Mesquite: Not flour, broth!

This gorgeous photo shows the lifecycle of a mesquite pod. It was taken by talented photographer Jill Lorenzini whose skill at photographing wild plants never ceases to make me go “ooooh!”

This is the time of year to gather mesquite pods and look for places with hammermills that can grind them into flour or meal to use for baking. Everything is different this year and it may be some time before we can gather for a grinding event. But you can still make delicious treats with your mesquite pods by boiling them. Mesquite is one of Mother Nature’s sweetest offerings and can often replace the need for additional sugar.

It’s Carolyn today. I started playing with mesquite pods many years before Desert Harvesters began offering us the option of having our pods ground into lovely fine meal in their hammermill. I tried everything: blender, Cuisinart, Molina grain mill. Nothing worked well. I understand that a Vitamix does a decent job, but I didn’t have one. I developed a deep appreciation for those Native women who pounded pods in the rock mortar.

Desert Harvesters grinding mesquite pods in June 2018 using the hammermill.  This year we’re avoiding gatherings like this so we need to find another way to use our mesquite pods.

Without our friends at Desert Harvesters this year helping us to have beautiful fine mesquite meal at this time (maybe later, they say, stay tuned), I’m digging back into my book Cooking the Wild Southwest, to share some recipes for mesquite broth.  Here’s the basic: Take about 4 cups of broken mesquite pods and cover with about 2 quarts of water.

Start with four cups of broken mesquite pods.

Bring to a boil, cover the pot, turn down the heat, and simmer for about an hour. Cool. Next, put your hands into the broth and wring and tear the the pods in the broth, stirring and mashing the sweet pith into the liquid. This is a great place to get the kids or grandkids involved. They love the messiness of it. The object is to get as much of the pith (technically, the mesocarp) into the broth as possible. Strain the liquid through a fine wire-mesh trainer and discard the seeds and fiber. Simmer the liquid uncovered until reduced to three cups.

This is what your unstrained broth will look like.

Now we’re ready to make something delicious. Let’s start with something quick, a drink I call the Gila Monster. It’s a perfect beverage for a Sunday brunch or even dessert. It looks especially inviting in clear glass mugs.

Combine mesquite broth with cold coffee and whipped cream for a delicious brunch treat.

Gila Monster

(These proportions are a basic recipe. You can adjust to your taste. If you are including kids, use just a few tablespoons of coffee and go with mainly milk. )

Makes 6 servings.

1 1/2 cups cold coffee (use decaf for after-dinner)

2 1/2 cups cold Mesquite Broth

1/2 cup cold milk of your choice

1/2 cup coffee liqueur (optional)

Whipped cream

Cinnamon powder

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher or large bowl. Pour into glasses or cups. Top with whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon powder.

What are some other uses for your broth? Substitute for honey in a honey-mustard salad dressing. Instead of using brown sugar on baked sweet potatoes, drizzle with some mesquite broth. Thicken your broth with cornstarch and use on pancakes. You get the idea. If you want a little more direction, like actual recipes, get a copy of Cooking the Wild Southwest and I’ll guide you step by step through recipes for mesquite broth and mesquite meal. You’ll find even more recipes in the book Desert Harvesters put together Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods and Living.  In addition to recipes for mesquite, it covers lots of other desert plants as well.

______________________________________________

If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a compilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits. And remember Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods. In September, I’ll have a new title: A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage. There is more information about my books at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

 

 

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

Sonoran Plant-Power Treats

Rosy, ripe Bahidaj — saguaro cactus fruit–is calling from the tops of giant saguaros all across the Sonoran Desert–attracting whitewing doves and venturesome, thankful harvesters…….(MABurgess photo)

Saguaro chuñ and chocolate pair nicely–especially when they are topping home-made mango ice-cream!

The bahidaj harvest heralds the Sonoran Desert New Year, a time of celebration and prayers for rain by the First People here–the Tohono O’odham who keep traditions actively benefitting all.

Tia Marta here to share ideas for bringing bahidaj from your own yard or desert landscape to your table and taste buds.

Wild desert fruit and seed harvests, when packed into these Sonoran Plant-Power Treat energy bars, harnesses their solar-powered nutrition into kinetic energy when you need a tasty boost!

Toward the end of the saguaro harvest season–before monsoon rains arrive–many fruits will drop from cactus tips and hang to dry in the branches of their palo verde nurse trees.  My mentor Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil called these sweet crunchy delicacies chuñ (pronounced choooñ.)  You can pick them right from the tree branches to eat as a snack like dried figs, or take them home for serving in desserts or–tah-dah– in Tia Marta’s Sonoran Plant-Power Treats!

Partnered with other high-energy desert seeds and fruits, we can store the bahidaj’s potential energy for future muscle-action.  Long ago my son got excited about my desert energy-bar inventions and wanted me to go into business, repeating Petey Mesquitey’s mantra, “We’re gonna be rich!”  Here–so YOU can be rich in your appreciation of desert gifts– are the steps for making my Sonoran Plant-Power Treats.  (Just remember when you start production and make your million, this is copyrighted):

step 1–Dust the bottom of a food mold, or dish, or shallow pan with mesquite flour (available at www.nativeseeds.org).  Find out about milling your own mesquite pod harvest at www.desertharvesters.org.

step 2–With your thumb, press dry or semi-dry chuñ into the mesquite flour and flatten it down.

step 3–Dust the flattened chuñ with more mesquite flour.

step 4–sprinkle with chia seed

step 5–add local honey (from Freddie Terry or San Xavier Coop Assoc.) or agave nectar to cover (but don’t use as much as I did here)

step 6–Cover with a dusting of local carob powder (available from Iskashitaa.org).

step 7a–Pop amaranth grain in a hot dry skillet (harvested wild or available at www.nativeseeds.org).

step 7b–Sprinkle popped or griddled amaranth seed

step 8–Sprinkle crunchy barrel cactus seed (wild harvestable) and sea salt (seed salt mix available from BeanTreeFarm) on top.

steps 9, 10, 11–Mix ingredients, set molds out to dry in the sun until mix is getting stiff, remove from mold. Pat out on mesquite- dusted board with fingers.

step 12–Cut into squares for additional drying in sun until firm. Enjoy the rich energy of Sonoran Plant-Power Treats in small bites!

Of course, to make your own Sonoran Plant-Power Treats, you can try any variation or combination of these delectable ingredients from the desert’s erratic bounty.  

As you add each one, name it with the grace of gratitude.  The plants need to hear our appreciation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Rusty Makes Barrel Cactus Jam with Less Sugar

Rusty Ramirez, cook at EXO, with one of the delicious breakfasts she serves with her homemade barrel cactus jam.

I just love to make jam. It’s Carolyn with you today and over the years in this blog I’ve shared with you lots of jam recipes, some with prickly pear, lots with citrus.  It does something to my soul to stand over a simmering pot of fruit and end up with glistening glass jars full of jewel-toned deliciousness. Today I want to talk about lemony-tasting barrel cactus jam.The issue with it and all jams is the sugar. Most jams take lots of sugar, at least as much sugar as fruit, sometimes more. Try reducing the sugar and you end up with runny jam.

But while doing research for my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage, I had the opportunity to interview lots of professional cooks. What fun that was, and I always learned something.  From Rusty Ramirez, the breakfast cook at EXO Coffee Roasters here in Tucson, I learned there is a way to make jam with less sugar. You use a product called Pomona Low Sugar Pectin.

There is a book I found with recipes using this product, and if you’d like to begin making jams with less sugar, it might be a good idea to try some of these recipes before modifying them with different fruit. When I get inspired, I’ll see what I can do about prickly pear jam. If you are used to making jam the old-fashioned way, you’ll find this a somewhat different process.

 

Rusty did her own research and came up with a formula to use the Pomona Low Sugar Pectin to  make barrel cactus jam. EXO serves it for breakfast on the fabulous bread from Barrio Bread made with heritage grains.

Cut barrel cactus fruit ready to be sliced and cooked.

I won’t be able to share all the stories in A Desert Feast with you until September, but I’m going to give you a sneak peak with Rusty’s recipe now. Rusty includes the seeds in her jam. If you don’t want to do that, in a previous post, I gave you a great recipe to use the seeds in a cheesy-rich appetizer.

EXO Coffee Roasters Barrel Cactus Jam

25-30 ripe barrel cactus fruits

½ cup water

¼ cup lemon juice

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons of  Pomona Low Sugar Pectin

4 teaspoons calcium water (instructions on how to make it are included in the pectin box)

Rinse the fruits, cut off the tops and bottoms, and chop roughly. Place the chopped fruits into a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan and add water to about an inch over the fruits. Bring the water to a hard boil, and then reduce the heat to a slow boil for 30 minutes.

While the fruit is boiling, whisk together the sugar and pectin in a bowl and set aside.

When the fruit is cooked, remove from the heat and place into a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth in a sink. You should have about 3 cups. Rinse the fruit with cold water until there isn’t much mucilage left in the fruits. They should be tender when you squeeze them.  The seeds will collect at the bottom, You can add them to the marmalade or dry them in the oven to snack on later.

Transfer the cooked and rinsed barrel cactus fruits back into the saucepan with 4 teaspoons of calcium water and the 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Stir well with a heat proof spatula. Bring the fruit to a soft boil and add the sugar/pectin mixture to the pot slowly while continuously stirring the fruit so that the pectin doesn’t clump. Before you remove the marmalade from the heat, make sure that all of the sugar/-pectin mixture has dissolved. Put your sterilized jars on a heat-resistant surface. Carefully ladle the marmalade into the jars, filling to the neck and leaving about a half inch at the top.

Cover with the lids and let the marmalade cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for up to three months.

__________________________________________________________


If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a complilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits.  In September, there will be a new title: A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage. There is more information about them at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

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

The Palo Verde “Window”

The foothills palo verde bloom-show in late April and early May of 2020 in the Tucson Mountains was a sight to behold, and promised a plentiful harvest…..

Yellow Moon (the April time that the Sonora Desert turns yellow with flowers) has now passed into to the bright green phase of early June when palo verde pods swell with sweet peas!  Bolster yourself for this small window of time to “jump through” for tasting a special Sonoran Desert treat.

Foothills –aka “little leaf” and kuk cuhudak in O’odham– paloverde pods are hanging on the trees for only a short few days in early June. This timing may change with global warming.

Tia Marta here, encouraging you to head out THIS WEEK into the desert with gloves and basket to pick plump pods of foothills palo verde while they are still in the sweet stage.

(Parkinsonia microphylla) Foothills paloverde pods are at their peak of sweetness in early June when they are still very green and the seeds inside have swelled to plumpness. You can eat them safely right off the tree. Peel back the pod covering and pop the peas right in your mouth–with thanks to the tree!

It won’t last long with the heat of June.  Timing is everything!  And NOW is IT.  Next week, when the pea-like seeds inside the pods are drying and turning to a stony chocolate-brown, they are still edible and nutritious–but that is a different ball game involving lots more culinary prep work.

Dry pods and hard dry seeds of foothills paloverde, harvestable by mid-June for milling into protein-rich flour.

Scroll back in this SavortheSouthwest.blog archive to my post about Luscious Legume Trees for some fun instructions and recipes.

This is an invitation to experience palo verdes from your comfortable and cool shut-in solitude–no masks needed:    Join me for an  enriching how-to online Zoom Workshop about our 3 Tucson area palo verdes, coming up SOON, June 2, 2020 at 2pm via Mission Garden.    You can sign up thru this “Palo Verde Window.”

With the Zoom format you will learn to identify our 3 different local palo verdes (blue, little leaf and Mexican), get to know which ones are edible, their rich nutrition, their ethnobotany, and recipe ideas.  As we share Mission Garden’s “Zoom kitchen” you’ll be able to ask questions in face-time.  See you there!

Note–if you can’t join the live Zoom Workshop June 2, you might still be able to register to “attend” via recorded Zoom thereafter.

Tia Marta peels open a foothills paloverde “pea” from its pod for a sweet and nutritious gift from the desert

Happy wild-harvesting –with thanks for the paloverde-plenty that surrounds us through this window of opportunity!

Find other Southwest heirloom foods available online at www.flordemayoarts.com and www.nativeseeds.org .

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Yellow squash blossoms with blue corn

 

Hello all, Amy here with my two little summer squash plants growing in the garden. 

They’ve been flowering beautifully, but I’ve only eaten one patty pan. 

Each squash plant produces flowers that make pollen (male flowers) and flowers that make fruit (female flowers). Each flower only opens for one day. On that day insects (or a human with a tiny paint brush) pollinate from one flower to the next, from the same or different plants, resulting in the famous swelling summer squash. Without pollination, the little fruit withers and dries. Looking at the stem below the flower is the fastest way to determine a fruit or pollen producing flower. Since I don’t plan to save seed and both plants are of the same species, I’m mingling pollen from the pale green patty pans and the yellow patty pans. I won’t see the difference in this year’s crop. Often pollen producing flowers bloom days before any fruit bearing flowers appear, so those are fair game to eat. Unfortunately, I also had many days with only female flowers and no pollen! I did not have any cheese on hand to stuff them like Carolyn used in this recipe, but I did have some lovely heirloom blue corn meal.

 

 

After dipping in beaten egg, I dusted the blossoms (a few male flowers from my Tucson CSA share and the females from my garden) in the salted cornmeal.

I also sliced a yellow crookneck from the share and treated it the same.

Then into hot oil…

While that was going, I RAN out to find something fresh to garnish this crispy little dish.

 I found garlic chives, flat leaf parsley and a volunteer “wild” tomato I’ve been babying in a pot since last summer.

After a final sprinkling of sea salt, I ate it immediately, very hot! 

A delicate treat from the garden. There’s plenty of summer left to eat giant green baseball bats. 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Gardening, Heirloom pumpkins & squashes, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Call It Prickly Pear, Call it Nopal. It’s time for harvest.

Every year, for thousands of years, people living in the Sonoran Desert could count on prickly pear producing succulent delicious new pads this time of year. The native varieties of Opuntia have lots of thorns and it must have been a chore to clean them when all you had was a sharp-edged stone for a tool. Carolyn here today, recalling that one of the reasons that Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is that modern Sonoran Desert dwellers eat some of the same foods people ate here when they were just small family groups drifting through the area, long before there were even villages. That’s quite a testament to the staying power of these local foods.

You need to pick prickly pear pads in the spring when they are only a few weeks old. As they mature they develop a woody interior structure. You can buy fresh pads year ’round in Mexican grocery stores. They are grown by farmers who know how to manipulate their plants through trimming and fertilizing to produce throughout the season.

 

A fresh prickly pear pad, tender and succulent. Very obvious that it is new growth.

Interior structure of a prickly pear pad where the green flesh has rotted away.

Today, most of us who like to pick and eat prickly pear use the Ficus indica variety that grows taller and without big thorns on the young pads. It is native to areas further south, but it can survive here in gardens. Although the big thorns are absent, there are, however, tiny stickers called glochids, and they can be dangerous so you should wear rubber gloves when working with the pads. The glochids look like small hairs but they do have barbs on the end. You don’t want them in your finger or your tongue! I tend to just scrape the sides of the pad with a serrated steak knife, then cut off the edge as in these pictures. The edge has so many thorns it is not worthwhile to try to clean it so just trim it off.

Use a serrated steak knife to clean the thorns and glochids from the prickly pear pad.

My friend Chad Borseth takes a more nuanced approach to cleaning the pads, cutting out just the glochids. He sells lots of edible wild plant products on his website Sky Island Spice Co. and has made this video of cleaning the pads. If you want a better idea of just how to go about it, take a look at the video.

The nopalitos are done when they turn olive green.

Once you have the cleaned pads, you’ll need to cut them up into strips or small squares and cook them. Now you have turned your nopal into nopalitos. You can do this in oil in a frying pan, or follow the Rick Bayless method and oil them, place on a cookie sheet and bake until olive green. The cooking shrivels them and dries up the gummy sap that is so healthful but that some people find objectionable.

You can put the cooked nopalitos into a taco, combined with meat or alone. Or, if you are introducing them to people who might be wary, include them as a new ingredient in some familiar food.  In a previous post we gave a recipe for nopalitos in pineapple salsa which is a great side dish. It comes from The Prickly Pear Cookbook. 

Another super easy familiar dish is this apple and carrot salad, with, of course, nopalitos. It is adapted from Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, a compilation of information on how to gather and cook 23 delicious and easily gathered desert plants.

Apple, carrot, and nopalito salad is a delicious way to introduce people to their first taste of cactus.

Apple, Carrot and Nopalito Salad

1 small cleaned prickly pear pad

1 cup shredded carrot

½ shredded apple

Dressing

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons milk

½ teaspoon sugar, honey, or agave syrup

Sprinkle of salt

Cut the prickly pear pad into very small pieces and bake on a greased cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven until dried and slightly chewy. This should take 15-30 minutes depending on how juicy the nopalitos are. Or put them in a frying pan with just enough oil to coat the pan and cook until olive green. The pieces will shrivel.

Meanwhile make the dressing by combining the mayonnaise and milk in a small bowl. Season with the sweetner and salt. Set aside.

When the nopalitos are chewy, add the carrot, apple, and nopalitos to the dressing. Stir and serve. It looks nice on a lettuce leaf.

____________________________________


If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a complilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits. There is more information about them at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Enjoy Ya Cholla!

With so much plenty around us in the desert–like this glorious staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor)–2-leggeds can be rewarded while social-distancing with healthy outdoor exercise and super nutrition.  Read on…… (MABurgess photo)

The cholla bloom is in full swing!  The low desert in Baja Arizona continues to explode with color late April into early May, with several species of cholla cactus punctuating the landscape colorfully with a rainbow of colors-and a fiesta of flavor.  When the first flower buds open on cholla, traditional O’odham harvesters knew this short window of time is for feasting on this nutritious food, and for drying and storing enough for the rest of the year.

Tia Marta here to share creative and fun ideas for the generous harvest available without getting near a grocery.  For detailed “how-to” ideas, view this earlier SavortheSouthwest post and a short video from a  NativeSeedsSEARCH workshop.

Why harvest unopened buds? Note how loosely opening petals grab spines and don’t let go. After brushing and screening off spines, cleaned buds must be boiled or roasted before eating. (MABurgess photo)

Enjoy my article A Budding Meal _ Martha Ames Burgess EdibleBajaAZ 2014 explaining how Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil harvested cholla, or, check out www.desertharvesters.org for guidance.

Jambalaya a la Cholla made with andouille sausage, sauteed garlic and celery, cooked cholla buds, served with brown rice. Find great jambalaya recipes online–just add prepared cholla buds!

Jambalaya a la Cholla was our centerpiece dinner shared on Zoom with pals.

When you venture into harvesting, be sure to start with three awarenesses:  giving thanks for this plentiful gift from the desert,  watching for snakes, and checking the wind for where spines might blow.

These off-the-wall ideas for sure are not traditional ways of cooking cholla.  Hopefully these ideas can inspire you to get creative with cholla.  As desert dwellers we should all have a deep respect for this much ignored or maligned cactus.  Cholla reminds us that there is no time for boredom.

Try diluting the pucker-up sourness of sauerkraut by adding chunks of apple, caraway seed, and…tah-dah…cooked cholla buds for a wonderful addition!

Try this variation on a favorite comfort food–Add prepared cholla buds to creamed chicken or chicken stew.

Using a simple dill pickling recipe online, I packed 20-minute-boiled buds into canning jars with snips of fresh oregano and I’itoi’s onion from my garden, then filled jars with a cider vinegar and spice mix. After a 15-minute waterbath jars were ready for storage or use as gourmet hors d’oeuvres.

Deviled eggs made with chopped pickled cholla buds are a perfect hot-weather lunch or unusual buffet feature.  Try spicing up your deviled eggs with curry powder for a great complement to cholla!

If planning for future food is on your mind, consider drying your cholla buds. Compare sizes on my drying screen of freshly boiled buds (right) and tiny, stone-hard dry buds(left) ready for storage. If fully dried patiently over several days, buds will keep for years in a glass jar.

For the best in local libation to allay woes of social distancing, quaff a Sonoran quarantini made with Tucson’s ThreeWells Mt.Lemmon gin and garnished with a pickled cholla bud in place of an olive, plus a bulb of I’itoi’s onion. It can’t get more festively flavorful and local than that!

Read more about traditional cholla bud use by Native cultures in Dr.Wendy Hodgson’s Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert (University of Arizona Press).  Find more cactus cookery ideas in Cooking the Wild Southwest by Savor-Sister Carolyn Niethammer (also UofA Press).

Tia Marta wishes you happy cholla harvesting in our beautiful desert spring!

Dried cholla buds are available online at www.nativeseeds.org and at www.flordemayoarts.com.  You can find them also at the SanXavier Co-op.  For cooking with the sun on these hot days, order handy solar ovens at www.flordemayoarts.com or check craigslist for used solar ovens.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Libations, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Backyard Wolfberry Salsa

I planted a one gallon container wolfberry bush in a water harvesting basin on a dry corner of the yard in 2015. That first summer I watered it sporadically, then after that I left it alone to compete with the grass and weeds. Five years later, it’s a seven foot tall by seven foot wide bird sanctuary. Wolfberry certainly once grew wild on this land, in the floodplain of the Santa Cruz River, about a third of a mile from the current channel.

Actually I planted several species of wolfberry, and a Baja species has only lavender flowers now, but has a very long fruiting season.

This Tucson native Fremont wolfberry, however, has a short bountiful spring fruiting in years with good winter rains. If you look closely, you’ll see a few white flowers among the red berries.

The North American wolfberries are close relatives of the gojiberry from China and distant relatives of tomatoes. Wolfberries are slightly sweet but taste and look somewhat like little tomatoes, so are also called tomatillos.

Harvesting in the thorny branches is meditative to me, unlike for the flitting verdins working the other side of the bush.

In the absence of fresh tomatoes, I decided to make a salsa. Also in the yard are I’itoi’s bunching onion.

Our Tucson wild oregano, oreganillo, is also known as Aloysia wrightii or Wright’s beebrush. It tastes somewhat like Mediterranean Mint family oregano, somewhat like other Verbena family Mexican oregano species. It definitely has a lemony scent that I sometimes catch in the breeze before I spot the scraggly plants hiding in plain sight in the wild. The leaves never get much larger than this.

Putting all this together, I broke out last year’s stash of backyard grown chiltepin and the salt I collected a few years ago near the Sea of Cortez.

In the molcajete, I started with the chiltepin and salt.

The diced I’itoi’s onions

And the fresh wolfberries and oreganillo

When making Mano Y Metate mole powders, I sift the largest particles from the lime treated masa meal. I’ve been making this leftover coarse meal into a mush and frying it. From frozen to crispy in the time it took to make the salsa.

I ate in the yard, contemplating the bounty of the desert.

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mexican Cornbread: Familiar, Comforting and Delicious

Mexican Cornbread goes with every meal. Great for breakfast, aside a salad for lunch, and the perfect accompaniment to a hearty soup for dinner.

In this food blog, we often challenge you with recipes using wild plants, unusual flavors, and special ingredients that will help you make great food with Southwest flavors.  But maybe this is time time for something familiar and comforting. Mexican Cornbread used to be in regular rotation on our dinner menu, but I’d forgotten about it.

It’s Carolyn today and this has been a head-spinning month for anyone in the food world. Which I guess includes anyone who eats, but especially those involved in getting you that food. First, I want to celebrate the incredible response of the Tucson restaurant community in the first American UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Many sit-down restaurants managed to pivot in a day to take-out establishments after our mayor declared they could no longer seat patrons. When hundreds of restaurant workers lost their jobs, some of their colleagues with funding from generous donors, stepped up to provide meals for their out-of-work buddies.

My friend Lorien who has a small in-town farm is staying away from the farmer’s market and instead is serving customers from the alleyway behind her garden. (Those are her chicken’s beautiful eggs in the photo below). This is just one example of how Tucson’s food community is adapting to the pandemic. My forthcoming book “A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage” is entering the design stage, but my editors allowed me the opportunity to quickly add an Epilogue discussing the heroic measures that help keep the food flowing in our city.

Lorien’s neighbor gets some eggs from the alley behind her Dreamflower Garden.

So, on to the recipe. There is a standard method for putting all the ingredients together, but I’d bet if you just dumped everything in the bowl at once and stirred, it probably would be fine.

Most of the ingredients for Mexican Cornbread are pantry staples.

Ready for the oven.

 

This recipe is remarkably forgiving. Since I store my cornmeal at the back of the fridge and hadn’t seen it recently, I was surprised to find that I didn’t have quite enough yellow cornmeal. I certainly wasn’t going to run to the store for one item, so I  filled in with blue cornmeal of which I had an abundance. I prefer to use whole wheat flour, but you might want to use white flour. You probably don’t have buttermilk. Instead add a tablespoon of vinegar to regular milk. It will help the baking soda to do its work.  Here in the Southwest, we are used to eating spicy food, so we’d use at least some pepperjack cheese and add some jalapeños. But the cornbread is delicious in the milder version as well.

If you live in an area where prickly pear cactus are growing new pads and you are itching to use them, feel free to add some nopalitos to this recipe. Here, in a previous post, are full instructions on how to prepare them.  Nopalitos will add additional nutrition to your cornbread.

Mexican Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup flour

1/2 cup melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup buttermilk or milk

1 cup cream-style canned corn

1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles (chopped)

1/4 cup minced jalapeño peppers (optional)

1 ½  cups shredded longhorn, pepperjack or cheddar cheese

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, melted butter, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk. Add melted butter. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Stir in the cream-style corn and chopped chiles. Add jalapeños if using. Stir to blend.

Pour half the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle half of the shredded cheese over the batter.

Spoon remaining batter over the cheese layer and then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.

Just out of the oven.

Unless you have a large family or are really hungry, you’ll have some cornbread left. This is a good thing. It makes a lunch salad a satisfying meal, it is great beside a supper soup, and any leftovers can be fried in a little butter for breakfast. Add an over easy egg.  Oh my!

Try frying Mexican Cornbread for breakfast.

_____________________________________

Carolyn Niethammer has written about the food of the Southwest for more decades that she is willing to admit to. She is excited that The New Southwest Cookbook has been recently re-released. The New Southwest Cookbook can help you up your game with easy but innovative recipes. The dishes originated with top chefs using familiar Southwest ingredients in delicious new ways. These chefs were well-trained and knew how to layer flavors to come up with either new spins on the old favorites or entirely unique ways of blending the iconic chiles, corn, beans, and citrus.  The New Southwest Cookbook can be ordered from your favorite bookstore or ordered from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or the publisher.

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

Rescued sourdough crackers

Hello, Amy here today in the waste not want not kitchen. Feeding a sourdough culture usually creates more dough than an irregular baker needs, especially baking for one. I never like to waste, but now I have an elevated purpose for my cause….

Since my all sourdough pizza experiment was such a success, I tried the supposedly easier task of making a crust from older, less active, refrigerated “discard” sourdough with added commercial baking yeast for extra insurance. The dough never rose AT ALL.

So I decided to make crackers. Good save, and at the first taste I was so glad that I had not salted the tops! Also, I discovered what may have happened to my pizza dough. The recipe called for weighing all the ingredients except the tiny amounts of salt and yeast. But I glibly went online for weight equivalents. This would be fine had I used my fancy mole weighing scale at work instead of my less precise home scale. The excess salt must have inhibited the yeast and sourdough. Anyway…so today I have crackers!

Basically, I rolled the dough very, very thin, cut to size and placed on a greased baking sheet.

I sprinkled the tops with either za’atar or with Mano Y Metate Mole Verde powder. The one on the right is Mole Verde (featuring cilantro, parsley, epazote). On the left is za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix made with thyme). Both have sesame and look so similar!!!!

After baking, the crackers were crisp. Unfortunately, there was no sourdough flavor, but the toasty wheat and the herbaceous spice blends were delicious.

To serve, I mashed back beans to make a quick hummus like dip.

A clove of garlic, a squeeze of lemon, a splash of olive oil and in place of tahini, whole sesame.

I topped with home cured olives and ate it all myself.

The next day, the less thin of the crackers were pretty hard. So they got crushed, mixed with toasted seeds, and served on top of a cream of cauliflower soup. It was an unreasonably good combination that stared with cauliflower stems cooked in leftover in pasta water. I’m not sure I could replicate any of this, but here’s hoping we keep each other inspired as we do with what we have. Love, Amy

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom beans, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.