biscuits themselves. With salsa!

Bodie took his product to a farmers’ market. But it turns out not enough people were willing to pay for high-end mesquite dog biscuits (many dogs are willing to just chew the pods, unbaked), so he began to experiment with other baked goods, trying various combinations of flours until he produced a version he liked.

Today he sells pies with mesquite crust, cookies, and cupcakes. Many of his customers are attracted by the gluten-free nature of Bodie’s mesquite pie crust. One very grateful middle-aged customer was thrilled to find a pie crust he could eat and told Bodie he hadn’t been able to eat pie since he was 15 years old.

Bodie entices his customers with a little table setting at his farmers market booth. Personally, I'm ready to dig right in.

Bodie entices his customers with a little table setting at his farmers market booth. Personally, I’m ready to dig right in.

A perfect loaf of gluten-free bread eluded Bodie until recently when extensive experimenting has finally led to a mixture of mesquite meal, brown rice flour, tapioca and sweet potato flour that turns out a delicious loaf.

“My customers are particular about the foods they buy and eat,” he says .  “They like to learn about mesquite. There’s a romance to it – an arts and crafts movement about food. I get everything from savvy young college kids to the elderly.”

Bodie gathers the mesquite pods he uses himself and has them ground at the Baja Arizona mill at the Sierra Vista farmers’ market. He goes through up to 200 pounds a year and if he runs out, he can grind a few pounds in his Vitamix. He produces his goods in his home kitchen under the home baker cottage industry law.

You can find Bodie and his Big Skye specialty baked goods at the Rillito Farmers’ Market in Tucson on Sunday mornings from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and at the Sierra Vista Farmers’ Market on Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m

Here’s a delicious recipe for waffles that Bodie developed. This recipe includes wheat flour, but if you are gluten sensitive, experiment with some other flours to find a mixture that works for you.

Mesquite waffles make a delicious breakfast or lunch.

Mesquite-Pecan waffles make a delicious breakfast or lunch.

Cinnamon-Pecan Mesquite Waffles

Ingredients

2 eggs separated

2 1/2 cups milk

¼ cup olive oil

1 cup all-purpose flour

½ cup whole-wheat flour

½ cup mesquite meal

1 cup finely chopped pecans

1 tablespoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

Directions

  1. Lightly oil and pre heat waffle iron.
  2. Separate eggs reserving the whites in a bowl and set aside. In another bowl mix egg yolks, milk and oil.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients together
  4. Add liquids to dry ingredients. Gently mix until smooth.
  5. Beat the egg whites until stiff.
  6. Fold in the egg whites to the waffle mix.
  7. Place 1/2 cup of batter onto hot waffle iron. Close lid. Bake until golden Repeat with remaining batter.

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Want more mesquite recipies? Check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. You can buy it at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Store at 3061 North Campbell Avenue, in Tucson, or order it off the NSS website or from Barnes&Noble. If you need mesquite flour, buy it from Martha Burgess’s Flor de Mayo stand at the St. Phillip’s Farmers’ Market in Tucson on Sundays or order it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Black Teparies Make a Come-Back!

Rich black teary beans dried, ready to hydrate for cooking

Rich black tepary beans dried, ready to hydrate for cooking

In some light they are a dull charcoal difficult to spot if the pods shatter onto the ground. Sometimes they appear shiny black or opalescent. Somehow black teparies appear to have an antiquity about them–mysteriously harking back to a time rich in prehistory. Tia Marta here to tell you a little about the black tepary bean’s odyssey back into cultivation and into the cooking pots of Southwesterners once again.

Shiny black teparies close up

Shiny black teparies close up

Back in 1912, before WWI and the rapid plunge the “remote” Southwest unavoidably took into East-Coast food fads, there was a crop survey done of the many types of tepary beans being grown and used by different Native American families and communities throughout the Borderlands. The diversity at that time was astounding—some 40+ different colors, forms, sizes, speckles, of tepary beans were reported. Within about a decade there remained only a couple of dominant tepary colors—“red” (an orangy-brown) and white. [For more history, check out Volume 5, No.1 of Desert Plants Journal published by the University of Arizona CALS. Specifically this issue is devoted to tepary beans, and includes an article by yours truly.]

The neat thing about cultivars that are still genetically close to their wild ancestors is that they still contain a diversity of genes that can “pop out” occasionally as visibly different seeds. In the case of the teparies, every so often in a harvest of white teparies, for example, there may turn up a few coral pink, or blue speckled, or even black beans. At the University of Arizona’s Maricopa Experimental Farm, an amazing crop researcher, Mike Sheedy, was, for several years growing teparies to isolate some of these genetic “sports”. He used assistance from his kids (In farming, child labor rules just can’t apply) to help pick out the odd-ball seeds from hundreds of pounds of harvested teparies. Over the years, he grew the separated colors in isolation from each other to preserve color purity. Before research funds ran out he had “re-created” an ancient lineage of black teparies—i.e. he has assisted the ancient genes to come again to the fore, to bring the “invisible” genotype back into the “visible” phenotypes. At termination of his research project he generously donated the black tepary collection to the traditional Pima farming family of Ramona and Terry Button.

Native Black Tepary Beans & Flor de Mayo 1-lb pkg

Native Black Tepary Beans & Flor de Mayo 1-lb pkg

Now—tah-dah!—at last black teparies are in agricultural production on ancestral lands! The public can purchase these little food gems of antiquity now at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store (3061 N Campbell Ave, Tucson) www.nativeseeds.org , at the Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday St Philips Farmers Market www.flordemayoarts.com , or online via www.ramonafarms.com.

S-Chuuk Bavi from Ramona Farms

Black teparies are very different in taste from the red or white teparies—although all teparies are much richer than their more distant cousins like the common bean, lima or black-eye pea. Black tepary, schkug ba:wĭ of the Tohono and Akimel O’odham, is the deepest, nuttiest of all, with an earthy bouquet and a slightly bitter after-note reminiscent of coffee. Well, you will just have to try your own taste buds on them!

The public will have an exciting opportunity to taste black teparies prepared by none other than our beloved Tucson Chef Janos Wilder (of Downtown Kitchen fame) at the upcoming Farm to Table Picnic feast at Mission Garden, Sunday afternoon, October 18, 4-6:30pm. Janos is not letting on what his special black tepary recipe will be, but we can be sure it’ll be sensational. [The picnic is by pre-registration only so buy your tickets soon! Online purchase is via the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace site www.tucsonsbirthplace.org.]

Potted blooming chiltepin plant for edible landscaping

Potted blooming chiltepin plant for edible landscaping

All of the heirloom foods served at the Farm to Table Picnic are being grown (even as I write) locally in Baja Arizona, either at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH Conservation Farm in Patagonia, or at the Mission Garden itself, or by sponsoring farmers and ranchers such as BKWFarmsInc, the 47-Ranch, and Ramona Farms. Some of Tucson’s best chefs are donating their skill and time to prepare different dishes for us. It will be a great opportunity to put the fun in fundraising for two worthy local non-profits, to share the delicious tastes of our heirloom foods of the Borderlands, and to share community joy in what we are able to produce together locally.

For adventuresome cooks, dessert addicts, and chocoholics, I would like to share two variations on brownies made with—yes, you guessed it—black tepary beans! You will not believe how yummy these are.

Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne on cooling rack

Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne on cooling rack

 

First, cooking black teparies (as with all teparies) takes some time—and premeditation.  The day before you want to use them, sort, wash, and pre-soak your black teparies. I hit them with a quick boil and let them sit overnight to hydrate slowly. Change the water the next day, adding fresh drinking water. Simmer until soft (it may take 2-3 hours on stovetop or 4-6 in crockpot). You want them beyond al dente in order to puree them in a blender or CuisinArt for the following recipes.

 

Muff’s Gluten-free Black Tepary Bean Brownies-Cockaigne

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked and pureed black tepary beans

1 stick butter= ¼ lb= ½ cup butter

5 Tbsp dark 100% cocoa powder, unsweetened (1 oz.)

¼ tsp sea salt

1 cup organic cane sugar

1 cup loose organic brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla extract

4 eggs well-beaten

¼- ½ cup nutmeats (I use pinyon nuts to keep the Southwest theme)

Directions for Muff’s Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease an 8×8” baking dish and place a wax paper cut to fit the bottom of pan. Melt butter (preferably in top of double boiler). Stir in thoroughly 5 Tbsp dark unsweetened cocoa powder. Let the mixture cool. Add sugars and sea salt to mixture and beat until creamy. Add vanilla. Beat 4 eggs and add to mixture stirring until uniform in color. Add 1 cup pureed black teparies and hand-mix. Pour batter into greased bake pan. Sprinkle top of batter with pinyones or other nutmeats. Bake 45-50 minutes until it tests done with toothpick.   Cool pan on a rack. Cut in small squares to serve because it is so rich and moist. Enjoy their delicious flavors AND the healthy qualities of high protein/high complex carb teparies, protein-rich eggs, and the benefits of dark chocolate!

Gluten-free black tepary brownie-cockaigne ready to eat

Gluten-free Black Tepary Brownie-Cockaigne ready to eat–wheat-free, light, nutritious and delicious!

My next black tepary brownie recipe was first inspired by food-writer and “Blog-sister” Carolyn Niethammer’s recipe found in her book Cooking the Wild Southwest (p.133)–a must-have in every SW cook’s kitchen shelf. Here I’ve made some interesting gastronomic additions…including the use of our fantastic local heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour, crushed wild chiltepines, and Mano y Metate’s fresh-ground Mole Dulce powder produced by our local Molera herself, Amy Valdes Schwemm.

 

“Hot-Dam”* Black Tepary Brownie Bars [*in the best sense of the expression]

Ingredients:

5 Tbsp unsweetened 100% cocoa powder

½ stick (1/4 cup) melted butter

¾ cup organic cane sugar

¾ cup org brown sugar, not-packed

2 eggs, beaten

2 tsp vanilla extract

¾ cup pureed cooked black teparies

¾ cup organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour**

3 or 4+ crushed wild chiltepin peppers*** (number depends on your desired picante level)

¼ tsp sea salt

1-2 Tbsp Mano y Metate ground Mole Dulce powder

2 Tbsp raw pinyon nutmeats

Adding White Sonora Wheat flour and crushed chiltepin to molten chocolate mixture

Adding White Sonora Wheat flour and crushed chiltepin to molten chocolate mixture

** Freshly milled White Sonora Wheat is available at our Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday’s St Philips farmers market (www.foodinroot.com). Call ahead for quantities larger than 1 kilo—520-907-9471.

***whole wild-harvested Chiltepines are available at the NSS Store, 3061 N Campbell, and at Flor de Mayo booth, Sunday St Philips farmers mkt. Chiltepin plants to grow can be purchased at NSS plant sales.

Flavors to guild the lily--Wild chiltepin peppers, ironwood bear molinillo grinder, and Mole Dulce powder

Flavors to guild the lily–Wild chiltepin peppers, ironwood bear molinillo chiltepin grinder, and Mole Dulce powder (all available at NSS store and Flor de Mayo at St Philips farmers market)

 

 

Directions for “Hot-dam” Black Tepary Brownie Bars:

Pre-heat oven to 325F. Grease 8×8” baking pan with wax paper set in bottom. Melt butter and mix powdered cocoa in thoroughly. Add the brown sugar and organic white sugar and vanilla to the butter and cocoa, and beat. Beat 2 eggs and stir thoroughly into the choc/sugar mixture. Wisk in ¾ cup pureed black teparies. Sift together: ¾ C white Sonora wheat flour, ¼ tsp sea salt, and the well-crushed chiltepin peppers. Stir dry ingredients into liquid mixture. Add pinyon nutmeats. Pour batter into bake-pan. Sprinkle 1-2 Tbsp of Mole Dulce powder on top of the batter. Bake 25 minutes or until it tests done (when fingerprint pressed on top springs back). When cooled, cut into small bite-size squares to be served with hors d’oeuvre picks—you will see why…..(and don’t rub your eyes after eating.)

"Hot-dam" Black Tepary Brownies ready to enjoy!

“Hot-dam” Black Tepary Brownies ready to enjoy!

 

 

Tia Marta is hoping you enjoy these fruits and flavors of the Sonoran Desert assisted by fruits of tropical North America—a marriage made in dessert-Heaven! With every bite we should be thanking ancient tepary farmers, and the recent ones who have brought back the Black Tepary from near genetic-oblivion.

 

 

Coming this week to Tucson is a food event not to miss: the Farmer to Chef Connection, this Wednesday, September 16, at Tucson Community Center, 12:00noon-5:30pm, sponsored by LocalFirstArizona. Google their site for tickets and come enjoy a smorgasbord of local tastes.

Also be sure to mark your calendar for October 18 and join NativeSeeds/SEARCH and Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace at the very heart of Tucson’s Birthplace –the Mission Garden at the base of A-Mountain—for the first-ever outdoor Farm to Table Picnic. It will be a feast to remember. Make reservations now and we’ll see you there for fun, flavor, history and friendship!

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

You Say Purslane, I Say Verdolagas

Purslane just sprigs so far due to late rains at my house.

Purslane is  just sprigs so far this year due to late rains at my house.

Here's how it should look once we get some more rain.

Here’s how it should look once we get some more rain.

If you’ve had any decent monsoon rain by now, you may have a vitamin powerhouse coming up in your yard.  Purslane, also called verdolagas, grows in many Southwest backyards in the summer.  It prefers rich, recently turned soils so look for it under your rose bushes or in a flower garden. It has small fleshly leaves about the size of a fingernail, pinkish stems, and grows close to the ground.  I have only a small patch this year where a small rain barrel spilled over. There should be more, but rains have been skimpy in our part of downtown Tucson.

It’s sad but true that right now people are out in their yards pulling these plants out and tossing them in the garbage (or compost for the more enlightened). They should be tossing them in the wok (see recipe below.) Purslane provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. It’s also rich in vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus. One cup of cooked purslane has 25 milligrams (20 percent of the recommended daily intake) of vitamin C.

Especially important to those of us eating a modern diet, purslane is very high in an essential omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Omega-3s are a class of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. Your body cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, so you must get them from food. Certain fibers also help in controlling blood sugar.

Sometimes all this talk of nutrition can turn people off  — you might be saying “OK, but what does it taste like?” Delicious, actually. There are lots of ways to use purslane. The mild lemony flavor goes with everything. Purslane can be eaten raw chopped in salads or sautéed . Add it to a stew.   Or toss it in the blender when making a green smoothie and it will add body as well as vitamins.

There’s something else, too. Something beyond just the vitamins that come from eating plants from your own yard. It’s a connection to the land you live on, the seasonal treat that Mother Nature has provided. By eating with the season, you become more than a mere spectator to life’s cycle. You think about these tiny seeds that wait for the rain, then manage to live as the sun beats down with 100-degree fury. And there’s the connection to past generations of people who lived here and ate these plants–a connection that broccoli will never give you.

My friend Roni Rivera-Ashford taught me to put a bowl under the colander and catch the water you use to rinse the purslane. You will find lots of very tiny black seeds in the water.  Botanists tell us that a single purslane plant can produce up to 200,000 seeds. Pour that water with the seeds on a potted plant and you’ll have purslane next year.

Since it’s free and (usually) abundant, why not try some?  Here’s the classic prepartion cooked up in Mexican kitchens every summer.

To prepare the purslane, first chop and sauté  some onion and garlic in a little oil.  When the onion is translucent, add the purslane.

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Next, toss in some chopped fresh tomatoes.

IMG_0881At this point you can eat it, maybe with a little cheese on top. Or to make a heartier meal, saute some small bits of chicken. Now you’ve got a great side dish. Or how about filling for some enchiladas.

Dip the tortilla in chile sauce, add some purslane and roll.

Dip the tortilla in chile sauce, add some purslane and roll.

My favorite is tostadas. Yum!

IMG_0884

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Interested in more ideas for using the wild foods of the Southwest?  Check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest  where you’ll find recipes for 23 delicious wild plants, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook with lots of recipes for both the prickly pear fruit and pads.   Here’s a little video with ideas for other local wild plants to add novelty and nutrition to your diet.

Categories: Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 6 Comments

April Brings Nopales

Grilled Chicken with Nopalito and Pineapple Salsa

Grilled Chicken with Nopalito and Pineapple Salsa (from The Prickly Pear Cookbook)

If it’s April, it’s time to gather nopales here on the Sonoran Desert. Carolyn here today tempting you to read further with this photo of a delicious salsa made with nopalitos. (Definition of nopalito: a nopal, or cactus pad, cut into little pieces).  At the bottom of the post, I’m going to give you the recipe and a video of how to turn a cactus pad into a yummy taco.

The many varieties of prickly pear put out their new growth when the spring warms up. All prickly pear pads are edible (meaning they not only won’t kill you but in this case are very nutritious), but they are only appropriate for food when they are new. After about six weeks, they develop a fibrous infrastructure. The easiest kind to prepare are the pads from the large Mexican variety of prickly pear that do not grow wild this far north. They are called Ficus indica or sometimes Burbank because Luther Burbank did some breeding work on them. The wild cactus pads are also delicious, but harder to prepare because of the abundance of spines.  You can do a rough estimate of when a pad is ready to pick if it is about the size of your hand. The nopales available in Mexican grocery stores are grown by farmers who know how to manipulate the plant to keep fresh pads coming year ’round.

Pick nopales in the spring when the size of your hand.

Pick nopales in the spring when the size of your hand.

To prepare the nopales, you’ll use  tongs, of course, and then don rubber kitchen gloves to protect your hands as you get rid of the stickers. You don’t need industrial strength gloves, just good quality ones from the grocery store will do. Using a common steak knife, scrape vigorously against the growth (from outer edge to stem) to remove the stickers.

Scrape the thorns vigorously in the direction of the stem.

Scrape the thorns vigorously in the direction of the stem.

The edge has lots of stickers so just trim it off.

IMG_0196At this point, you can cut it into small pieces to cook or leave it whole and cut it up later. You can cook them in a frying pan filmed with oil, or use the Rick Bayless method (he of TV show fame) and toss them with a little oil, sprinkle with sale, put on a cookie sheet and roast in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes.  In any case, you should check them and turn them over as they cook.

Cut into small pieces to cook.

Cut into small pieces to cook.

The nopales will turn from bright green to a more olive color as they cook. The gummy sap that some people find objectionable will dry up and become less noticeable.

The cooked nopalitos turn from bright green to olive.

The cooked nopalitos turn from bright green to olive.

You can also cook nopales on the barbecue alongside some chicken to make a delicious taco. This video ( find it at the bottom of the magazine article) shows you how to clean the nopal and grill it.  Take a look here.

Here’s the recipe for the sauce in the picture at the top of the blog:

Grilled Chicken  with Nopalito and Pineapple Salsa

(Makes 4 servings)

This is good to serve as a light entrée with rice and a vegetable.  It is also great as a stuffing for fresh flour tortillas topped with shredded lettuce.

1 raw, cleaned prickly pear pad

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 cup canned crushed pineapple packed in it’s own juice

¼ cup finely chopped red bell pepper

¼ cup thinly sliced green onions, including some tops

1 tablespoons canned green chiles

1 finely minced serrano chile (optional)

½ teaspoon finely minced garlic

2 tablespoons lime juice

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro (optional)

4 large boneless chicken breasts

Cut prickly pear pad in 1 ½ inch squares.  Film a heavy frying pan with the oil and add the prickly pear pads.  Cook over low heat, turning occasionally, until pieces have given up much of their juice and are slightly brown. Remove from pan, cool, and chop into pieces as wide as a matchstick and about ¼-inch long.

Transfer to medium bowl.  Add remaining ingredients, stir to combine and set aside for flavors to mingle.

Grill chicken breasts until done. Slice each one crosswise into five or six pieces and arrange each on a plate.  Put a portion of the salsa on top of  or beside the chicken.

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Want more recipes for the bountiful crop of nopales we’ll have this year?  Check out The Prickly Pear Cookbook and Cooking the Wild Southwest.  You can flip through The Prickly Pear Cookbook here. Both books are available locally at Native Seeds/SEARCH on Campbell or from on-line booksellers.

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mesquite Gingerfolk for Christmas

Mesquite Gingerfolk are tasty treats for the holidays.

Mesquite Gingerfolk are tasty treats for the holidays.

It’s Carolyn today sharing one of my favorite holiday recipes. The flavor of mesquite meal blends nicely with the warm spices we like in the winter.  These Mesquite Ginger Folk are pretty cute and they taste wonderful.  I used good quality margarine rather than butter or Crisco because I like the eventual texture and the flavor is good. This recipe makes a spicy cookie. If you want more of the mesquite flavor to come through, cut down on the spices. The dough must be well chilled before you roll it out, so this is a two-step recipe: mixing first, then later rolling and baking.

Mesquite Ginger Folk (makes about 3 1/2 dozen rolled cookies)

In a medium bowl, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour,  1/2 cup mesquite meal, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 teaspoon allspice, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper.  Stir and fluff with a fork and then set aside.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer to beat 1 1/2 sticks margarine  with 1/2 cup packed brown sugar until fluffy. Beat in 2/3 cup molasses and one large egg. Then gradually add the flour mixture to make a stiff dough. You may need to give up the mixer for a wooden spoon.  Divide the dough into two thick disks and wrap each in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until chilled, about three hours.

When you are ready to bake, take one disk from the refrigerator .   You’ll want the dough just warm enough to roll without cracking.  While you are waiting, preheat the oven to 350 F. and put out brown paper or wire racks to receive the baked cookies. You’ll also need lots of flour to keep the dough from sticking when rolled.  So get a small bowl of flour, take part of the disk, and roll it in the flour before you roll out with the rolling pin.

Roll a ball of dough in the flour.

Roll a ball of dough in the flour.

Roll out the dough about 1/8-inch thick on flour-dusted surface. Cut out the cookies and transfer them to the cookie sheet, placing them 1 inch apart. Gently knead the scraps together and roll out again.  When you fill one cookie sheet, bake it for about 10 – 12 minutes while you prepare another sheet.

This cutter gives a nice uni-sex cookie.

This cutter gives a nice uni-sex cookie.

If you wish, you can use raisins and dried cranberries to make eyes, a mouth and buttons.  Chop the dried fruit into tiny pieces.

IMG_0413

Sometimes it is difficult to position those tiny pieces on the cookies. But remember those tweezers you keep in the kitchen to deal with cactus stickers?  Perfect for placing the eyes and buttons.

IMG_0408

To further decorate the cookies, perhaps make some shoes or pants, mix up some white frosting using powered sugar, a little butter and a few drops of milk.  If you have a decorator bag, use it to pipe out some decorations or just draw the decorations with a flat-end toothpick.  Either way, you’ll love your Mesquite Ginger Folk and you’ll love sharing them.

If you’d like to make some mesquite cookies but can’t face the cutting and decorating, you can use the same recipe to make drop cookies. Frost if you have time.

Mesquite Ginger Cookies in simple form.

Mesquite Ginger Cookies in simple form.

If you have not harvested your own mesquite meal, here are a few places to purchase it:  The Flor de Mayo Table at Sunday St. Phillips Farmers Market; the Native Seeds/SEARCH store at 3061 N. Campbell Ave. and http://www.nativeseeds.org for mail order; and the San Xavier Farm Store, http://www.sanxavierfarm.org.  If you are in Phoenix, check the farmers markets there.

For more great mesquite recipes, check out my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. You’ll learn how to make Mesquite Apple Coffeecake, a fabulous rolled cake with mesquite and coconut, a a dozen other delicious recipes.


 

 

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

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