Monthly Archives: June 2015

All That Bountiful Basil

by Jacqueline A. Soule.

Last month I wrote about basil  in these pages.  In my Gardening With Soule Blog I wrote about how to grow basil in the desert.  Now let’s look at more basil uses, and some plant care in our heat not discussed previously.


Hot Plants. 

If you bought your basil plants at a big box store, chances are it is not an ideal variety of basil to grow here.  In the image below, the plant shows signs of both excessive light and heat stress with yellowing leaves and some sunburned and browned leaves.  Basil harvested from such a stressed plant will taste bitter, not really worth the water it takes to keep the plant alive.  If you did end up with a large leaved basil, consider growing it on a covered patio or under shade cloth.

basil habit 009

Some varieties of basil, like this large leaf cultivar, do not appreciate hot sun and high temps.

Basil Blooms.

If you want basil seeds, let your basil bloom.  Otherwise, you should remove and spikes of blooms – ideally before they get too big and use up the energy the plant could use making more luscious leaves instead of flowers.

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These spikes of basil blooms were pinched off the plant.

Remove the spikes of blooms by pinching them off.  Yes, you can use pruners or scissors or a knife, but scientific evidence shows that good old fashioned fingers are the best tool for the job.  Why?  Because when we cut, we cut through plant cells, but when we pinch, the plant ruptures between cell walls.  The plant heals more quickly when the damage is between the cells instead of right through the middle of them.

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The best tool for removing basil blooms is your own hand.


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The plant heals more rapidly when hand pinched, even though a tidy-minded person might not like the ragged look to the pinch site.

Harvesting Basil.

You can harvest basil leaves any time you need some.  If you are careful about it, your plant will just keep making more leaves, especially if you harvest just above a node of young leaves.


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Yes you should pinch your harvest – just like you pinch blossoms. The scissors are in the picture to indicate where to cut – just above a node of young leaves.


Using Your Basil.

Tons of ways to use basil, but I am fond of one I just learned – basil spreadable pseudo-cheese.  (I have to come up with a better name!)

You will need: a clean bandanna, a quart of plain Greek yogurt, a bowl, a colander, time, and some basil.

Put the colander into the bowl and line the colander with the clean bandanna.  Dump the yogurt into the bandanna and let this sit in the ‘fridge overnight.  The whey will drip out of the yogurt.  (You can leave it for 24 hours if you want.) From a quart of yogurt, I got almost a cup of whey.

This un-wheyed yogurt becomes thick and spreadable, almost like cream-cheese, and it does not stick to the bandanna!  It is not as creamy as cream cheese, but if you add flavorful herbs like basil, it is entirely tasty!

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Chop your basil finely for this dish.


Dump your yogurt-cheese out of the bandanna.  Harvest some basil, chop it up, mix it into your yogurt, and let it sit for at least four hours to help the basil flavor to merge into the cheese.

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Let your basil flavor infuse into the cheese for at least 4 hours. Longer is just fine.

Using the Whey.  

Since I got a cup of whey, I did not want to throw it away.  I tried a sip – not my cup of tea!  Since it is an animal product it shouldn’t go into the compost heap either.  I put it into a smoothy with sweet fruit and with a dollop of honey it was fine.


About Jacqueline Soule

JAS avatarJacqueline’s latest book “Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in the Southwest” (Cool Springs Press, 2014) is available at Tohono Chul Park and the Tucson Botanical Gardens. It is divided into warm season and cool season growing so you can easily select other plants to grow this summer.

All text and all photos (except where noted) are copyright © 2015 by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.



Categories: Cooking, Gardening, herbs, Kino herb | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lovely and Luscious Legume Trees

Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota) still in flower!  This should be a good bean year for ironwood.

Known as hoh’it-kahm to Tohono O’odham, the Desert Ironwood (Olneya tesota) is still in flower! This should be a good bean year for ironwood as the flowers produce pods.

Hasn’t this been the most incredible, elongated spring in the Sonoran Desert ever?  Tia Marta here to celebrate this red-letter year for our desert legume trees–they are still coming on!!

Desert Museum hybrid palo verde--thanks to St Mary's Hospital for beautiful landscaping!

Desert Museum hybrid palo verde–thanks to St Mary’s Hospital for beautiful landscaping!

We have had the joy of palo verde blossoms from mid-April thru May.  Mark Dimmitt’s amazing Desert Museum hybrid palo verde continues to grace public buildings and roadways with a glorious yellow glow.  Mesquites (life-giving kui wee’hawk to traditional Tohono O’odham) are still producing creamy yellow catkins and greening pods soon to ripen.  Red pod clusters are hanging from white-thorn acacia.  Dusty lavender ironwood blossoms still bedeck the foothills….Color and Beauty–the first of the gifts…


For wild-food aficionados and first time experimenters, this promises to be a bountiful bean year.  Bees are already going wild–they know the buzz.  I’m going wild just thinking about the desert’s gifts of nutrition for so many life-forms.  Humans are just a few of the happy recipients.  With the help of bacteria, the desert’s bean trees even feed the soil with bio-available nitrogen, hidden from our awareness in their root nodules.

Foothills palo verde pods   ready for eating off the tree! (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde pods ready for eating off the tree! (maburgess photo)

This week is PALO VERDE TIME for sure!  We gotta get out there right away because this only lasts a few days!  If you want a sweet treat to pluck right from the tree, take a walk up almost any rocky hillside in the Sonoran Desert and find the Little-leaf or Foothills Palo Verde (Parkinsonia microphylla–the green barked shrubby tree with teensy leaflets, actually no leaflets right now in June’s heat).  It will be covered with little hanging pods that look like paternoster beads, each seed making a bulge in the pod.  Say a prayer of blessing and thanks to the Koh’o-koh-matk Tree and to Nature for this food.

Seed pods of foothills palo verde plump and ready to pick fresh for a green desert treat.

Seed pods of foothills palo verde plump and ready to pick fresh for a green desert treat.

If you find it at the right stage, you can snip the pod-covering with your teeth and peel it back to reveal the pea-like green bean–sweeter than any sweet pea you ever tasted.

Just peel back the outer fiber and voila! there's the delicious sweet "pea"

Just peel back the outer fiber and voila! there’s the delicious sweet “pea”

It can be eaten fresh right then and there. Most harvesters can’t help gorging at first, gathering later.









The variations from one palo verde to the next are interesting to see.   Some pods are all green, some flecked with red, some are even purple!

Foothills palo verde with bright purple pods--Tucson's west side.

Foothills palo verde with bright purple pods–Tucson’s west side.

Foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) pod ready to eat.

Foothills palo verde (Parkinsonia microphylla) pod ready to eat.










If you find palo verde pods that are really getting super-plump and the pods are turning slightly buff or straw colored, they may be a little beyond the sweet stage.  At that point it’s best to let them fully mature and to use them for grinding later.  Both the sweet soft green “beans” and the later hard stony seeds when mature are super nutrition for whoever eats them–both chucky-jam-full of complex carbs and high protein.

Foothills palo verde harvest (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde harvest (maburgess photo)

Years ago in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, I purchased snacks from a kid selling what he called “balled peanuts.”  The delectable treats had simply been boiled in a salt-brine.  Inspired by that treatment, I tried the same process on our desert legumes.  It works wonders on mature ironwood pods–watch for them to be ripening in the coming weeks.  Great also for prepping plump green foothills palo verde pods before they harden.  Quick brining produces a gourmet delight–Desert Edamame!–creamier and tastier than soy bean (and who knows now if any soy is  GMO-free?).   Just imagine….Sonora Desert sushi, tilapia caterpillars with a side of Palo Verde Edamame….

Foothills palo verde pods cooked in brine ready to eat (maburgess photo)

Foothills palo verde pods cooked in brine ready to eat (maburgess photo)

Here’s a quick recipe for Desert Palo Verde “Edamame” Hors O’ouvres:

In a saucepan:

2 cups washed whole foothills palo verde pods

2 cups water

2 tsp sea salt or RealSalt

Boil for 5-10 min to desired “done-ness” or softness.

Chill and serve as snack, as a blow-em-away pot-luck offering,  or as a complement to any Asian cuisine.

Easier than edamame--and you know they are not GMO! Yum!

Easier than edamame–and you know they are not GMO! Yum!

As pods ripen further on our Sonoran Desert bean trees to become hard seeds, the cooking technology can adapt.  Parching and grinding the nutritious but super-hard seeds of palo verde, ironwood, and acacia can create unusual and delicious flours for baking–but that’s another story…

Contact for upcoming events like the mesquite milling at Mercado San Augustin, Thursday, June 25, and demos by some of the great Bean Tree harvesters like Barbara Rose, Amy Valdes Schwemm, and Brad Lancaster.  Also Google Bean Tree Farm for more harvesting ideas.  Hey, thanks to Barbara Kingsolver for spreading the idea of our “Bean Trees” to the outside world!

With such nutritious plenty surrounding us, delicious gifts from  hoh’it-kahm,  kui wee’hawk, and ko’o-ko-matk,  bean trees which the Tohono O’odham have known for centuries, we can taste–and experience–food security in our bountiful desert.

If you want more info on harvesting the desert or monsoon gardening, do come talk with me, Tia Marta, at our Sunday, St Philips Farmers Market booth–in the shade of the Flor de Mayo canopy–8am-12noon.  You can find more wild desert food products at our website   Also watch for announcements by Tohono Chul Park of our upcoming Fruits of the Desert class this August (

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

NATIVE FLAVORS: Talking Turkey & Turkey Tapas Pies with Bird Peppers

Aunt Linda here talking turkey on this soft, surprising, rainy, June morning.  For me, turkeys are magic. They may not be very bright, but there are many times when smarts may be over rated. On this rainy morning, where the dust of life and the desert is washed clean, I choose heart and magic over brains.


The heirloom turkey chick in the photo above is about two hours out of the shell; you can still see it’s “egg tooth” (the hard and temporary tooth that helps it peck its way through the shell and “out” into Life prominent on the tip of it’s beak.)

All domesticated turkeys, (like the hatchling above) come from wild turkeys indigenous to North and South America,

Turkey’s have run wild on this continent for centuries. There are campaigns afoot to re-wild them again, The Gould’s Wild Turkey was re-intorduces to the Sky Islands, here in Arizona, in 2013 – and appear to be thriving. Gould’s Wild Turkey (M.g. mexicana) (Gould, 1856) have long legs, large feet, long tail feathers; it’s primary coloring is copper and greenish gold.  The south Mexican wild turkey (M.g. gallopavo) is not found in the US or Canada.  Archeological sites in central Mexico, dating back to 800-100 BC reveal M. gallopavo bones, but whether these were domestic or wild is not clear.


On a trip to New Mexico last summer,  I came across the ruins of the ancient Village of Tyuonyo (QU-weh-nee); (see photo above)  where rooms were built to shelter turkeys. There, archeological records tell us that Turkeys were raised primarily for their feathers – which were twisted with yucca fiber and woven into blankets, socks, and clothing. This would make sense for COLD winters in the high worlds of the  pinon-juniper of northern New Mexico.


When raising a new-to-me breed, I never make a move without consulting the Livestock Breeds Conservancy. A trip to their website alone is an adventure! It is filled with nutrition information etc ,,, (heritage breeds have requirements that differ from conventional breeds).   I highly encourage you  to find out more at

I love the way they move. I love the way they sound.  I love how protective the Toms (the males) can be  when they “sound the alarm” upon hearing something (bobcat,  hawk, or human) enter the yard). Toms, in all honestly, can become quite aggressive as they come of age, so be careful if you decide to raise them and you also have small children.  I love the THUMP the males make as they strut. I love the way a warm, just laid turkey egg feel in my hand.  I love how the hens will brood over any number of eggs.. Whether you raise turkeys for meat or eggs or just plain fun, I encourage you check out an heirloom breed and consult the


RECIPE: Magic turkey Tapas – Pies  – with bird pepper goat cheese. The Magic of these little Tapas-Pies is that they are made from two significant indigenous Ingredients.  The native bird of the America’s, the turkey. And: native chiltepin/bird peppers (humans have been eating for about 9000 years.) Chilpetin is considered the closest living relative to the oldest known chile.

NOTE: if you think you want to try the goat yogurt chiltpein cheese, make it 24 hours ahead. (See January 2014 for recipe)

*To start. preheat the oven to 350 and thaw 24 Mini FIllo Shells (of course if you are a purest, by all means make your own)


-half a medium red onion (finely chopped)

-two toes of garlic (finely chopped)

-16 oz of ground turkey

-6-10 crushed chiltepin (or any red chile you like)

-a handful of oregano from the garden

-one bunch of asparagus (steamed or roasted)

-chileptin goat cheese (make from full fat. 12 oz yogurt, with two tablespoons of chunky salt)


saute the onion, garlic,


then add turkey, ground chile – cook thoroughly — add oregano and asparagus.


Fill the Fillo Shells

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Bake at 350 until golden brown – baking time will depend on the oven – mine took about half an hour


I could not believe how flavorful these little turkey are! ENJOY!!!!

A chile cheese review:

Place one 12 oz., full fat goat yogurt into a towel, in a colander, over a bow, (so whey can drip out)

Add two tablespoons coarse sea salt and chitepin to taste.

Mix thoroughly.

Tie up cloth.

Untie 24 hours later.

Refrigerate after opening.

You can also let it sit in the fridge while you are letting it transform from yogurt to infused cheese.



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Categories: Sonoran Native | 1 Comment

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