First, I’d like to welcome all of our 401 followers. The three of us-Tia Marta, Amy and, me, Carolyn Niethammer–realize that we write about quirky subjects and we will never attract the numbers of readers as do bloggers who concentrate on such things as chocolate and whipped cream. Here you’ll most likely find foods that hide their goodness beneath spines, spices that tingle on the tongue, plants that have fed humans for thousands of years. We love having you as a community of cooks who love trying wild foods and getting creative with Southwest flavors. We come to you every 10 days with something seasonal and delicious.
It’s getting very warm in our Southwestern desert city and garden plants that don’t like hot weather are giving up. This includes cilantro that has been such a lovely addition to so many foods all winter. But it doesn’t go away entirely. First it flowers, then it leaves tiny balls that when dried we call coriander. Some people call both the fresh herb and the dried coriander, but each of them has a distinct flavor so giving them each their own name seems fair.
Fresh cilantro likes cooler weather in the garden.
After the cilantro leaves dry up, the flowers produce these tiny balls that we call coriander.
Coriander combines beautifully with other Southwestern herbs, giving them a twang, a tiny bit of sweetness, and a depth of flavor that works to meld the other flavors. It is widely used in East Indian dishes. Below is a beginning recipe, but you should feel free to customize it to your own taste. Then you can use it as a rub for pork or chicken, you can add it to sauces that need a little something, use it while stir-frying veggies, and even just use it as a dipping spice for pita bread or fat flour tortillas.
Southwestern Spice Rub
Go very light on the salt or it can overwhelm the other flavors. Taste the blend without the salt first; you may decide you don’t need it.
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon chile powder of choice
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed (optional)
pinch of salt (optional)
Combine all herbs and flavorings. Taste and adjust. Use as a rub or a dipping spice.
Put a small puddle of good olive oil on a plate, dip your pita in the oil and then your coriander spice mix. Delicious!
Delicious Cholla buds (ciolim)–aka Cylindropuntia versicolor–a desert staple, are plump and ready to harvest into early May. Don’t delay! Gather them with thanks before they open.
Tia Marta here to inspire you with another way to go out and appreciate our beautiful and bountiful desert!
Step 1–Harvest your Cholla
Cholla buds can be picked carefully using any tongs, here being plucked with traditional O’odham wa:wo “chop-sticks.” (MABurgess photo)
Step 2–De-spine cholla buds.
Step 3— Simmer 15-20 minutes. When softened and done, you can use them in a variety of dishes.
Today it’s Cholla Bud Quiche in 9 easy steps!
Step 4a–Preheat oven to 375F.
Step 4b—Make your crust:
Sift dry ingredients then mix together:
1 cup white Sonora wheat flour
1 tsp sea salt
3/4 cup amaranth flour
1/4 cup mesquite flour
6-8 Tbsp cold water
Form into ball by hand.
Roll out on floured board.
Finish crust by lifting rolled dough using the rolling pin, slipping rolled dough up and into pyrex pie dish.
Pinch dough along the edge to create a “bowl” or dike to hold the custard mix.
Line the pie shell with egg white.
Lay three layers of quiche surprises:
-a layer of grated cheddar or other favorite cheese
-a layer of cooked cholla buds to fully cover the cheese and crust floor
-a sprinkle of broken crisp bacon (optional)
Make the custard mix with:
4 beaten eggs
1/4-1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp I’itoi’s onions or chives (optional)
2 cups scalded milk
Pour custard mix into pie shell over cholla buds.
Caution: As you harvest your cholla buds do be on the lookout for spines and critters!
Soon you will be able to sign up for online classes in desert harvesting at Tucson’s Mission Garden. Check out www.missiongarden.org or contact the program coordinator.
As for ingredients, you can find dried cholla buds, white Sonora wheatberries for milling, and fresh eggs all at the Mission Garden entrance, Wednesdays-Saturdays 8am-12noon. Mission Garden is making plans for two important events–the San Ysidro Fiesta celebrating the White Sonora Wheat Harvest Saturday May 15, and a mesquite pod milling event TBA.
Hello! Amy here playing with the cholla buds I just harvested! NOW is the time to harvest and our own Tia Marta is teaching a workshop THURSDAY, April 22 on Earth Day! Register here.
The unopened flower buds of the cholla cactus are a real favorite, and one annual harvest I collect every year no matter how busy life gets. It is a very narrow harvesting window, usually in April, depending on the year and elevation. Simply bush off the spines with a bouquet of creosote or bursage, pluck with tongs and boil in water for 5 minutes. They taste tart with a slightest hint of internal texture like nopalitos. But that doesn’t convey how delicious they are.
Plentiful in the desert, harvesting does not hinder its reproduction, which is usually from “cuttings”. But this is the first year my backyard had enough to harvest! Grown with no irrigation at all, it is totally sustainable, low maintenance agriculture. Plus beautiful in the yard!
There are countless ways to enjoy cholla buds, but yesterday I snuck them in Chinese curry pastries, a treat I remember from childhood, from the tiny Chinese bakery that was near my house.
I started with ground beef, onion and garlic. Of course, mixed veggies could be used instead.
Then I added beautiful Tucson CSA carrots and Chinese curry powder. I’m sure any curry powder would work perfectly.
I had some young foothills palo verde seeds from last spring in the freezer. I blanched the harvest and stashed for another day. Learn more about them here.
The delicious, sweet immature seeds taste like young green peas…and also take as much work to shell as green peas.
The filling complete, I folded a spoonful into premade puff pastry.
Gilding with beaten egg is essential to make them look like how I remember them at Lai Wah bakery.
After a few minutes in the oven, it smelled unbelievable.
I can hardly wait to make them for my sister and brother.
Spring finds Southern Arizona desert communities deep in citrus of all kinds. Our grapefruit tree died but I never lack for grapefruit because there are so many productive trees in Tucson owned by people who either don’t like grapefruit or have way more than they can use. This recipe also uses poppy seeds that I grow in my garden. I planted some years ago and do harvest the seeds carefully, but once again, there are so many seeds some drop to the ground and carefully wait out the summer heat to reappear the next winter.
Grapefruits are abundant now in desert communities.
The desert Southwest is awash in citrus every spring. This includes oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and little fruits such as calamondins. Many folks who have a grapefruit tree in their yard find they have way too many, either because they don’t like them or the trees have produced way more than they care to eat. Iskashitaa, a nonprofit that organizes refugees and local citizens into harvest groups, gathers the unwanted fruit and distributes it to those in need or those willing to pay for it. This year has seen a really bountiful harvest.
Zeru, from Eritrea, an Iskashitaa volunteer, is thrilled with this one-day harvest of grapefruit and lemons.
Our grapefruit tree died and our replacement tree hasn’t gotten organized yet to produce fruit, but the two grapefruit lovers in our household have been blessed by gifts from our neighbor and the Iskashitaa bounty.
This recipe for Grapefruit Poppy Seed Bread gets a little crunch from tiny poppy seeds. I grow my own in my garden. I don’t even have to sow them anymore. Plenty of seeds spill when we’re harvesting them and by January they are coming up in the lettuce garden. They destroy the tidy look of the lettuce in rows, but I can’t bear to pull them out, so by now the garden is messy with poppies, nasturtiums, and lettuce somewhere down under everything.
Oriental poppies produce thousands of tiny seeds and self-sow easily. Those round objects are the seed pods and when they dry, it is easy to shake out the seeds. Always some fall to the ground and nestle there until they decide to grow the following winter.
This Grapefruit Poppy Seed Bread has a sweet fruity flavor but it’s hard to detect that it is actually grapefruit. So if you aren’t that keen on grapefruit, this might be a good way to use up some fruit.
Some tips before we get to the recipe. I always line my pans with parchment baking paper or foil to help get the loaves out in one piece. This particular bread seems very tender when it first comes out so the lining is important.
Here’s a picture of poking the bread with a skewer to let the syrup penetrate the bread easier.
Use a skewer, a toothpick, or even a fork to make holes to allow the glaze to penetrate.
And the beautiful finished bread. This is what you are aiming for.
Finished grapefruit bread with drizzled glaze
Grapefruit Poppy Seed Bread
1 cup butter, softened
1-2/3 cups sugar, divided
3 large eggs, room temperature
3/4 cup yogurt
3 tablespoons poppy seeds
¼ cup grated grapefruit zest
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon grapefruit zest
Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter and 1-1/3 cups sugar until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in yogurt, poppy seeds, grapefruit zest and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into creamed mixture.
Transfer to a greased 9×5-in. loaf pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 55-65 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl microsafe bowl, mix grapefruit juice, 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest, and remaining sugar. Microwave for 1 minute to make a simple syrup. Set aside.
Remove bread from oven. Immediately poke holes in bread with a fork; slowly pour juice mixture over bread. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. The bread is very tender at this point. The cooling in the pan is a necessary step.
In a small bowl, mix glaze ingredients. Carefully remove bread from pan and set on a wire rack and continue to cool; drizzle glaze over bread.
A few pieces of grapefruit bread make a lovely breakfast or a treat when hunger gnaws in the afternoon.
I’m thrilled to announce that my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage has won two awards. It was named a Top Pick in the Southwest Books of the Year list and also won a PubWest award for design. The latter was particularly satisfying because it honored Leigh McDonald and Sara Thaxton who did the extremely complex layout that makes the book so visually stunning. It was as if they entered my brain and executed exactly what I had been hoping for. Order your copy from your local book store, from Native Seeds/SEARCH, or on-line.
Do you remember the old gradeschool song “Hot Cross Buns–Hot Cross Buns…”? It refers to a traditional Easter-time holiday bread served in many English-speaking countries. Variations of similar festive sweet citron breads abound on every continent.
Tia Marta here to share this old favorite with a Southwest twist–not your typical Easter bread, but indeed a celebration of desert foods and an adaptation to local cultures!
When I was young we always had Hot Cross Buns served at this time. I thought they looked like eggs with a cross on top. Traditionally they were made with white flour, and citron in the dough, topped with white crosses.
Now, in my imagination, I’m envisioning how Tucson’s Presidio women of the late 1700s might have prepared celebratory sweet citron buns. They would have used Padre Kino’s white Sonora wheat flour and perhaps citron prepared from orange or sweetlime rinds grown at the original San Augustin Mission Garden by the missionaries. For sweetener, perhaps in place of rare sugar or honey, maybe they used syrup made by neighboring Tohono O’odham harvesters from mesquite pods or agave heart, or maybe molasses from African sorghum introduced in the San Augustin garden.
Inspired by these imaginings…. in place of citron I used my candied citrus rind from Tucson’s Mission Garden sweetlimes and Meyer lemon (see my post from Nov.2020). Then I got crazy and added bits and pieces of dried saguaro cuñ (pronounced choon) frozen from last summer’s harvest. For the dough, I made a mix of white Sonora wheat and amaranth flour. For the glaze cross, instead of standard milk-glaze I used prickly pear juice (frozen from squeezed tunas last August) as the liquid to make a glorious pink instead of white design. I enjoy making yeast breads and this one is relatively quick.
RECIPE–Muff’s Sonoran Desert Hot Cross Buns
Here’s what you will need:
1) little bowl for the sweetener mix
2) big mixing bowl for the sifted flour and dough prep
3) small sauce pan to scald the milk
4) greased baking sheet
5) little bowl for making glaze
2 Tbsp warm water (105-115F)
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
For sweet additions: ¼ cup agave nectar (or mesquite syrup), ¼ cup dried saguaro fruit with seeds– cuñ (or desert hackberries), ¼ tsp ground cinnamon OR ManoYMetate Adobo Mole powder mix, 2 Tbsp finely chopped citrus rind from your favorite local citrus (or rind-candy)
For liquid mixture: 1 cup milk to scald, 1 additional Tbsp agave nectar or sugar, 2 Tbsp butter, 1/4 tsp sea salt, 1 lg egg
For flour mixture: 1 cup white Sonora wheat flour, 1 cup bread flour, and 2/3 cup amaranth flour (OR 2 cups white Sonora wheat flour and 2/3 cup amaranth flour)
For glaze: 1/2 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar, 2 tsp prickly pear juice or syrup, and 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Directions: In a large (warm) mixing bowl, put 2 Tablespoons warm water (105-115F)
Sprinkle 1 Tablespoon or 1 package of active dry yeast. Agitate and stir with wooden spoon then let stand to activate.
In a small bowl separately to make the “citron” sweetener, mix: agave “nectar” syrup, dry saguaro fruit, cinnamon or Mole Adobo, and chopped citrus rind.
Into a large bowl, sift flour mixture.
In the small saucepan, scald milk, then stir in 1 T agave nectar, butter and salt, then pour into mixing bowl to semi-cool. Beat in egg. (Next step with this liquid mixture….)
For dough: Gradually mix flour into liquid mixture. Mix the sweet ingredient mixture into the dough. Cover dough bowl with tea towel and put in warm place to rise to double in size (ca.35-50 minutes). Turn dough out on a floured board to knead several strokes. With buttery fingers, form dough into balls. Place dough balls (about 18 of them) on a greased cookie sheet to rise again covered, until doubled in size. If desired, brush dough with melted butter. Preheat oven to 425F while dough is rising.
When dough balls have risen, bake 15-18 minutes until golden brown. While buns are baking, make your glaze: Mix sifted confectioners’ sugar with prickly pear juice and vanilla to a thick creamy texture. When buns are still warm, apply glaze in a cross across the tops, or another design of spring’s rebirth.
Hopefully this colorful recipe and its ideas might inspire you—indeed liberate you!— to take your own favorite recipes and use wild desert foods and heirlooms in place of commercial ingredients where they easily fit. Happy experimenting with desert ingredients!
Ideas–There will be a harvest celebration at Mission Garden in May of Padre Kino’s white Sonora wheat–not to miss! Find White Sonora Wheat-berries available for milling (or for planting next fall) at Tucson’s Mission Garden and NativeSeedsSEARCH grown organically by Marana’s BKWFarms. Milled flour is sometimes available fresh from Barrio Bread. Amaranth flour is available from Bob’s Red Mill or Natural Grocers. For prickly pear juice, make plans to harvest tunas next August when ripe, or try Cherie’s Desert Harvest’s syrup.
Good morning, friends! Amy here playing in the kitchen, not a recipe in sight. With an idea to make empanadas, I started with dry corn masa meal (aka Maseca, Minsa). I don’t know where to get organic in small quantities, but I have it on hand that I use as an ingredient in Mano Y Metate mole powders. It is a starchy flour corn treated with lime and used for tortillas and tamales.
I added a pinch of salt and enough warm water to make a soft dough.
Then I kneaded in a splash more water to make a smoother dough.
It’s important to let the dough rest for the corn rehydrate.
For a filling, I made some Pipian Picante. Made with Santa Cruz Hot Red Chile, it’s only medium spicy. It’s only picante compared to the original Pipian Rojo made with Santa Cruz Mild Red Chile. My latest way to make mole powder into a sauce is to put the unmeasured quantity of mole powder into the pan, then add oil slowly until it looks like a paste consistency.
After cooking the paste, I added turkey broth and cooked turkey. Of course you could use veggie broth and a combination of whole cooked beans or vegetables you like.
I wanted a thick sauce that would not leak out of the empanadas.
Now that my dough had rested, I took a small bit and formed a ball. I placed it on sheet of plastic grocery bag, cut open and flattened to the counter. (If you wanted to put fun additions in to the masa, now would be the time.)
I folded the bag over the ball, sandwiching it between layers of plastic. Then I pressed the ball with a dinner plate.
Most plates have little rim on the bottom which makes for a uniform disk in a good thickness!
My guide is to add just less filling that it seems will fit.
After crimping the edges, I transferred to a hot, dry cast iron comal, flat side down.
For extra insurance against raw dough near the interior, I covered with a lid to steam a bit.
If it was still doughy, my backup plan was to fry after or instead of dry cooking. But I didn’t need to do that, it was totally cooked and delicious.
It seems like a miracle that the filling squeezes out when bitten but not before. And that I didn’t need to fry. That was so much easier than I thought and really good. Here’s wishing you fun in the kitchen and Spring miracles all around!
Crispy, salty broccoli chips are low calorie, and high nutrition and satisfaction.
For my winter garden, I always buy broccoli plants rather than growing my own from seed. This year, my little four-pack included a strange variety. One was a typical broccoli plant and the others were odd but fun variants, including a Romanesco.
The variants have huge leaves. I was going to chop them up for compost or give them to a friend with chickens, but then I decided having committed inputs like water and fertilizers, I should get some benefit. A quick internet scan introduced me to broccoli chips.
First step is to tear them into chip-sized pieces, put them in a bowl and drizzle just a tiny bit of olive oil on them. Just a tiny bit and rub it all over.
Then lay the pieces on a sheet pan and sprinkle with salt or seasoning. Go for a Southwest flavor with red chile, chipotle, or cumin with the salt but use a light hand. The spoon is there to give you an idea of the size. I lined my pan with foil because the pans are new and I don’t want them stained like my old pans.
Bake in a 350 degree F. oven for about 15 minutes. They need to be absolutely dry and crisp or you’ll end up with a mouth full of fiber when you eat them.
Put them out as snacks. They go fast. Every chip comes with lots of fiber and Vitamin A.
I’m thrilled to announce that since my last post my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage has won two awards. It was named a Top Pick in the Southwest Books of the Year list and also won a PubWest award for design. The latter was particularly satisfying because it honored Leigh McDonald and Sara Thaxton who did the extremely complex layout that makes the book so visually stunning. It was as if they entered my brain and executed exactly what I had been hoping for. Order your copy from your local book store, from Native Seeds/SEARCH, or on-line.
Hello friends, Amy here reminiscing about a couple foods I enjoyed as a child. I grew up eating mole with turkey made from Dona Maria mole paste. My grandmother added a few ingredients, like extra chocolate and a little peanut butter, to add sweetness and depth. Its was good but the paste contains unpronounceable ingredients. For my grandmother, it reminded her of eating her mother’s scratch made mole in Aguas Calientes, Mexico. With consultation from my mom, who remembers her grandmother’s mole, I now make Mano Y Metate mole powders with more wholesome ingredients. Cooking dry spices in oil to make a fresh mole paste results in a more vibrant sauce than the premade paste. Plus the cook gets to choose the oil (vegetarian neutral oil, lard, chicken fat, etc.), and that oil does not need preservatives.
As Tia Marta announced last week, curry is in the air! When I was a kid, my sister’s friend’s mom from Japan introduced us to Japanese curry. Apparently the British introduced a westernized Indian curry to Japan in the 1800s, and cooks there made it their own. Sweet and mild, it really tastes like no other curry in the world. Recently, I learned that the spices from the Japanese curry roux bricks I used all these years is available as a powder with no oil, thickener, MSG or anything but the spices!
After consulting many recipes, I started by caramelizing lots of onions and a little garlic in butter.
I then added half as much curry powder as flour to thicken the sauce.
When the flour and spices were moistened by the butter and cooked, I had essentially made the curry paste we always used to buy. To that I added water and ground beef, like I remember my sister’s friend’s mom used. She also used plenty of diced carrots. Tucson CSA carrots are in season now but they are so pretty I left them in coins.
She also used bell pepper and apple, everything cut in tiny pieces or even grating the apple. Potatoes our family added years ago because they were in the photo on the curry paste box. It also makes for a heartier dish, which we often made while camping or backpacking.
As the veggies became tender, I added a few of the fun secret ingredients suggested online to see if I could mimic my taste memory. The suggestions included all manor of sweet and savory condiments, reminiscent of the secret ingredients cooks add to mole for background complexity. I added sake, mirin, soy sauce, miso and honey (Sleeping Frog honey via Tucson CSA). Other suggestions were ketchup, chocolate, coffee, red wine, cheese, yogurt, vanilla, banana, chutney, oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, tonkatsu sauce, etc.
Mine needed chile, so I added Santa Cruz Hot from Tumacacori, a kitchen staple with a bright flavor and amazing color.
As the pot simmered, I tasted. After a little more miso and soy sauce to balance the sweet onions and honey, WOW, it really worked! In fact now that I eat so seasonally, I often don’t purchase the apple and bell pepper, but they made a huge difference to this tasting like my childhood memory.
I ate it with Japanese short grain white rice as my sister’s friend’s mom did.
Ideas for curry are in the air…On an adventurous (pre-Covid19) tour of Morocco last February 2020, as fellow travelers, we befriended a remarkable character, Kip Bergstrom, an enthusiastic foodie who seeks out the absolute “right source” for his gourmet dishes. Diving headlong into Moroccan lamb, he found a local, caring sheep farm (for him Connecticut) and has become online chef for www.wearwoolnewlondon.com!
Curry dishes call for crystallized ginger so my inventive Southwest solution is candied local fruit rinds as “side boys” or toppings!
Tia Marta here to share how Kip’s “LambStand” has inspired me to go local with lamb curry in the Southwest. Being a mindful omnivore, I found Sky Island Brand from the 47-Ranch near Tombstone, AZ, providing lamb at Bisbee and Sierra Vista Farmers’ Markets from their arid-adapted, heritage churro sheep.
My family tradition at Easter has always been to serve lamb roast–then lamb curry soon after, so I’m getting ready. Mom’s favorite touch to complement complex curry flavors was to dress the table with a festive array of toppings all around the main dish–what she called “curry boys” or “side boys.” (Not sure the derivation of this term—like servants long ago around the table offering toppings?) Regardless, these complementary dishes are a visual and gastronomic joy, so I’ve taken it as a fun challenge to create local Southwest curry toppings from local gardens and desert harvests. These flavor combos promise to surprise and delight you in any curry dish–lamb or vegetarian….
In place of regular store-bought toppings called for in typical curry recipes, here are my creative suggestions:
Fresh from the garden, here are ingredients to make Muff’s Chirichurri Mint Sauce.
In place of regular mint sauce, I make a Southwest version of chimichurri sauce:
Muff’s Chimichurri Mint Sauce Recipe:
Ingredients: handful (1/2 Cup) fresh mint leaves from the garden
2 Tbsp chopped I’itoi’s onions (tops and all) from our mini-oasis veggie patch (also available from Mission Garden as starts (or shallots chopped)
3-4 small cloves heirloom garlic (or 2 lg garlic cloves) chopped
2-3 little chiltepin peppers whole (when I can get there before the birds–use sparingly) OR 1/2 tsp chile pepper flakes
1/2-2/3 Cup red wine vinegar,
1 Tbsp olive oil
Optional–up to 1/4 Cup fresh cilantro chopped
Chimichurri Mint Sauce Directions: Blender, chill and serve fresh in a small cruet.
In place of the traditional peanut “side” I like our local bellotas (Emory oak acorn nutmeats) or pinyon pinenuts.
In place of shaved coconut, I purchased jujube fruit from Tucson’s Mission Garden–grown in the Chinese garden section there.
In place of raisins and coconut toppings, try dried jujubes, desert hackberries, or crunchy dried chun (saguaro fruit)!
Chutney is a must as a curry topping! Using a variation on Mom’s recipe, I make a local peach-mango and barrel cactus fruit chutney that should win prizes. You can find a fabulous cactus-with-chia chutneys or barrel cactus seed mustard at BeanTreeFarm ordering online for easy pick-up.
Barrel cactus fruit chutney, garden rosemary-garlic jelly, and Bean-Tree Farm’s barrel cactus mustard make great toppings!
Velvet and screwbean mesquite pods were used in making Tia Marta’s Mesquite/Membrillo Conserve–a great curry garnish!
Another goodie to use as a topping is my mesquite/membrillo conserve that I made using quince fruit (membrillo) from Mission Garden plus a concentrated sweet syrup made by boiling down whole mesquite pods(See last October’s Savor-post.)
With fresh eggs from the Mission Garden “farm” I first boiled then pickled them for another curry complement.
I’m topping off our SW curry meal with Rod’s amazing backyard olives (a future post?), an extra chiltepin hit, then partnering it all with a wee dram of bootleg bacanora mescal.
Your taste buds will be delighted and amazed to discover how all these different flavors blend and complement each other to enhance any curry dish!
In a festive array around the curried lamb centerpiece, the Southwest’s low-desert bounty provides a garland of delectable complementary flavors!
I’m sending thanks to our desert gardens within and beyond the garden wall, for the plenty that our Sonoran Desert provides. Here’s hoping these ideas might inspire you to try your own to dress up a curry dinner– lamb or vegetarian—in whatever habitat you live!
Mesquite Apple Cake is good for breakfast or a healthy dessert. Add dried cranberries for a bit of red for Valentine’s Day.
In my new book A Desert Feast, I write that one of the reasons Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is our long food history–we are eating some of the things people in our desert valley ate thousands of years ago. That includes mesquite pods. We aren’t chewing on the beans or pounding them in a bed rock mortar, but we are using the ground meal in delicious treats. Mesquite pairs well with apples and the warm spices like cinnamon.
This is an easy recipe that comes together quickly and is a good introduction to the mesquite flavor. It works well for a dessert or a sweet breakfast treat. Today I added dried cranberries to give a little bit of red for Valentine’s Day. It’s worth the time to line your baking pan with foil or parchment paper. The bread is fragile when it comes out of the oven but will firm up as it cools. Without the paper you risk it falling apart when you take it out of the oven.
Lining your baking pan with parchment paper or foil helps ease the tender cake out of the pan.
By sprinkling the dry ingredients evenly over the wet batter, you can avoid the step of sifting the dry ingredients together.
Mesquite Apple Bread
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon cardamom (optional)
2/3 cup white sugar
½ cup butter, softened (1 stick)
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup mesquite meal
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
½ cup milk
2 apples, chopped (any kind)
½ cup dried cranberries (optional)
½ cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons milk or cream
Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease or spray a 9×5-inch loaf pan or line with foil or parchment paper and spray with non-stick spray to get out easily for slicing.
Mix brown sugar, cinnamon, and cardamom together in a small bowl. Set aside.
In another medium-sized bowl, beat white sugar and butter together using an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.
Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, until blended in; add in vanilla extract.
Sprinkle flour, mesquite meal, and baking powder over the butter and sugar mixture and lightly combine with a fork. Then stir into the mixture until almost blended. Add milk and stir until all are combined. Stir in dried cranberries if using.
Pour half the batter into the prepared loaf pan; add half the apple mixture, then half the brown sugar/cinnamon mixture. Wet a tablespoon and use the back of it to push the apple mixture into the batter.
Pour the remaining batter over apple layer and top with remaining apple mixture, then the remaining brown sugar/cinnamon mixture. Again, push the apples into the batter.
Using a table knife, swirl brown sugar mixture through apples.
Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center of the loaf comes out clean, approximately 50-60 minutes. Make sure you check the center of the loaf as this is a dense cake and the ends are done before the middle.
To make glaze, mix powdered sugar and milk or cream together until well mixed. Let cool cake for about 15 minutes before drizzling with glaze.
The spikey thing next to the flower is a screwbean mesquite cluster. It is too cute to grind up for meal.
A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage has been named a Top Pick in the Southwest Books of the Year compilation. Order through your favorite bookstore or here from Native Seeds/SEARCH
“Just received this absolute treasure! The wonderful stories and foodways accounts, not to mention local producers, make this an instant heirloom and everyday delight. Every food lover and food historian must get a copy of this marvel!” — John F Swenson