A Traditional Recipe for Nopales (Prickly Pear Pads)

Delicious combination of nopales, onions, tomatoes, and chile paste.

Last weekend I gathered with a few friends to reminisce about a time decades ago when we were all just starting out in the world of learning about the food and animals and lifeways of the Southwest. At that time many of the members were working on graduate degrees and others of us had already launched our careers. We  formed an informal group called The Tepary Burrito Society to share our experiences in occasional “seminars” which involved a potluck and sitting cross-legged on somebody’s floor with a plate on our lap. The name Tepary Burrito Society came from the local tepary bean that had almost been lost. We were all most excited about learning how to cultivate teparies and cook with them. ( Tia Marta discussed teparies at length in this post).

Back in our “seminars,” someone would be chosen to present what subject they were working on. By the time of those meetings, I had already published my first cookbook, then called American Indian Food and Lore, now republished as American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest. I had done the research by traveling around the Southwest talking to Native American women and gathering recipes from them. At this weekend’s potluck, my friend Nancy Ferguson surprised us by bringing a recipe from that first cookbook, Beavertail Stew. No beavers are in this dish! The name comes from a nickname for prickly pears because the big flat leaves resemble a beaver’s tail. I haven’t heard that nickname recently, but this book was researched fifty years ago. 

I have always made this dish with fresh nopalitos that I have gathered and cleaned myself or from already cleaned and chopped nopalitos from a Mexican grocery store. Nancy said that she makes them with jarred nopalitos which she rinses before frying them. If you want to use fresh, I give instructions on how to do it in this previous blog post here. 

This spicy dish can be a side dish or a dip for tortilla chips.

Beavertail Stew

(Warning: this dish is spicy. Reduce the hotness by using much less chile paste. Start with a little)

1 cup nopalitos, fresh or jarred

1/4-1/2 cup chopped onion

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 cup chopped fresh tomato or canned 

1 to 2 tablespoons chile paste (I use Santa Cruz chile paste)

2 shakes cumin

1/4 cup shredded chicken or pork (optional)

Heat the oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry the nopalitos and onions until they are slightly crisp. Add the garlic, tomato sauce, chile paste, cumin, and salt. Stir and cook a few minutes until well combined. Add a little water or tomato juice so the mixture can simmer without burning. Stir in the meat if using. Serve with toasted tortillas.


Interested in learning how to gather and prepare edible wild plants of the Southwest? Two cookbooks can guide you. American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest has traditional Native American recipes, some of them very old. These recipes are usually simple. Cooking the Wild Southwest includes more modern recipes for 23 edible wild plants that are easy to gather, easy to recognize and taste good, especially in these recipes. 

Happy Yellow Moon! S-ke:g Oam Maṣad!

April– at last!  The Sonoran Des is in cheer-mode after a long, chilly-wet and wonderful winter-spring!  Our plant neighbors are blessed with deep moisture, so brace yourself as they explode into their glorious garb of yellows. Tia Marta here, inviting you to celebrate a rite of spring with a bow not only to the bunnies and birds but also to buds and beans….

Any rite will be fine. You choose your rite way. Here at Casa Choyita, I have some interesting projects in the works to celebrate spring–both involving cookery but of two different “ilks”:  a creative recipe for heirloom beans and cholla cactus flower buds, plus,  colorful dyes cooked from beans and brittlebush.  Every step of the way we’re honoring the plants with thanks for their varied gifts.

S-cuk mu:ñ c ciolim Frijoles negros con botones de choya–Black beans with cholla buds– by any Borderlands name this combo is delectable. Try my recipe below for a Cubano style. and enjoy! (Dark water from soaking your blackbeans can be saved and used creatively–See explanation below…)

Watch your backyard ciolim (pronounced chee’oh–rlim) closely these next couple of weeks to know when to harvest!

The Sonoran Desert’s staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor) and other cholla species’ flower buds will be swelling daily. Those little succulent prongs you see on the buds are actual cactus leaves! (This is the only time we’re able to see real leaves on cholla and prickly pear.)

Wait til the buds are as fat as they can get before blooming to harvest while still in the bud stage….

….These buds are not quite ready, still swelling…..


…. My O’odham teacher instructed me to check when the first cholla flower opens on a plant. Then you’ll have a comparison to know the maximum size the buds will get on that cactus–Now the buds are ready to harvest!

RECIPE: Tia Marta’s Black Beans with Cholla Buds, Cubano style:

Simmer your fresh despined (or prepped, dried, reconstituted) cholla buds ahead, until they are soft.

Pre-soak beans: Cover black beans in water (3x the amount of beans) and soak for 6-8 hours minimum. Strain and SAVE your darkened water for future dye projects. You can soak beans a second time and strain to derive even more dark dye-water.

In a crock pot or sauce pan add lots of fresh water to your drained beans, then simmer until softened, 1-2 hours or more, checking water level.

Add to the cook pot: 1 cup of sauteed chunks of sweet red bell peppers, 1/2 cup sauteed chopped onion, 1 Tbsp fresh minced garlic, 1 tsp wild oregano, 1 tsp cumin powder or seed, 4 bay leaves, sea salt to taste, 1 Tbsp agave nectar, 1 Tbsp wine vinegar, 1/2 cup cooked and drained cholla buds, chiltepin peppers to taste (sparingly). [These are my preferred herbs and spices. Do try your own variations!]

Simmer all ingredients for another hour until it thickens and flavors meld. Serve over steamed brown rice for a fabulous veggie meal, or serve cold for a savory summer dish.

For a Tohono O’odham Community College art class we had experimented dyeing yarn and cotton with blackbean juice (left, gray/taupe), cochineal insect (center, pink/lavender), and brittlebush (right, yellow).
Later (seen in my chicken basket above for the season) I further experimented with a new medium, eggs! My plant dyes, used cold, actually worked–a warm gray from blackbeans, bright yellow from brittlebush flowers, and deeeeep purple from cochineal!
Here’s my close-up process: I placed boiled white eggs (from Mission Garden’s heirloom chickens) into cochineal dye (left) and brittlebush flower dye (right) to bathe for an hour and–voila!–we had Easter eggs. The dye didn’t even penetrate the shells.
Who knows–My next step may be to make fancy deviled eggs with pickled cholla buds….

S-ke:g Oam Maṣad!--a happy Yellow Moon to desert harvesters and Southwest cooks from Tia Marta! May we all celebrate visually and gastronomically!

Since we have a short window of opportunity for collecting cholla buds this month, you are invited to get a head start by checking more blog posts full of great ideas. Here are some good links:





Spring Grapefruit Salsa

In Tucson the mesquite trees have fresh new leaves and bags of grapefruits are looking for homes. Happy Spring! Amy here using grapefruits a way I learned from my friend and mentor Barbara Rose of Beantree Farm. You can find the original recipe as well as so much other inspiration in a new edition of the Desert Harvesters Cookbook available to preorder now.

Salsa is commonly made with tomatoes or tomatillos, but when fresh tomatoes are months away, grapefruit are plentiful, juicy, sour and pulpy with a hint of sweet. Yum! Start by cutting the stem end and blossom ends of the fruit.

Then cut down the sides to remove the peel, including the pith. Candy the rinds if you like!

With a paring knife, cut along both sides of each segment to release the pulp in wedges. This goes more quickly than it sounds.

I don’t worry about getting every little piece of pulp since I squeeze the juice out of the membranes left behind.

Remove the seeds and drink some of the excess juice. A mix of different colored grapefruit or even oranges is fun. Use what you have!

I’itois bunching onion tops have a unique onion flavor but any color onion will work: bulbous white, red or yellow, green spring onion tops, shallots… whatever you have.

Besides a smashed clove of garlic, a splash of cooking oil (any kind), a pinch of salt, and rubbed Mexican oregano, the not so secret ingredient is crushed chiltepin! Use as few or many as you like. Allow the salsa flavors of blend and the chiltepin and oregano to rehydrate.

Wanting something to go with the salsa, I made tostadas. Sautéed onion and cooked pink beans are a great base.

Mashed beans stick to tostadas better.

Fry corn tortillas in oil until crispy. In order to not set off the smoke detector, frying outside is the best, especially in beautiful spring weather.

Lettuce or most any green or sprout can all liven up tostadas. Wild mustard greens, like arugula, add a peppery bite.

Assemble and enjoy outside!

Seville Whole Orange Cupcakes

Five dozen Seville orange cupcakes ready for transport to the Mission Garden Citrus Fest.

This is citrus season in the desert Southwest. All varieties of citrus can be found on trees in backyards, orchards, public gardens, 
college campuses and even street sides. It is a wonderful abundance.  It’s Carolyn today and previously on Savor the Southwest, we’ve given you recipes for grapefruits, oranges and lemons (try this fabulous lemon pie or limoncello) . But one abundant fruit that is underused  is the Seville orange. Sometimes it is called the sour orange. These oranges have bumpy skin, lots and lots of seeds, and a very tart flavor. Seville oranges make terrific marmalade, the kind with a bitter under flavor that is traditional in British orange marmalade.

The history of all citrus is a little murky, but botanists agree that it originated in parts of Asia where gardeners were growing citrus 4,000 years ago. According to plant expert Dena Cowan of Mission Garden in Tucson, as the various varieties of citrus arose, they interbred to produce even more varieties. Eventually, through human migration and trade, citrus made its way to the Middle East and Southern Europe where the various varieties found a home in the Mediterranean climate. One thing is clear though, the sour orange, the ones we call Seville, predated the varieties of sweet oranges we enjoy. Citrus was brought to the New World by the Spanish explorers and Catholic missionaries. Again, the climate was perfect. 

During this season I make many jars of marmalade (recipe here) and store it for use during the year. But I’ve got enough now and was looking for other recipes, specifically something I could sell at the Citrus Fest at Mission Garden. I found a recipe on-line and was able to adapt it to use with the Seville oranges which grow in great abundance at Mission Garden. The five dozen Whole Orange Cupcakes I made sold out and people found them so delicious they wanted the recipe. So here it is along with some tips:

Cut the Seville orange into wedges and trim out the center with seeds and fiber. Discard what you have trimmed and grind the cleaned wedges.

Seville Whole Orange Cupcakes

Continue reading

Homage to Seed-Savers–Homage to the Seeds!

It’s happening again–that MIRACLE OF THE SEED–life, held in abeyance in its little dry dormant package, is now springing into action–miraculous germination! Potential energy becomes kinetic! For me Tia Marta, each time it is a spiritual experience to see it happening. Sure, science can explain the DNA within the seed that dictates when the right setting of moist soil, sunlight, and temperature initiate imbibing water and trigger cell division. But still, when that little hard pellet-of-a-seed transforms before your eyes into visibly living tissue, growing and hinting that it might feed you if you patiently tend it–that is the stuff of MAGIC! May we always be reminded…and appreciate…and offer our homage to the seeds!

Our hats are off to the many unsung seed-saver heros who select and share their seeds with friends and neighbors, and to the many seed-saving organizations who give us access to treasured heirloom seeds. In addition to NSS in the southwest Borderlands, we honor Seeds of Change and Seed-Savers Exchange, Tohono O’odham Community College Agriculture program, San Xavier Farm Coop, Mission Garden, Rancho Gordo heirloom bean company, Pima Country Seed Library and many schools which now have garden and seed programs.

Let’s thank the “back-story” gardening people through the ages–familiies, lineages, communities, cultures—who, by saving select seeds, have kept the best traits for local plant productivity alive. It is really plants and people together in an ever-changing, joyous, well-fed, active dance, season after season. They have brought to us in 2023 such a rich diveristy of delectable plant foods and nutrition (like the 20-something glorious varieties of beans shown here–and this is only a fraction).

As we plant our winter/spring seeds in the next couple of weeks–and as we eat the fruits of their labors–may we sing our praises to those untold millions throughout human time for their creative co-creations with the plant world.

For some good reading–perhaps on a rainy day– check out:

Henry David Thoreau’s Faith in a Seed, reprinted by Island Press, 1993, edited by Bradley P. Dean, foreword by G.P.Nabhan.

Virginia D. Nazarea’s Heirloom Seeds and their Keepers, University of Arizona Press, 2005.

Scott Chaskey’s Seedtime, On the History, Husbandry, Politics and Promise of Seeds, Rodale Press, 2014.

Gary Paul Nabhan’s and Bill Steen’s Sown by Hand, Aflorisms, Poems and Prayers for Seeds, The Canelo Project, 2018.

Joy Hought’s and Melissa Kruse-Peeples’ Saving Seeds in the Southwest, Techniques for Seed Stewardship in Aridlands, NativeSeeds/SEARCH, 2018.

This latter handbook is a clear instruction guide for successfully and effectively saving categories of heirloom seeds to maximize their genetic diversity.

So Tia Marta here wishing you happy planting–and soon, happy seed-saving and seed-sharing for a sustainable future!

Simple Posole for Winter Suppers

Every Mexican nana anywhere in the US or Mexico has a special, probably complicated, and delicious posole recipe. But you shouldn’t feel intimidated. You can make a delicious posole, basically a pork and hominy stew, for a family dinner or a dinner with friends without much fuss. You can have the basic stew or fancy it up with condiment add ins.

Simply constructed posole all dressed up for dinner.

The thing that differentiates posole from ordinary beef stew is the hominy. My friend Michele Schulz wrote about hominy in a recent blog:

“Nixtamalization is the hominy making process and has been fundamental to Mesoamerican cuisine since ancient times. Among the Lacandon Maya who inhabited the tropical lowland regions of eastern Chiapas, the caustic lime powder was obtained by toasting freshwater shells over a fire for several hours. In the highland areas of Chiapas and throughout much of the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize Valley and Petén Basin, limestone was used to make slaked lime for steeping the shelled kernels. The Maya used nixtamal to produce beers and when bacteria were introduced to nixtamal, a type of sourdough was created.

“Alkalinity helps dissolve hemicellulose, the major adhesive component of the cell walls, loosening hulls from the kernels and softening them. Soaking kills the seed’s germ, keeping it from sprouting while in storage. In addition to providing a source of dietary calcium, the lye or lime reacts with the corn so the nutrient niacin can be assimilated by the digestive tract.”

Here is a picture of the way corn kernels puff up to become hominy.

Unlike the ancient Mayans, you won’t have to grind seashells to make your posole. This simple recipe today uses canned hominy which is widely available in grocery stores in the West. Or if you are ready for some culinary fun, you can do what Savor Sister Amy did and make your own hominy from corn. Or maybe you just want to read about it!

To make our easy version of posole, start with some pork roast (not the loin , too lean) cut in chunks and some chopped onion. If you have a slow cooker, this makes things easy because you don’t have to keep an eye on it. Or you can use a heavy pot on your stove. You’ll cook it until the pork is tender, about 2 hours.

Start with pork cubes and onion.

Once the pork is tender, add the hominy and the chile sauce. The bouillion  adds a little umami and savoriness and lifts the flavor. Don’t forget the salt. The dish will taste flat without it. How much chile sauce you add depends on the spiciness of the sauce and your taste. It should have a little kick but not burn your tongue. 

Here are the canned products that simplify the process. If you can find the Santa Cruz chile paste, it is great. If not, a canned chile paste works. 

While the posole is cooking, assemble the condiments which can include green onions, radishes, cilantro, avocado and lime wedges. 

A nice selections of condiments.

Easy Posole

2-2 1/2 pounds pork stew meat

1 onion

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 cup water

1 teaspoon Better than Bouillon or a bouillon cube

1 25-ounce can posole

1/4-1/2 cup chile sauce

Salt and pepper to taste


Sliced radishes

Finely shredded cabbage

Avocado chunks

Cilantro sprigs

Green onions

Lime wedges

Combine the pork chunks, the onion, garlic, and water in a slow cooker or heavy pan (like a Dutch oven), and simmer until the pork is very tender, about two hours. Flavor with salt and pepper.  Add the hominy and the red chile sauce and heat. It should be a little soupy. Ladle into bowls and pass the condiments.


Carolyn Niethammer has been writing about Southwest food for decades and had published five cookbooks. You can find recipes from renown Southwest chefs in  the New Southwest Cookbook, recipes for edible wild plants in Cooking the Wild Southwest, and the history of food in the Santa Cruz basin and the arrival of agriculture in what is now the United States in her latest book A Desert Feast.  

Her website is www.cniethammer.com. 

Holiday Citrus-Mesquite Bars

OK, anyone can put sugar, butter and flour together, but if you give yourself carte blanche to invent new local variations on old-time favorites you can come up with some winners, especially for special winter occasions. Tia Marta here to share what I did with traditional lemon bars for a totally Southwest flair:

Try this delicious locally-inspired RECIPE for HOLIDAY CITRUS BARS:

You will need a 9×13″ baking dish and mixing bowls

Ingredients for crust:

1 and 1/2 cups flour mix (I used 1 cup organic fine whole wheat and 1/2 cup white Sonora wheat flour*)

1/2 cup mesquite meal (in place of crushed graham crackers used in other recipes)

3/4 cup butter, softened room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar

Ingredients for top layer:

2 cups regular sugar

1/2 cup lemon juice (lime juice or tangerine juice also are delish)

1-2 Tbsp lemon-zest (I used minced Meyer lemon rind; lime- or tangerine-zest would be great)

4 lg. eggs

optional wild desert fruits (I used saguaro fruit; prickly pear or hackberries would work great)

!/4 cup flour (added separately for this top-layer mixture)

*white Sonora wheat flour is available from Barrio Bread milled with heirloom grain grown by BKW Farms in Marana

Directions follow with pictures:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

To begin crust, sift flour mixture, mesquite meal, and and powdered sugar together.

(Since the crust is not leavened, you can make it gluten-free by using tapioca flour as your binder and amaranth flour with the mesquite flour.)

Mix crust ingredients–flours, confectioners’ sugar, and softened butter– to make a “dough”.

Press “dough” into the bottom of the 9×13″ baking pan, relatively evenly (maybe 3/4-1/2″ thick. Be sure to crimp down the edges with a clean knife so the thickness of dough is not tapered thin.

Bake crust at 350F until light brown, about 20-25 minutes. Keep oven on….

Grate 1-2 tablespoons lemon, lime or tangerine zest.

We have Meyer lemons which have such a mild sweet rind that I experimented by mincing, instead of zesting them. I had juiced the fruits previously, and had frozen the rinds for zesting and for making limoncello (that’s another fantastic blog by SavorSisterCarolyn!) . For the top-layer mixture I used 3 tablespoons of minced Meyer lemon rind.

While crust is baking, beat together the top-layer ingredients: sugar, citrus juice, minced or zested rind, 4 eggs, and 1/4 cup flour as thickener. (If you are using a pyrex bake pan, make sure this mixture is warm enough so as not to shock the hot pyrex when poured on crust.)

When crust is light brown and done, bring out of the oven. Pour top-layer mixture onto the crust.

To provide festive decoration and texture, I garnished the top with saguaro fruit collected last June, frozen and now thawed.

Return the now double-layered pan back into oven. Continue baking for another 20-25 or until top layer “sets” firmly.

When done, place on raised rack to cool evenly. Dust the top with powdered sugar.

When cool, separate crust from edge with sharp knife to make removal easier. Slice into small squares. These bars are so deliciously RICH –small is better!

Good and gooey –with that wonderful mesquite flavor, the crunch of saguaro seed,

…and the internalized hope that–with this–we can let the desert plants know how important they are to us!

Enjoy a cold-weather tea-time, a citrus harvest with purpose, or a Thanksgiving dessert made with your own variation on this Citrus Bar treat!

As winter festivities draw near, for more great ideas….check out our earlier blog post Southwest Style Holiday Buffets.

A joyous holiday to all from Tia Marta!

[Mesquite flour or saguaro fruit are special tastes of what makes Tucson an International City of Gastronomy! But these desert foods are not available just anywhere. Plan ahead–the way traditional Tohono O’odham harvesters have always known to do– future culinary opportunities will open to you if ye desert goodies while ye may, that is, when they are in season. Here’s a word of encouragemen from Tia Marta: Put it on your 2023 calendar now. Set aside time in mid-late June, tho’ it is super hot, to collect saguaro fruit, peel and freeze it in sealed container. Also mid-late June before the rains, gather brittle dry mesquite pods for community milling, and freeze the meal in sealed containers. In mid-late August, gather whole prickly pear tunas to freeze in paper and plastic, for juicing later. YOU WILL BE SO GLAD LATER THAT YOU SET ASIDE THESE DESERT FRUITS. Use the SEARCH box on this blog for instructions about harvesting a cornacopia of desert delicacies and staples.]

Delicious Beverages to Make from Pomegranate and Hibiscus

A lovely hot drink made from pomegranate rind and hibiscus flowers.

Hello! It’s Carolyn today and after nine years of Savor the Southwest, we have an updated look. All the old posts for wild food and Southwest specialties are still in the archives, although they all have the new look.

Today I’m going to talk about tea–well actually “infusions,” since tea must refer to the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Fall is pomegranate season in Tucson and many people in the warm Southwest have the trees in their yards. Pomegranates are one of the Old World Mediterranean crops brought to the area by Father Eusebio Kino in the early 1700’s. 

Many people let their precious pomegranates go to waste because they don’t know how to get out the seeds and then how to eat them. An easy way to do this is to quarter the fruit and then submerge the pieces in a bowl of cold water. Pick the seeds out with your fingers. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the fiber will float. 

Pomegranate being cleaned in a bowl of water. 

The cleaned seeds can be sprinkled on fruit salads or squeezed for juice. But what of the peels? I was amazed to learn recently that the dried pomegranate rinds can make a great tea–whoops, infusion. The imparter of this old-fashioned knowledge was Josefina Lizárraga, who comes often to Mission Garden to share her tips for dealing with local fruit. She is affectionately called La Madrina del Jardín. According to Josefina, the drink is also good to soothe colds or flu.

Josefina with pomegranate at the Mission Garden. (photo by Emily Rockey) 

Another delicious drink can be made from hibiscus flowers from the variety Hibiscus sabdariffa, easily grown in the summer and dried for year round use.  Mexicans use it to make a drink called jamaica (Ha-my-ca). In Cairo the juice is heavily sugared for a popular drink called karkadai.

While either the pomegranate or hibiscus teas are good alone, try combining them for a fruity, herby treat. If you have mint in your garden, you could even add a few sprigs of that. 

Hibiscus sabdariffa, also called Jamaica.

Té de Granada (Pomegranate Tea)

Recipe by Josephina Lizarraga (as told to Emily Rockey)

Bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil. Put 1.5-2 teaspoons of ground pomegranate rind in a pan or teapot.

When water boils, pour over ground pomegranate skin. Allow to steep 10-15 minutes. The pomegranate will settle to the bottom. Alternately, if you don’t grind the skins, you can leave them in 1-2 inch pieces and boil them for 15-20 minutes.

Enjoy simply as it is, or add sugar or honey.

Drink anytime, or for soothing colds or flu, add honey and lemon.

Jamaica (Hibiscus) Tea

1 quart water

1/2 cup dried hibiscus flowers

1/4-1/2 cup sugar

Ginger slices, cinnamon stick, lime juice (optional)

Bring the water to a boil and pour over the hibiscus flowers and other flavorings you choose. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Steep about 20 minutes or until desired strength. You can also mix half and half with club soda for something a little fancier.


Want more recipes for prickly pear and other wild foods? You’ll find delicious ways to bring these healthy plants to your table in my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Wild Plants and The New Southwest Cookbook. The links take you on-line, but consider ordering from your local bookstore. They will love you for it. Interested in the history of food in the Southwest? A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage takes you through the last five thousand years, from prehistory through the challenges faced by today’s farmers.

Easy Summer Corn Treat: Coctel de Elote

Hello friends! Amy here celebrating the harvest on the Autumn Equinox.

At Mexican Raspado places, I never order the shaved ice with sweet syrup, fruit, ice cream, etc. I always get Coctel de Elote, a corn soup served hot and it is DELICIOUS even in hot weather. It can be made with very immature flour or dent corn varieties also known as starchy “field corn” varieties. These are the same corn varieties that are allowed to mature dry on the plant and made into tortillas, tamales and countless other creations. But elote for coctel de elote can also be sweet corn and that’s what I had from my share at Tucson Community Supported Agriculture.

I started by cutting the kernels off the cob, with a sharp little knife within a big bowl.

The kernels can be cut pretty deeply, and the juicy insides scraped into the bowl with the rest.

Then the kernels are boiled in just enough water to cover, with a dash of salt. The cobs go in to extract every bit of their goodness to the soup and to add their own distinctive flavor to the broth.

After simmering for a few minutes, the corn was tender. I poured my soup for one into a small jar to serve, leaving the cobs behind. Then, butter!

At the raspado place, they will ask what toppings would you like, but the only answer is everything, the works!

I started with some Mano Y Metate Mole Powder, Pipian Picante. I think any mole powder would be great here, and the traditional would be plain chile powder or a dash of hot sauce.

I then juiced a lime into the glass. But this wasn’t enough and I resorted to lemon juice I had frozen in quantity from the spring. Also, homemade mayonnaise (just an egg yolk with mild oil whisked into it until it is thick), store bought creama (Mexican sour cream). Basically, just keep adding and tasting until it is irresistible. Then a final sprinkling of fresh cheese (in this case, homemade goat cheese) sprinkled on top.

Enjoy with a long spoon in the short, hot afternoon.

Southwest “Seed Cakes” –inspired by Little Women–really?

This new cookbook–inspired by treats and festive meals in the book Little Women–was my inspiration for the “Southwest Seed Cakes”!

It’s hot off the press and already has us salivating! — a fun book to bring back memories, and to share with kids or grandkids in the kitchen. The two authors of The Little Women Cookbook are not only devourers of books themselves, but also creative foodies. (Tia Marta here, speaking with some familiarity, as the first author, Jenne Bergstrom–prima librarian and ace cook–is the talented daughter of one of my best friends.)

So of course my first inclination, after savoring the culinary moment in LIttle Women that each page brings forth vividly, is to see how you and I might adapt those endearing old recipes to our contemporary Southwest fare. On page 64, when I contemplated Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy’s caraway “seed cakes”, it was an image of saguaro seeds that popped into my mind….

At Solstice saguaro harvest time, I used the dried flower calyx to open fruits and dry them for later. NOW I get to enjoy them again in a Seed Cake…

Hooray–here’s a new way to use the bahidaj cuñ that my Tohono O’odham friend and mentor Juanita-baḍ long ago taught me to harvest. I’ve had them sealed and frozen since June. For the following recipe I could have used barrel cactus seeds (collected last spring) or the nutritious amaranth seed (collected last fall), but for this first experiment I wanted to try just one kind of seed. You’ll see that many of our local Southwest heirlooms lend themselves to this “Seed Cake” treat:

For the flour in the Seed Cakes recipe, I created a mix of amaranth seed flour, mesquite pod flour, and heirloom white Sonora wheat flour which I milled from whole kernel wheat in my Wondermill.

Southwest “Seed-Cakes” Recipe:

(You’ll need a small bowl, a sifting bowl, and a large mixing bowl, muffin tins w/cups if desired, and a beater.)


2-3 Tbsp dried saguaro seed, with pulp is better (alternatively barrel cactus seed or amaranth seed)

8 oz. (2 sticks) butter (plus more for greasing muffin tins if you don’t have paper liners)

1/2 cup agave “nectar” (agave syrup)

1/2 cup sugar (use sugar to “dredge” remaining agave syrup out of measuring cup to get it all)

4 eggs

2 Tbsp mescal or brandy (optional) or prickly pear juice (to soften seeds)

2 1/4 cups flour (I used 1 3/4 cups heirloom white Sonora wheat flour, 1/2 cup mesquite pod flour, and 1/4 cup amaranth flour)

1/2 tsp sea salt

Directions: Preheat oven to 350F. Put seeds in small bowl with mescal or juice to “hydrate”. In large bowl, cream butter, agave nectar and sugar until fluffy. In separate bowl, sift together flours and salt. To the creamed butter, add eggs, and beat at high speed til smooth (2-3 minutes). Gradually add the flour mixture to the wet mixture, mixing on medium speed until well combined. Stir in seeds and remaining liquid.

Pour batter into greased muffin tins, to 3/4 full per cup.

Bake 18-20 minutes……or

…..until muffins turn golden brown and test done with a thin skewer.

Serve with iced tea on the patio, or for birthday celebrations, or have ready when friends pop in–so versatile.

These tastes of the desert are nutritious too! Mesquite flour and amaranth flour are packed with protein, complex carbs and fiber for sustained energy. White Sonora wheat is a low-gluten flour with its own sweet character. Seeds have vegetable proteins and beneficial oils.

So enjoy every Seed Cake bite!

My copy of The Little Women Cookbook is already opening to new pages that will sprout delectable ideas for cool weather and holidays to come….Stay tuned. It’s such fun to adapt our time-honored local ingredients to favorite old-time recipes in totally new combinations!

This “Southwest Seed Cake” recipe made 14 large muffins and 24 minis!

Where to locate ingredients: Find mesquite flour on the NativeSeedsSEARCH online catalog. Plan to safely harvest your own mesquite pods next year and have them milled at one of several milling events. Amaranth flour (Bob’s Red Mill is easy to use) can be found at Sprouts and Natural Grocers. Amaranth seed is available via NativeSeedsSEARCH. White Sonora wheat grain is celebrated every May at Mission Garden‘s San Ysidro Fiesta. Find this heirloom flour from the first grower BKWFarmsInc (organic), or from Barrio Bread or NativeSeedsSEARCH. Harvesting your own desert seeds for “Seed Cakes” is the most satisfying activity of all. Amaranth will be ready to gather in September and October. And put on your calendar to harvest your own bahidaj kaij (saguaro fruit seed) next June!

May these “Seed Cakes”, from The Little Women Cookbook and Tia Marta, inspire you to celebrate our desert’s bounty with your own creativity!