Monthly Archives: January 2014

Sonoran Flat Enchiladas, a demo by the experts

Elda Islas and Armida Islas as sisters-in-law who make Sonoran flat enchiladas according to directions handed down by Elda's mother and their mother-in-law Josefa.

Elda Islas and Armida Islas are sisters-in-law who make Sonoran flat enchiladas according to directions handed down by Elda’s mother and their mother-in-law Josefa Islas.

Hello. It’s Carolyn here with you this week.  First I want to welcome all our new followers. Always feel free to leave a note, an observation, even a qibble. We want this to be a community conversation.

When I heard that Slow Food was considering nominating Sonoran flat enchiladas as a vanishing food tradition, I knew exactly where to go to document what in the Islas family is a recurring staple. Elda Islas and Armida Islas are sisters-in-law who are married to brothers who ran the American Meat Company on South Fourth Avenue in Tucson. Their families and their husbands go back many generations in Tucson and Sonora.

Elda’s husband Filiberto told me that Sonoran flat enchiladas were traditionally served on Fridays when Catholics were prohibited from eating meat. Since fresh fish wasn’t always available in the desert, this was a hearty substitute.

For our lesson, we met one afternoon last week in Elda’s comfortable kitchen in the Menlo Park neighborhood in Tucson. First we made the chile sauce.  In this case, we used fresh chile paste prepared from plump red chiles by Filiberto. But you can also use canned Las Palmas chile or Santa Cruz chile paste.  Elda began by smashing some garlic with a stone with a flat side she had inherited from her mother-in-law. It has been used by generations of women and has grooves worn where the fingers grip it.  Then we browned the garlic in a little oil.

Smashing the garlic with a stone.

Smashing the garlic with a stone.


Brown the garlic in a little oil.

Brown the garlic in a little oil.

Next we added 3 tablespoons flour, the  2 cups of chile paste and a little broth and let it simmer gently.

The chile sauce should be thick but fluid

The chile sauce should be thick but fluid.

Next we made the masa.  She used lard which recent studies have shown is not as bad for you as Crisco.  Armida mixed it with her hands.


5 pounds fresh masa

¼ cup soft lard (yes indeed)

2 cups queso fresco, grated

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons salt

(Some cooks also include mashed potatoes, cottage cheese or a beaten egg)

Combine all in a deep bowl and knead with hands until thoroughly combined. It should be creamy, damp but not sticky. 

Making the masa patties.

Making the masa patties.


When the masa was ready, we formed it into patties 1/4- to 3/8- inch thick and 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Meanwhile  ½-inch of vegetable oil was heating in a heavy frying pan When it was hot (didn’t have a thermometer, but probably around 350 degrees F.), Armida slid in three patties. A bigger frying pan could probably accommodate four.

She fried them until they were golden on the underside, about three minutes.  Then she turned them to fry another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. She lined a oblong dish with paper towels and stacked the finished patties to drain. Eventually we ended up with 3 dozen patties.

Sizzling and smelling delicious.

Sizzling and smelling delicious.


The patties should be crispy on the outside and light on the inside.

The patties should be crispy on the outside and light on the inside.

Now it was time to assemble the enchiladas.  Armida dipped each patty in the chile sauce and arranged them on a plate.  Then it was time for the condiments.  We used lettuce, grated queso fresco, chopped green olives, radishes, and chopped green onion.

The condiments

The condiments

 When the Sonoran flat enchiladas are assembled, they look like this.  What is missing from the photo is the aroma.  Heavenly!

Three enchiladas made a nice meal. You can also add beans and rice.

Three enchiladas made a nice meal. You can also add beans and rice.

Should you have any leftovers, they are great warmed up and served for breakfast with eggs.  Filiberto Islas said this is called Enchiladas de Caballo.

Enchiladas de Caballo

Enchiladas  a Caballo

My sincere thanks to Elda and Armida for the lesson and a lovely afternoon!


Want more recipes for delicious food with a Southwest twist?  My book The New Southwest Cookbook contains recipes from top restaurant and resort chefs throughout the Southwest, using our local ingredients for mouthwatering dishes. You can find it at your local bookstore or order it here.   See all my cookbooks at my website. 


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Wonders of White Sonora Wheat Berries

Heirlooom White Sonora Wheat growing at Mission Garden April 2013--Rod Mondt photo

Heirlooom White Sonora Wheat growing at Mission Garden April 2013–Rod Mondt photo

Tia Marta here from Flor de Mayo to share news of an ancient grain newly emerging from its historic quietude as a flavorful and nutritious gift to Southwestern cuisine—a real boon to desert agriculture and health!   I’m talking about the White Sonora Wheat, introduced by Padre Kino, kept alive and well in a Sonoran village for 300 years, “rediscovered” and propagated by Native Seeds/SEARCH plant-sleuths, and at last being grown commercially by a few caring farmers in Baja Arizona.

Fresh harvest of White Sonora Wheat Mission Garden May 2013--Bill O'Malley photo

Fresh harvest of White Sonora Wheat Mission Garden May 2013–Bill O’Malley photo

This particular Triticum aestivum variety is a winter wheat for the desert.  Now is the time to plant it in your own garden plot through February for a later harvest into May and June.

Precious White Sonoran Wheat grain was provided by Native Seeds/SEARCH as a start-up ag experiment to a local grower, BKW Farms, and it has really taken off.  Tohono O’odham Elders may likely remember the Wong family of Marana who provided fresh produce out to the res in the early-mid 1900s.  Now in their 5th generation of attuned farming, the Wong family (as BKW Farms ) have turned their attention to growing heirloom wheat—USDA Certified Organic.  Bravo for feeding us well AND improving the soil, air and water!  With their first crop a real bumper, BKW Farms is returning more than twice the wheat seed back to NativeSeeds/SEARCH than the original “starter kit” quantity loaned to them.  Kneaded by the skilled hands of Barrio Bread and BigSkye bakers, their White Sonoran Wheat’s flavor is spreading and exciting many a Tucson palate.  Check out and .

At our Flor de Mayo farmers market booth, a few wheat-sensitive consumers have reported they are actually not affected by this heirloom wheat.  (Hey, scientists, there is information in its genes and constituents we need to know more about!)

BKWFarms' White Sonoran wheat berries cleaned and ready--MABurgess photo

BKWFarms’ White Sonoran wheat berries cleaned and ready–MABurgess photo

Using whole kernals of wheat in cooking seems to be almost an unknown in modern culinary culture, but health benefits are significant.  For one thing wheat berries are “live food” truly sharing life energy.  Vitamins in the bran and germ are super-active.  In commercial so-called “whole wheat bread” the vibrant living constituents have been removed for transport and storage then added back artificially when baked to make it “whole” again.  By eating the wheat berries whole from the git-go, we can enjoy their full nutrition.   [For local, fresh, the only truly whole flour (no parts removed) milled from White Sonora Wheat commercially available, we are blessed with the new Hayden Flour Mills in Phoenix ( providing packaged flour to the NSS store and to Flor de Mayo LLC.] 

Providers of other heirloom wheat berry varieties locally are Ramona Farms (  and San Xavier Farm Coop ( with Pima Club wheat, and the NSS Store with faro also known as emmer (

I made mini “greenhouses” of recycled clear plastic boxes.  Try rice bowls, berry or hamburger boxes for sprouting. MABurgess photo

I made mini “greenhouses” of recycled clear plastic boxes. Try rice bowls, berry or hamburger boxes for sprouting. MABurgess photo

I’ve been having a wheat-berry “hay-day” in the kitchen with White Sonoran Wheat berries.  Here are a few appetizing ideas to introduce wheat berries into your culinary repertoire:

Sprouted White Sonora Wheat Berries:

Sprouts will take about 3-4 days until ready.  Plan on rinsing them daily.  Soak 1 tablespoon of wheat berries overnight in a jar.  Prep “greenhouse” box with coffee filter or paper towel cut to size to prevent grains from passing thru any holes as a strainer.  Pour wheat berries into “greenhouse” box, wash and drain.  Place box on a dishtowel out of direct sunlight.  Rinse and drain them twice a day to keep them from getting sour.  Within 2 days you will see rootlets like tiny white spiders forming.  By the third day greenish stems will rise.  That’s when they are ready to eat.  Try sprouts as a surprise snack—you won’t believe how its relatively blah starch can change with the magic of living enzymes into the sweetest pleasant sweet you ever tasted!  To slow down growth of young wheat sprouts put “greenhouse” box in frig.  You can snip or “mow” elongating wheatgrass and add it to green drinks or smoothies.  Separate wheat sprouts and toss them in salads.  With a hand-crank masa-grinder (such as the one sold at Native Seeds/SEARCH store) grind them fresh to add flavor and texture to bread-baking.  [I will be interested you hear your wheat sprout ideas too!]

White Sonora Wheat berry sprouts at 5 days

White Sonora Wheat berry sprouts at 5 days

Cracked Wheat Berries–Speaking of grinders—a masa grinder or meat grinder can be used to crack dry wheat berries for cooking bulgar dishes.  If you have a stone-burr hand mill, White Sonoran Wheat berries mill to a beautiful flour for baking.  Keep your ear to the ground about upcoming wheat-berry milling events to be announced with my new WonderMill…..

Basic cooking directions for Whole Wheat Berries:  (Simply cooking wheat berries ahead makes some tasty recipes a breeze!)

1) Rinse 1 cup dry White Sonoran Wheat berries to remove any chaff or grit.  Drain.

2) In saucepan cook washed wheat berries with 3 cups drinking water and ¼ tsp sea salt.  Bring to a boil then reduce to low simmer.

3) Check berries after 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary to cover.  Taste for doneness every 5-10 minutes thereafter.   When done, berries should be round, fully plump, softly chewy (beyond al dente) with no white starch remaining.  It may take 45 minutes to an hour to finish taking up water, i.e. to be fully cooked.  One cup dry wheat berries yields about 4 cups of cooked wheat berries.

Then…you can eat hot wheat berries right away (or zap them later) as a hot cereal.  Or, refrigerate them for up to a week for use in pilaf or marinated salads—recipes follow….

wheat berry cereal makes a wonderful hot breakfast

wheat berry cereal makes a wonderful hot breakfast

Berry-Delish Hot Wheat Berry Cereal

1 cup hot white Sonora wheat berries cooked

2 T dry blueberries and/or dry cranberries

1 T chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Pinch of sea salt

½ cup warmed milk, rice milk or almond milk

1 pat of butter on top (optional)

Serve hot and enjoy the soft crunchiness.  My elderly mother got a nostalgic look of bliss after tasting this hot wheat berry cereal, saying that it reminded her of what her mother served her as a young child.

hot and tasty White Sonora Wheat berry pilaf-MABurgess photo

hot and tasty White Sonora Wheat berry pilaf-MABurgess photo

Perfect Wheat Berry Pilaf

In  2+ Tablespoons flavored olive oil, sautee 1-2 cups chopped fresh vegetables, such as red onion, yellow or winter squash, red sweet pepper, carrots, celery, greens (optional).

When veggies are al dente in the pan, add 2 cups cooked wheat berries to the mix and 2 more tablespoons flavored olive oil.  Stir-fry until hot through.

Add 2 T pine nuts (optional—they won’t show) and 1 T chopped tops of I’itoi’s Onion (or chives)

Dress with salt, pepper, and spices, such as Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Company’s “zapp.”  Serves 3-4 generously.  Enjoy!

[A cool idea is to make extra pilaf (more than recipe) and chill it to use later as a flavorful salad.]

Wheat Berry Salad Supreme

Marinate 2 cups cooked wheat berries in your favorite Italian, balsamic, or Asian dressing overnight (8-12 hours) then toss with fresh chopped romaine, carrots, celery, sweet peppers, olives.  Serves  4.  As Mom says, “It’s so chewy—you know you’ve eaten something!”

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Three cheers –for our local seed-savers and growers bringing this ancient grain afresh to our tables!  For our local bakers helping it rise again!  And for our creative Baja Arizona chefs honoring pre-industrial wheat with their culinary alchemy!

Local, heirloom, organic—wow, what more could we ask?  That is White Sonora Wheat.  Come taste a White Sonora wheat berry sprout.  Stop by and see me, Tia Marta, at the St. Phillip’s Sunday Farmer’s Market where I’ll have the BKW organic White Sonoran Wheat berries for sale in 6oz and 1 kilo size packages ready to use.   Or you can find them packaged at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Store, 3061 N Campbell, Tucson.  Order online at  Please visit my website for other desert food products and scheduled events at

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DIY cheese, yogurt, chiltepin, edible flowers, simplicity, mystery

Written and photographed by Linda McKittrick




After all the the hoopla, meal sharing, and resolution making of the season I am ready for some simplicity.  This “do it yourself” cheese making recipe echos the cheese making “en el campo”, but requires no milking of a ruminant animal (at least not by you). It is simple and, allows for some mystery to unfold as well. It is best made in small batches.

Presently, I am making this kind of yogurt cheese, rather than Queso de Campo, as we are letting our cows recondition right now. I share these photos of previous cheese making times on the ranch so you feel connected to the larger process. In the recipe that follows, you will have whey (the liquid-y part that separates, as the cheese forms – photo below) as well. It is HIGHLY nutritious for all of us animals, whether two or four legged, so do not toss it.  At the ranch we add it to foods, or share it with the dogs or the chickens.  In the yogurt recipe, the whey is salty, so best not to share with your animals, but great to add to your own salads, fermented concoctions, etc.  Yours will look clearer than that in the bucket below.


I’ll give  you the base recipe, then suggest some fun ingredients; 24 hours later, as you unfold the cheese cloth towel,  tune into the tastes and colors and textures that emerge. The magic comes as your tongue tunes into the eddies of taste that happen as the chile, or herbs, or flowers that you added, undergo an alchemy. It is an alchemy that you set in motion, but then must let go of. Good practice for life generally.

THE BASIC RECIPE: Line a colander with a dish towel. Place colander over a bowl. Combine the yogurt and salt in the dish towel and make sure the salt is mixed in well. Bundle up the towel and either place it in the fridge for 24 hours, or, hang it over a bowl. Either way the yogurt and salt interact, while the whey drips below. Try making the “basic” recipe to give you a baseline taste for your tongue. You could then add mint or herbs from the garden on top, with a bit of olive oil.

1  32-ounce container yogurt (note: you can use your own home made yogurt. But whether you make it or buy it, it needs to be Full Fat.  Try goat or sheep yogurts if you can find them. Variety is important.)

1 tablespoon rock salt ( the culinary rock salt, not ice cream making salt)

Olive Oil

ALCHEMICAL RECIPE : begin with the Basic Recipe:  line colander, add theyogurt and salt, and then try adding:

1 teaspoon dried crushed chiltepins (not only the chile flavor, but the COLOR,  infuses into the cheese as well.And each batch is a little different) for a Chiltepin Cheese.


A few tablespoons of fresh herbs from your garden. Rosemary is in high season in the SW right now, and you you can use both the herb itself as well as the flowers as well.  Edible flowers are really a delight to use as the flowers add both flavor,  often not what you expected, as well as beautiful colors.

Then with all the ingredients mixed, tie up your cloth, place over bowl, and let the magic happen. In 24 hours, when you open the cloth, the transformation will be yours to savor.  Eat by the spoonful. It is great on sliced radishes, or rolled in fresh greens from the garden (both growing robustly in our gardens right now, here in the SW).  Or add to a lightly sauteed vegetable dish.

I place my finished cheese in a glass container (so I can enjoy it visually) and add olive oil to seal it, even while I cover it with a lid. It seems to stay fresher. Keep it in the fridge.

Below: The Chiltepin Cheese Version




Below: Using edible flowers right before tying up the cloth.


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