Monthly Archives: November 2014

Versatile Tomatillo Salsa

Salsa Verde is the perfect addition to a tostada.

Salsa Verde is the perfect addition to a tostada.

When I was interviewing chefs for my book The New Southwest Cookbook back in 2005, tomatillos were the vegetable du jour — every chef had them on the menu, usually “blackened” or roasted to heighten the flavor.  I gained new respect for how versatile they are.

I planted six tomatillo plants in August and hoped for a plentiful harvest, I even dreamed about making enough green salsa to can or freeze. Alas, my homegrown tomatillos were so tiny they weren’t worth the trouble and I ended up buying tomatillos grown by a farmer who had a better technique.

My homegrown tomatillos next to commercial

My homegrown tomatillos next to commercial

In Mexico the tomatillo is called tomate verde, which means “green tomato.” However, tomatillos are not just small, underripe tomatoes, but a distinct vegetable in their own right. Tomatillos are the size of an apricot and covered with a papery husk. They are meatier and less juicy inside than a tomato.  Tomatillos are an essential part of Mexican cuisine and have been since the Aztecs domesticated them. Most tomatillos are harvested slightly underripe when then have a tart, slightly lemony flavor that adds zip to salsas.  As they fully ripen they turn more golden and become sweeter.

Tomatillos are the main ingredient in the classic salsa verde which includes tomatillos, sliced green onions, green chiles of some variety, garlic and cilantro.  Salsa verde can be served raw or very lightly cooked. Of course, you can always put your own spin on salsa verde by using the herbs you have fresh in your garden.

To prepare tomatillos, remove the husk and rinse off the stickly substance on the skin. Rub them with a little oil and then put them under the broiler until they are soft and just slightly brown.

Roast the tomatillos until soft.

Roast the tomatillos until soft.

I love the flavor of poblano chiles in anything, so I roasted a couple of those while the tomatillos were cooling.  When their skins were charred on all sides, I put them in a paper bag to sweat for about 10 minutes (OK, 5 minutes, I was impatient).  This makes them easy to peel.  Also take off the stem and the seeds.

Nicely charred poblano chiles.

Nicely charred poblano chiles.

Next it is time to get creative.  Put your tomatillos, skin and all into the blender with some sliced green onions, some peeled garlic cloves, and the peeled chiles. If you want a little more heat, add a half or whole jalapeno, chopped. (And of course you remember to use gloves while chopping the jalapeno and don’t touch your eyes.)  Add some chopped cilantro. I had some lovely fresh basil, so I added that as well. Blend well until you have a nice smooth consistency.  The chef at Medizona, a top Scottsdale restaurant, added a little apple juice to mellow out the tartness.


Blend together tomatillos, chiles, onions, garlic and herbs.

Blend together tomatillos, chiles, onions, garlic and herbs.

So now you have this wonderful salsa.  How to use it?  Try it on tacos or tostadas (photo top of post) or as a sauce for chicken, pork chops or even shrimp.

Salsa Verde on broiled chicken.

Salsa Verde on broiled chicken.

Charboiled Tomatillo Sauce from Medizona

Feel free to vary the amounts in this recipe.  As they say, “for reference only.”

1/4 pound tomatillos

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 poblano chiles

1/2 jalapeno (optional)

3 green onions, sliced

1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves

5 cloves garlic, peeled

1/4 cup apple juice

Salt and pepper to taste.

1. Remove husks from tomatillos, wash and rub with oil. Put under boiler until soft and slightly browned. Let cool.

2. Broil or grill poblano chiles until all sides are charred. Sweat in paperbag until skins remove easily. Peel and deseed.

3. Combine all ingredients in a blender and whirl until smooth.  If using on hot food, heat in a saucepan before serving.


And just for fun, here’s a garnish tip I learned from Chef Janos Wilder. Carefully loosen the husk from tomatillos, peel them back and you have a lovely flower. They are a great addition to a cheese plate or relish tray for a party.


For more great Southwestern recipes using local ingredients or fruits and vegetables from the wild, check out my cookbooks Cooking the Wild Southwest (University of Arizona), The Prickly Pear Cookbook (Rio Nuevo Press), or The New Southwest Cookbook (Rio Nuevo Press). 


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

Local Mesquite and Heirloom Wheat for Holiday Treats

“Home for the holidays” takes on even more significance than ever this year if we invite food to our table that has been born and raised here in Baja Arizona—in addition to our loved ones feasting with us.

Tia Marta here to share festive ideas for using two of our most exciting local staples—mesquite meal and White Sonora Wheat—in holiday baking. And, even more importantly, I provide access to these lovely local and often hard-to-find ingredients, ready for your culinary creativity!

Native AZ velvet mesquite meal, roasted or natural--look for it at NSS or Flor de Mayo

Native AZ velvet mesquite meal, roasted or natural–look for it at NSS or Flor de Mayo (photoMABurgess)

Delicious Arizona velvet mesquite meal, with its naturally sweet complex sugars (that actually help balance blood sugar!) is available at Native Seeds/SEARCH (3061 N Campbell, Tucson) and at our Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday St Phillips farmers’ market (N Campbell at River Rd). We mill it either as natural meal, or roasted, which has a glorious chocolate-y flavor almost like its bean-tree counterpart,carob or St John’s bread, from the Mediterranean region. Our natural mesquite meal is considered a raw food for those on a raw foods diet. We mill it with a cool method taking hours instead of minutes, unlike most hammermill methods which heat the pods with rapid grinding thereby caramel-izing the sugar content. Both our raw and solar-roasted mesquite meals are so fine they can be used as flour. Happily, they sift and cook easily the way one might cook with whole wheat flour.

The trick with mesquite meal cookery is to not use too much, as it is so rich. My rule of thumb is: In recipes for baking, substitute mesquite for up to one quarter of the flour called for in the recipe. Both flavor and nutrition remain even if you are more sparing than this—for example substituting 1/6 or 1/8 mesquite for other flour. Use your own taste as the test. Even a small percentage of mesquite can give a great “bouquet” flavor and many nutritional benefits of dietary fiber, protein, and complex carbs for sustained energy.

Mesquite has no gluten so it can be a welcome flavor-enhancer in gluten-free recipes using more bland rice or amaranth flours, or to pleasantly over-ride the beany bouquet of garbanzo flour. My favorite combo of all is mesquite with almond meal. Here’s an idea for a delicious gluten-free tea cake for holiday potlucks—a generous option to share with wheat-free pals. This one can be a heavier cake, and if it turns out more like a brownie or energy bar in your oven, that’s fine too!

Muff’s Gluten-free Mesquite-Almond Tea Cake
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly oil an 8×8” pyrex baking dish and dust with rice flour.
Sift together:
½ cup native velvet mesquite pod meal (roasted or natural)
½-3/4 cup brown rice flour and/or amaranth flour
½ cup almond meal
¼ cup tapioca flour
2 tsp locust bean gum or guar gum
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
Mix in:
½ cup agave nectar or honey as desired
¼ cup canola oil or other cooking oil
¾ cup almond milk (soy or rice milk ok)
Beat in:
1 lg or 2 small eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
Pour into baking dish. Bake 25-35 minute or more until it tests done. Serve with hot tea and thanks to the bean trees!

Padre Kino's White Sonora Wheat, being grown again organically by BKWFarms, Marana (photo MABurgess)

Padre Kino’s White Sonora Wheat, being grown again organically by BKWFarms, Marana (photo MABurgess)

For a local-foods partnership, White Sonora Wheat and velvet mesquite flour are a match made in culinary heaven. Here’s a super-easy and fast recipe, a variation on Scottish shortbread for celebration times:

Sonoran Shortbread Recipe – with Heirloom White Sonora Wheat and Mesquite!
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Cream: 1 cup butter (2 sticks)
Sift together: 1 ¾ -2 cups fresh-milled organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat flour 1/8-1/4 cup mesquite meal (roasted or raw) ½ cup confectioner’s sugar ¼ tsp salt
If your flour is fresh-milled you may need to play around with recipe quantities. Blend dry ingredients into butter. Pat dough into an ungreased 9×9″ baking dish, pressing down with fingers. Pierce dough with fork at 1/2” intervals. BAKE 25-35 minutes. Cut in small bite-sized squares to serve. For extra fancy desserts, top with whipped cream (or vanilla ice cream) and fresh strawberries. Share at a party and enjoy the new “old” tradition with a dose of nutrition to boot!

Organic began white Sonora wheat tortillas will be available at Sunday's St Phillips farmers' market Flor de Mayo booth (MABurgess photo)

Organic began white Sonora wheat tortillas will be available at Sunday’s St Phillips farmers’ market Flor de Mayo booth (MABurgess photo)

If you are a do-it-yourselfer in the kitchen, and you want the freshest wheat-flour for baking or tortilla-making, we can help you with access to live fresh flour. Within a few days of milling, flour retains nutrients and vitality of the living seeds from which it was ground. Those live-food benefits are gone from flour transported and left on store shelves even a short time. Solution: Buy local. If you can contact me—with response—by the Friday before Sunday’s farmers’ market, I can mill organic White Sonora Wheat, grown by BKWFarms locally, fresh for your baking, for you to pick up at Sunday market. Phone me at 520-907-9471 with your milled-flour request. Move over, King Arthur!

You can’t get it any fresher unless you have your own mill. If you have a hand-crank grain mill, electric grain mill, or appropriate Vita-mix, you can find heirloom whole White Sonora Wheat-berries at the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store (, or from Flor de Mayo (, and at the Flor de Mayo Sunday market booth.

[Interestingly, we have heard from a few wheat-sensitive customers at our market table that they have actually tried, at their own initiative, our low-gluten White Sonora Wheat and have reported no reaction to it. This is not to say it is for everyone, but it brings up an intriguing question to test. We are now pursuing research into this ancient ca360-year-old, pre-Green-Revolution heirloom wheat’s DNA to determine possibly why it may not have some of the problem constituents that modern hybrid wheats contain.]

Tohono O'odham cushaw pumpkin known as Ha:l (MABurgess photo)

Tohono O’odham cushaw pumpkin known as Ha:l (MABurgess photo)

Do visit our Flor de Mayo tent on Sunday’s St Phillips market under the mesquite trees for some treats-du-jour and some White Sonora Wheat goodies like tortillas and pumpkin scones to take home, plus giant Tohono O’odham pumpkins grown at San Xavier. For the next few Sundays we will feature (tah-dah) the most delectable, local, totally organic White Sonora Wheat tortillas you ever tasted. Talk about real! And try our White Sonora and Tohono O’odham Pumpkin scones, made with native local Tohono O’odham Ha:l cushaw squash, rich in beta-carotenes. Where else but Tucson could one find such delicacies? This is why Tucson really should be named an International City of Gastronomy—because we cherish and grow and use our amazing desert-adapted, delicious native foods! Come and enjoy some tastes with your coffee or tea at St Phillips Square or carry them home.

White Sonora Wheat and Tohono O'odham pumpkin scones (MABurgess photo)

White Sonora Wheat and Tohono O’odham pumpkin scones (MABurgess photo)

Local color--scones don't come any better--find them at Sunday St Phillips market

Local color–scones don’t come any better–find them at Sunday St Phillips market

May our local Mesquite and White Sonora Wheat add joy to your holiday table and guests, with a bow to harvesters and farmers from the past, and a hopeful look to the future for sustainable desert agriculture!

Centenarians are experienced enough to know the best of local!  (MABurgess photo)

Centenarians are experienced enough to know the best of local! (MABurgess photo)

Categories: Sonoran Native | Leave a comment

Within & Without: WILDFLOWER Honey Facial Mask (DIY)

Aunt Linda here, on this breezy Tucson morning. IMG_7283 As I write, the full moon shines powerfully in the west, as it sets. The bee yard is aglow. The beams of moonlight bounce off the hives;  alight upon the honey house roof;  shine through west facing doors and windows. The bees are hunkered down in their hives this morning. They will not launch into their foraging flights as early as they did in the summer. They are solar beings, and navigate with the sun. Being past the equinox , and with less sunlight available, their first flight begin later and their return home in the evening, earlier. They are also affected by cooler temperatures,  and are not partial to the winds we have been having. We are all, bee and human, between night and day; between summer and winter. As the cycles of flow and blossoming  constantly change, so do the stores of nectar, pollen and honey within the hive. The “inside” of a hive here in Tucson reflects the light yellow color/light aroma of Mesquite Flows from earlier in season, to the darker, stronger tasting and smelling honey of desert wildflowers of late summer and fall. The pollen comes in different colors as well. So it is that bees, in the process of their practicality, create mosaics of pollen and canvases of honey, depending on what is available to them regionally and seasonally. Below: you can see the variation of color and texture of pollen both on the bees’s “pollen baskets” on their hind legs, as well as in their “mosaic” of pollen stores within the hive. IMG_2744


See how this desert wildflower yields a bight orange colored pollen (back legs of bee) as compared to the lighter yellow in the above photo.

By now you may be reveling in all the colors and tastes (and smells!)  of honey. Visit your local beekeeper at a farmers market  or health food store this weekend, and see how real and raw honey differs from the “honey bear honey” sold on many grocery store shelves. Bees have “honey stomachs” that they use to carry nectar back from the flowers, and into the hives to produce honey. The variation in plant nectars account for the variation on types of honey.


Note the difference in color of the  very light Mesquite Honey (in the exquisite photo ABOVE – taken by Ben Johnson; you can learn more about this talented man at as compared with the deeper colored Cactus Flower honey (photo below).

IMG_7793 True Fall Wildflower honey is usually an even deeper brown (bottom photo) and has higher antioxidant levels, which may be better for our skin! IMG_7218  Within and Without:  WILDFLOWER Honey Facial Mask (DIY)

Ingredients: raw honey and time How To:

This simple facial mask takes us from our own pores to the pores of plants.  As you can see in the photos,  the honey produced inside the hive literally reflects the environment around it. When we plant a garden or keep a hive, we move from being being a food consumer, to a participant in our food production. So, too, with our health products. It is wildly fun, and often more economical,  to use your own honey (or to purchase directly from a local beekeeper!!! That is a powerful act which moves you closer the “source”), than to purchase a  prepared product.

Honey has been used for skin repair and nourishment for thousands of years. Literally.  It is a humectant,  an anti-oxidant (darker, fall wildflower honey shows higher anti-oxidant levels than other types of honey,  in scientific studies),  and aroma “therapy” (is smells so, well, sweet!).

The idea here is as much about the Ritual as the Result.  Enjoy the smells and sensations WHILE applying the honey. Place the attention we so easily abdicate to the external world within once again. Our attention is rarely our own anymore, and a ritual as simple and everyday as washing our faces, can be a vehicle to practice enjoying the moment.

1) Exfoliate, however you like. This allows the properties of the honey to do their magic, without the barriers of dirt and oils.  Rinse. (Facials are not for everyday … at least not in my world.   I like to do the facial mask in the shower, on days when I wash my hair (which is not everyday) in order to utilize the humidity that the shower provides to open pores. (Water is a precious element in the desert, and I like to use Permaculture wisdom of “stacking functions” in order to lessen my water use.)    Truthfully, I do this facial mask less frequently than I should.

2) Right as you apply your conditioner, apply the honey to your face. Then wrap up your conditioning hair in a towel and step out of the shower  for about 20 minutes.  Who knows … during those magical twenty minutes you might even the feel the flights of the worker bees,  the “waggle dance” as specific foraging information is passed along,  the way the flowers tip and bend in the breeze, the smell of flower,  the sacred offering of pollen at dawn.  Once you have soaked up both the tangible and intangible properties of the fall facial mask, rinse (both face and hair, if you are doing a duo) and apply your favorite facial cream. Your skin will GLOW.

More Wild-Flower Foraging Fotos IMG_7193 The photo above shows how the hairs on a bees body gather pollen; note head on left bee. The photos  below show honey bees (and native bees) foraging in a variety of desert plants; and what “uncapped” honey looks like.   IMG_0748 IMG_1293 IMG_7804 IMG_1886 IMG_2173 IMG_7071

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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