Monthly Archives: September 2014

A Southwest Twist on Mac ‘n Cheese

Green Chile Macaroni gives a Southwest twist to everybody's comfort food.

Green Chile Macaroni gives a Southwest twist to everybody’s comfort food.

My husband is good at making breakfast — coffee, fruit, toast. And he can put together a salad if I have plenty of veggies in my garden or the fridge. But recently he decided he should learn how to actually cook something, and we decided on macaroni and cheese. From scratch, not out of a box. I looked in all my old standard cookbooks: The Joy of Cooking (both the 1964 and 1997  versions); How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman, and The New Basics by Rosso and Lukins. Ultimately, I decided the best recipe was in my own New Southwest Cookbook. I didn’t devise the recipe; it came from Chef Robert McGrath at the Roaring Forks Restaurant in Scottsdale.

To me the special flavor comes from the poblano chiles. I think they have a better flavor than the typical Anaheims. Frequently, but not always, they are less hot while still giving a great chile flavor. You must roast and puree them first. If you have a grill, roast them there. Otherwise, the broiler on your oven will do. The trick is to the get the skin nicely charred but not to burn the thick juicy chile walls.

These chiles are charred on one side. I have turned them to blacken another side.

These chiles are charred on one side. I have turned them to blacken another side.

Skin is easily removed after steaming.

Skin is easily removed after steaming.

Open chiles and remove seeds.

Open chiles and remove seeds.

Once the seeds are removed, puree the poblanos in a blender or food processor and set them aside.

Put some water to boil for the macaroni. Any shape will do, but I used the classic elbow-shaped. While the water is boiling and then the macaroni is cooking, you will have time to grate the cheese, and chop and saute the red pepper, onion, garlic  and corn. Use can use fresh corn cut from the cob or just canned works also.

Drain the macaroni.

Drain the macaroni.

When the macaroni is tender, return it to the pot and stir in all the ingredients. Last will be the cream. The recipe calls for heavy cream, but I used half-and-half. When I was collecting recipes for The New Southwest Cookbook, I discovered that lots of butter and cream are the professional chefs’ secret ingredients. THAT is why everything they make tastes so good.

Stir in the chile and other vegetables.

Stir in the chile and other vegetables.

Ford tastes for seasoning. It might need salt.

Ford tastes for seasoning. It might need salt.

Here’s the recipe.  It is supposed to be four servings, and it is. But everybody usually wants seconds so doubling the recipe makes sense.

Green Chile Macaroni  (Makes 4 servings)

1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup sweet corn kernels

1/4 cup  diced red onion

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1 teaspoon corn oil

2 cups  cooked macaroni

1/2  to 3/4 cup puree of roasted, peeled poblano chile

2/3 cup  grated cheese (hot pepper jack, cheddar or mixture)

1/4 cup heavy cream

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste


Sauté the red bell pepper, corn, red onion, and garlic in the oil in a heavy pan.  Add the macaroni, poblano puree, and  cheese and stir until cheese is melted. Fold in the heavy cream.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.


Find more great recipes with a Southwest flair in The New Southwest Cookbook, The Prickly Pear Cookbook, and Cooking the Wild Southwest

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

Gifts from September Gardens–intentional and otherwise

Tia Marta here to share some culinary ideas happening now in Baja Arizona herb gardens, and to extend an invitation to visit el jardinito de hierbas at Tucson’s Mission Garden to experience the herbs in action!

Estafiate--all purpose Artemisia ludoviciana--in the herb plot, Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Estafiate–all purpose Artemisia ludoviciana–and Mexican arnica beyond (close-up of flower below), in the herb plot, Mission Garden (MABurgess photos)

Heterotheca--Mexican arnica flower (MABurgess photo)

Of all the herbs in our Southwest summer gardens—presently rejoicing in monsoon humidity and in the soppy tail of Hurricane Norbert—I think the most exuberant has gotta be Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil……..

Mrs Burns' Famous Lemon Basil, at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil, at Mission Garden (MABurgess photo)

In its versatility, Mrs Burns’ lemon basil provides many possibilities for the kitchen and the cosmetic chest, the first being olfactory delight. Brush its foliage lightly with your hands and you get an instant rush of enlivening yet calming lemon bouquet. Like Monarda or lavender, this lemon basil is definitely one to plant in a “moon garden” for nighttime enjoyment, or along a narrow walkway where you have to pleasantly brush up against it, getting a hit en route, always a reminder that life is good.

I wish this blog could be “scratch-and-sniff” so you could sense the sweet lemony aroma of this heirloom right now. Maybe technology can do that for us someday, but meanwhile, find a Native Seeds/SEARCH aficionado who has planted it and get yourself a sprig to sniff.   On any Saturday morning, come visit and whiff this desert-adapted basil at Mission Garden (the living history exhibit at the base of “A”-Mountain created by Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace). There, among Padre Kino’s heirloom fruit trees, in the monsoon Huerta vegetable plot, a group of herbalists known as Tucson Herbalist Collective (usually referred to as THC—like far out, righteous herbs, man, whatever) has planted a patch of traditional Mission-period medicinal and culinary herbs within reach of the fence. Lean over and touch Mrs Burns’ lemon basil for a real treat. At present (mid-September) “her” basil is a mound of dense smallish leaves and is sending up a zillion flower stalks sporting tiny white flowers. High time to snip the tops to encourage more foliage. Snippings can be used to zest a salad, to bedeck a platter of lamb chops, or to dry for a long-lasting potpourri.

Close-up view of Mrs Burns' Famous Lemon Basil flowers and foliage (MAB)

Close-up view of Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil flowers and foliage (MAB)

Mrs Burns’ lemon basil—not your typical, soft, floppy-leafed basil—is bred for desert living, with smaller, sturdier foliage. Yes, it does need water, but it can take the desert’s heat and sun. This heirloom’s history is worthy of note and relating it honors the Burns family. The person who put “Famous” into the name Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil was Dr. Barney T. Burns, one of the founders of the seed conservation organization NativeSeeds/SEARCH and an amazing seed-saver himself, whose recent passing we mourn and whose life we gratefully rejoice in. It was his mother, Janet Burns, transplanted from Canada to Carlsbad, NM, who, with a neighbor over several decades, continued to grow and select surviving, desert-hardy seed in Southwestern heat. Barney contributed her basil seed as one of the first arid heirlooms to become part of the NSS collection. Interestingly, these tiny seeds have since traveled around the globe. One year Johnny’s Seeds picked it up, grew it out for their catalog, and sent NSS a check for $600 in royalties, having profited considerably from its sale.

You can use Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil leaf in many marvelous dishes. Layer fresh leaves with slices of farmers’ market tomatoes and thin slices of feta or fontina cheese and droozle with flavored olive oil. (I like Queen Creek Olive Mill blood-orange.) And OMG—this basil makes phenomenal pesto. Include this lemon basil with roast chicken for the best lemon-chicken ever. Dry it and put it in stuffing. Add a few fresh leaves to salad for a taste surprise. Or, add a sprig to soups to add a tang. You can even bedeck a glass of V-8 or your Bloody Mary with a lemon basil sprig to fancy up your presentation.


Handmade soap with Mrs Burns' Lemon Basil-infused jojoba oil (MABurgess photo)

Handmade soap with Mrs Burns’ Lemon Basil-infused jojoba oil (MABurgess photo)

Once when I enthusiastically grew a 50-foot row of Mrs Burns’ basil, it produced for me bags of dried herb, inspiring some fragrant projects. I distilled the aroma-rich herb to make a gentle hydrosol spray which, I feel, carries medicinal/psychological qualities of soothing, pacifying refreshment. By first infusing this marvelous herb in jojoba oil, I create beauty bars—with Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil as the exfoliant in the soap—available at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, the Flor de Mayo booth at St Phillips Farmers Market, or at

In my mass planting of lemon basil, I observed bees going totally ecstatic over the profuse flowers and so wished that I had had bee boxes close-by. If any desert bee-keepers want to try a new gift to their bees and to us consumers of honey, I recommend they plant this one. Can’t think of anything finer than Mrs Burns’ Famous Lemon Basil honey!

Brush leaves of devilsclaw for a cooling sensation (MABurgess)

Brush leaves of devilsclaw for a cooling sensation (MABurgess)

Here in culinarily-exciting Baja Arizona, as we promote the uniqueness of Tucson as an International City of Gastronomy, it is fun to consider another of our unique local food plants, a wild and unlikely weed which pops up with monsoon rains in low places, including at Mission Garden and is respectfully spared there. Known as i:hug by the Tohono O’odham (pronounced eee’hook), devilsclaw or unicorn-plant by Anglos, and Proboscidea spp by taxonomists, ours is not to be confused with the herb devilsclaw of commerce, Harpagophytum procumbens native to South Africa. Our native i:hug (of which there are a few species, some yellow-flowered, some pink) is a weed of many uses.

Tohono O'odham coiled basket by Juanita Ahil with domestic long-clawed i:hug (MABurgess photo)

Tohono O’odham coiled basket by Juanita Ahil with domestic long-clawed i:hug (MABurgess photo)

It is primarily known as the fiber used by Tohono O’odham, Akimel O’odham, and N’de weavers to create the striking black designs in their coiled basketry. Otis Tufton Mason’s tome Aboriginal American Indian Basketry, first published by Smithsonian Institution in 1904, shows beautiful specimens of unicorn-plant weaving, and mentions its use by many desert people including Panamint basket-makers of Death Valley.

I have a feeling that the devilsclaws that are volunteering now at Mission Garden are the children of plants that have been grown by Native People in that very place along the Santa Cruz for many centuries.

Devilsclaw (Proboscidea) flower close-up (MABurgess photo)

Devilsclaw (Proboscidea) flower close-up (MABurgess photo)

As an ornamental, unicorn-plant or devilsclaw can be a welcome surprise of greenery in late summer into fall, making a mound of large leaves sometimes 2’ high and 3’ wide. Tucked among its spreading fuzzy branches, under velvety maple-leaf-shaped foliage, will appear tubular flowers edged in pink. Should you need a cooling touch on a hot day, just lightly brush one of its big leaves and you are instantly refreshed. The velvety look of devilsclaw foliage is actually one of the plant’s defenses against water-loss. Each leaf is covered with fine hairs. At each hair tip is a gland containing a microscopic bead of moisture. Hair causes wind-drag, slowing evaporation from the leaf surface. What evaporates from the glands acts to cools the leaf—what remains can also cool our skin, should we touch it.

Young, harvestable devilsclaw pods (MABurgess photo)

Young, harvestable devilsclaw pods (MABurgess photo)

Most interesting of all are the foods that our native devilsclaw can provide. After pollination of the flower, a small green curved pod emerges like a curled, fuzzy okra. When young, that is, under about 2 ½” long, and before the pod develops woody tissue inside, these small green unicorns can be steamed as a hot vegetable, stir-fried with onion, green chile or nopalitos, or pickled for a Baja Arizona snack.

Maturing green devilsclaw pods beyond the food stage (MABurgess)

Maturing green devilsclaw pods beyond the food stage (MABurgess)

Tangled wild devilsclaw dry pods ready to split for basketry and seed harvesting (MABurgess)

Tangled wild devilsclaw dry pods ready to split for basketry and seed harvesting (MABurgess)

When the long green pods of devilsclaw ripen, the skin will dry and slough off leaving a tough, black, woody seed-pod that splits with very sharp tips. (Beware how they can grab—they were “designed” to hitch a ride on a desert critter’s hoof or fur and thus spread the seed.) With care, and sometimes the need for pliers, open the pod and out will come little rough-surfaced seeds. If your incisors are accurate, and if you have lots of time to get into meditations on i:hug, you can peel off the rough outer seed skin. Inside is a yummy, oil-rich and fiber-rich seed that looks like an overgrown sesame seed. (In fact, scientists at one point had classified Proboscidea in the same taxonomic family as sesame but it now stands in its own.)

Black seeds of wild devilsclaw from split pod.  White inner seeds delish after peeling (MABurgess photo)

Black seeds of wild devilsclaw from split pod. White inner seeds are delish after peeling. (MABurgess photo)

White-seeded domestic devilsclaw has slightly larger seeds like giant sesames (MABurgess photo)

White-seeded domestic devilsclaw has slightly larger seeds like giant sesames.  Peeled inner seed between fingers is ready to eat. (MABurgess photo)

When I see cutesy figurines of roadrunners or Christmas ornaments made with devilsclaw pods, my first thought is, wow, what a waste of a good treat, but then gladly, I realize that this unique plant produces more than enough fresh pods and mature pods to satisfy all the purposes of Nature or hungry and/or creative humans. Give i:hug a try!

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, Sonoran Crafts, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Medicinal, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Tomato Hornworms, Sphinx Moths, and Tiny Fried Tomatoes (with honey)

IMG_5407                                                                                         Horizontal sunlight at sunrise; the turkey appears to notice the light.

Aunt Linda Here:

It feels fresh here this morning here, after a substantial (and substantially needed) rainfall last evening.  The nearly horizontal sunrise early this morning lit the red comb of my roosters/hens making them appear to glow. And the turkeys’s feel magical, in and of themselves, especially in the “betwixt and between” light,  when it is not quite dawn and not quite day. Season-wise, we are also betwixt and between, it being not quite summer and not quite fall.  There are changes in the garden as well. One change is the type of insects that abound this time of year.








In the photo above, you can see that Tomato Hornworms are quite nimble; this one could challenge the most skilled yoga master, as it eats away at my lemon verbena.

Our gardens, in addition to offering the freshest food available,  also function as mystical playgrounds for the many intricate plant-insect interactions that (most often) occur beyond human view.  Here in the desert southwest, some of our most beloved plants and insects have maintained their  mystical names: Queen-of-the-Night Cactus Flower,  Sacred Datura, and the Sphinx Moth are just a few.

Before the The Sphinx moth transforms into the wide-winged (up to 4 inches), long- tongued (there are different varieties; some have tongues up to 14 inches!) moth that pollinates the Queen of the Night Cactus Flower and the Sacred Datura,  it needs to feast.  This feasting occurs so often on our tomato plants, that this “hornworm” is commonly referred to as “The Tomato Hornworm”.  It’s scientific name is Manduca quinquemaculata, and it is is this larva of the Spinx Moth (also commonly referred to as Hawk Moths, or Hummingbird Moths; they fly with such strength and agility that they remind us of birds!) that you find on your tomato plants this time of year.  These hornworms can grow to the surprising size, of about 4 inches in length. When they are large enough, they form into the dark brown pupa we sometimes find hidden in the soil. It is during this stage that the larvae are transforming into the large-winged, long-tongued moth that you may have seen hovering over cactus, and other, flowers as night falls.




Because of the of  the sacrifices a tomato plant makes, suffering through the feasting of voracious tomato hornworm, I hate to let  any of the the end of summer green or harder red  fruit go to waste.  Because I love to love to grow smaller “cherry” style tomatoes, it is those that I most eat and cook with.   Here in the desert it just makes sense to follow Nature’s lead, and plants with smaller leaves and fruit  tend to thrive.  This is a survival strategy for a harsh desert environment. Each time a plant opens its pores, which it does in transpiration, it looses water. Replacing the water is critical, so the smaller the surface area the less water is lost and more.   “Cherry” tomatoes, like the Punta Banda, Chiapas, or wild Texas varieties (you can get seed at Native Seeds SEARCH) are prolific!  Cherry-tomato plants, in my experience, require less water. And they produce and produce and produce; I have enjoyed the fruit of the Chiapas Tomatoes (some years) throughout  Nov/and even December!

So this recipe honors these little humble tomato-heroes, who grow despite desert heat and the voracious chomping of hornworms. I used Punta Banda tomatoes, but the standard cherry tomatoes that grow in your garden, or that you get at the market will work as well.

Recipe: (for 3  people/servings)

-1 large egg

-1/2 cup milk (buttermilk for a richer result; almond milk works is you are vegan)

-1/2 organic cornmeal (I used medium grade)

-2 tablespoons Mesquite flour

-1/2 teaspoon salt

-1/2 teaspoon pepper

– crushed chiltepin (optional)

– 1/2 all-purpose flour OR  try coconut flour. So many folks today opt for a gluten-free option, so I used this flour (for the first time) in the recipe.

– 3 cups cherry tomatoes – or three large tomatoes.

– coconut or vegetable oil

How to:

Whisk together the egg and milk. Combine the cornmeal, salt, pepper, chiltpen flakes, and 1/4 cup flour on a shallow dish or plate.

“Dredge” the tomatoes first in remaining 1/4 flour, second in the egg/milk mixture, lastly in the cornmeal/mesquite/chiltepin mix.  It is a messier affair with the coconut flour, but fried tomatoes are hardly “neat”  to begin with.  And that is exactly what I like about them. So much of life has to be so tidy, and precise. This food, like the end of summer, and change of seasons, can be messy —  but oh so tasty!

In a think bottomed pan, pour coconut oil to about 1/2 inch depth, and heat to medium-high heat. Use whatever vegetable oil you prefer – I I like coconut oil for this as it has a lower smoke point, and it goes with the sweetness of the coconut and mesquite flours.  Carefully drop the tomatoes into the poil, and cook until golden. Drain them on paper towels.





Try with all purpose – and if you, like so many, today are opting for a more gluten-free option, try coconut flour. It is a messier affair with the cocnut flour, but fried tomatoes are hardly a neat affair. And that is exactly what I like about it. So much of life has to be so tidy, and precise. This food, like the end of summer and change of seasons can ne messy in its expression. Added mostly new world ingredients



Perhaps it was the sweetness of the cornmeal, mesquite flour, plus coconut flour, but these fried tomatoes had a flavor reminiscent of corn bread. Between that and the Picante of the chiltepin, these little freid tomatoes LITERALLY called our for honey. I ate them sweet and spicy, as you can see below – and with a cup of non-sweetened coco. I loved how many New World ingredients this recipe offers:  Corn, Mesquite, tomatoes, chile, — and chocolate!










Categories: Sonoran Native | 6 Comments

Fermented salsas


fermented salsa,with fresh cilantro and tunas (prickly pear fruit) added before serving

Amy Valdés Schwemm

Amy Valdés Schwemm

Naturally fermenting salsa makes a richer and more complex flavor than simply adding vinegar or lime juice, but it does take a little patience. I love tart salsas and sour foods with a bite. Grandma and Grandpa Schwemm on my dad’s side passed on a tradition of sauerkraut, and my mom’s family loves chile. How could chiles fermented like kraut not be my favorite food?

Fermented salsa is a source of pro-biotic microorganisms, recently rediscovered as essential for the digestive system. Home fermented foods probably provide more active and diverse cultures than what comes in a capsule at great expense.

late summer is chile season at Tucson CSA, Walking J, Santa Cruz Farmers' Market Consignment

late summer is chile season at Tucson CSA, Walking J, Santa Cruz Farmers’ Market Consignment

Chiles for this preparation can be fresh or roasted or even dried. I’ve used everything from dried chiltepines to fresh Big Jims and sweet peppers. Hot, fleshy chiles like Jalapeño, Serrano, Guero, Wenks Yellow Hot, and Sinahuisa are ideal.

deseeding chiles

deseeding chiles

Sometimes I meticulously seed and dice the chiles, sometimes I only cut off the stems and coarsely chop in the food processor.

chiles, onion, garlic and salt

chiles, onion, garlic and salt

I usually add onion, garlic and herbs, as the season and whim direct.

chopping chiles reminds me of Uncle Bob and cousin Doug

chopping chiles reminds me of Uncle Bob and cousin Doug

Add salt to the salsa, 2% of vegetables’ weight. This is roughly 1 teaspoon non-iodized salt per cup of diced vegetables, more or less. Salt slows and directs biological activity to make the food more delicious. Lactobacilli thrive in salty environments where other organisms cannot, and the lactic acid they make further inhibit harmful bacteria. Since this is a condiment, I don’t mind it a little salty. There are enough beneficial bacteria on the fresh produce and in the air, so no starter culture is necessary.

diced chiles

diced chiles

If the chiles are not very fleshy or I want a thinner sauce, I add a little brine made with 2 teaspoons salt per cup of water. Thinning the sauce is a good idea when the chiles are very hot!
Put the salsa in a jar with a weight on top, keeping the pieces of chile submerged in exuded juice or brine. I use a smaller jar as a weight.

pureed jalapenos with  diced multicolor sweet peppers

pureed jalapenos with diced multicolor sweet peppers

Cover the tower with a tea towel to keep out dust and insects, and keep at room temperature.

fermenting chiles can be messy

fermenting chiles can be messy

How long before it’s ready? Test daily in warm weather to see if it is sour enough for your taste. In winter, the process is slower, taking up to a couple weeks. If white mold forms on the surface, skim off the top. It is harmless. If the mold is any color other than white, or below the surface of the liquid, discard the whole batch. Better safe than sorry.
When the salsa is tart and delicious, it can be eaten as is or pureed. For a smooth salsa, it can be strained. Sometimes I add fresh herbs or minced I’itoi onion tops.

pureed salsa with diced I'itoi onion tops

pureed salsa with diced I’itoi onion tops

Store fermented salsa in the refrigerator with an airtight lid.
Chef Molly Beverly from Prescott, Arizona suggested fermenting a sauce from Mano Y Metate Pipian Rojo, so I have some of that going now. I can’t wait to taste it!
elote salsa
For more details about fermenting food, see Sandor Katz’s The Art of Fermentation. For an encouraging primer on safely fermenting food, find Wild Fermentation also by Katz. This is one of my all time favorite cookbooks.

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

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