Monthly Archives: July 2018

Awesome Amaranth

Jacqueline here with a confession. I confess I am not a fussy gardener. I prefer plants that I can plant and forget about until harvest time.  Likewise, in the kitchen, I prefer foods that are easy to prepare, needing few steps to provide a satisfying meal. Lucky for me the Sonoran Desert abounds in such plants, and amaranth is just one of them – great in both the garden and kitchen.

amaranth 2709238_1280

There are over 60 species of amaranth, and while several species are considered weeds, many people around the world value amaranths as vegetables, for the seeds, for dye, and as ornamentals. Amaranth grows best in the heat of summer, and it is not too late to plant some.

Some species of amaranth are eaten as greens – and are anything but green! Foliage ranges in hue from crimson, to red, to vivid magenta, all due to natural pigments called betalains. Whatever their color, they are a very good source of vitamins including vitamin A, B3, B6, C, vitamin K, and folate, along with dietary minerals calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper, and especially manganese.

amaranth foxtail 2769772_1280

The root of mature amaranth is a palatable parsnip-like vegetable. It is fine added to stews or cooked and mashed.

Amaranth seeds, like quinoa, teff, and buckwheat, contain “complete protein” (a complete set of the amino acids needed by humans). These examples are called “pseudograins” because of their flavor and cooking is similar to grains, but unlike grain, they do not contain gluten. (By the way, “true” grains are in the grass family.) As with rice and other grains, use two cups liquid to one cup seeds.

quinoa 1243592_1280

Amaranth is related to quinoa.

 

Amaranth greens and seed are used as a tonic in Chinese medicine for their richness in minerals and vitamins – to help the body recover from a variety of ills, including infections, rashes, and migraines.

In India, amaranth is recommended for people with low red blood cell count. Several studies have shown that amaranth seed and amaranth seed oil may be of benefit for those with hypertension and cardiovascular disease; regular consumption reduces blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while improving antioxidant status and some immune parameters.

Amaranthus retroflexus 844463_1280

Young amaranth leaves are tasty right off the plant, in salads, or they can be steamed as a potherb. In Greece, their native green amaranth (Amaranthus viridis) is used in a popular dish called “vleeta.” Leaves are boiled, then served with olive oil and lemon, usually alongside fried fish.

Amaranth grows very rapidly and their large seed heads can weigh several pounds and contain a half-million seeds. Mature seed heads of amaranth are ideally harvested while still somewhat green, before the bracts open to release the seed. Thus seed will drop where you can more easily capture it, like within a paper bag.

These seeds can be boiled, parched or even toasted much like popcorn and mixed with honey, molasses or chocolate to make a Mexican treat called alegría, which will have to be a topic for the future, or see the chapter Using Father Kino’s Herbs for a recipe.

greens and eggs 694677_1280

A quick dinner when you don’t want to heat the kitchen too much is steamed amaranth greens and scrambled eggs.

JAS avatarWant to learn more about growing amaranth? Look for my free lectures at your local Pima County Library branch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will sell and sign copies of my books, including Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening (Cool Springs Press, $23).
© Article copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. 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 © Jacqueline A. Soule where marked and they may not be used.

Categories: Cooking, Dye, dye plant, edible flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, medicinal plant, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , | 3 Comments

Summer fruit: pickled figs, grape salad

Hi, Amy here today, giddy with a pile of fresh figs and fresh grapes! The Black Mission figs are from a very old tree in my mom’s yard.

My mom dries them in a hot car and freezes them to preserve. This year I decided to try pickling some. I poured about one cup red wine vinegar into a pan, along with two tablespoons sugar and a teaspoon salt. Then I tossed in about a dozen fresh but firm figs and brought them to a simmer. I’m sure honey instead of sugar is fine, and any vinegar would work as well. You could add more or less sweet or salt to suit your taste. Quick pickles are as forgiving as they are delicious.

After simmering for a few minutes, I let them cool in the liquid. I refrigerated the figs and brine together, where they softened and darkened a little more. Perfect.

A few days later, a friend shared some seedless grapes from her garden. Amazing!!!! You can see some turning to raisins on the vine.

For a fresh, light meal, I put stemmed grapes with some tart Greek yogurt.

I sprinkled some sea salt thyme blend and called it a salad. Of course, any salt and herbs would be wonderful here.

For a sandwich, I spread Black Mesa Ranch goat cheese with herbs on a slice of Barrio Bread whole wheat levain (both from Tucson CSA) and topped with halved figs. Dinner to eat while watching the clouds and sunset.

Here’s to hoping for more summer rains in the desert!

Categories: Cooking, fruit, heirloom crops, herbs, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Heirloom Cowpeas for a Summer Garden Surprise

You are in for a treat this summer–don’t wait until New Year’s Day feasting.  If you have “black-eye-pea prejudice,” or if you have never tasted a FRESH black-eye-pea, read on!  Black-eyes will be a reward for your palate–and positive reinforcement for the novice gardener.  First, action is needed:  With monsoon moisture it is time to get those seeds in the ground!  Tia Marta here to share some hot-weather garden advice, recipe inspiration, with some historical spice, about the sweet and nutritious black-eye “pea” Vigna unguiculata.

Lovely foliage, flowers, and pods of Tohono O’odham native black-eye pea U’us Mu:n maturing in a monsoon timeline garden at Mission Garden, Tucson (MABurgess photo)

A rose by any other name…..Really it’s not a pea at all!  (Here in Baja Arizona, true peas, English peas, Pisum sativum, must be planted in the cool season.)  Nor is black-eye a common bean either.  Other monikers for this frijol-like legume are cowpea (it used to be cow forage), and crowder pea (its fat seeds are packed against each other in the pod.)  Spanish called them frijoles de carete.  Cowpea varieties that became part of Chinese cuisine are called long beans.   The generic term for edible legumes including cowpeas is pulses, a term that nutritionists tend to use.

An amazing relative of cowpea– Chinese long bean–growing at Mission Garden in the new Chinese Timeline Garden, a Wong Family heirloom planted by Nancy Tom (DenaCowan photo)

Cowpeas were first domesticated in sub-Saharan Africa a few thousand years ago and made it on their agricultural-culinary odyssey to Spain during the Middle Ages, according to historian William Dunmire.  Cowpea came to the New World with Spanish explorers and arrived in the American Southwest with Padre Kino around 1706  (according to Bolton’s 1948 translation of Kino’s journals.)  Native People of what is now northwest Mexico and the US Borderlands quickly adopted this sweet, nutritious food.  It dovetailed perfectly into their traditional summer temporal gardens, their bean staples, and their taste buds.

Over years of selection for color, flavor, and adaptation to arid agriculture, the Mayo, Pima Bajo, Tarahumara and other Native farmers shaped this Old World gift into different colorfully-patterned landraces.  The Tohono O’odham, with selection, altered their adopted variety into a spotted vivid black and white bean, naming it U’us Mu:n or “sticks-bean” because the pods are long, straight or curvy, and clustered.  The Guarijio and Mountain Pima (now of Sonora) named theirs Yori Muni meaning “foreigner’s bean” as yori is slang for something akin to “gringo.”  (Names can reveal alot.)  Mexican and Anglo pioneers and later African-Americans continued to bring “new” varieties of black-eye peas into the Baja Arizona borderlands–which all thrive in our humid hot summers.

A rich harvest of Tohono O’odham U’us Mu:n grown at Mission Garden from seed saved by NativeSeedsSEARCH (MABurgess photo)

Your monsoon garden is bound for success choosing from NativeSeedsSEARCH’s many heirloom cowpea varieties –known success stories in the Southwest.  The seeds will be up in no time and flowering, great for gardening with kids.  Down below soil level cowpea roots will be feeding the earth with nitrogen.  Above ground they feed us well.  When pods are plump with seed, before they dry, harvest and cook the seeds fresh.  When you taste fresh black-eyes your eyes will roll back in ecstasy as your tummy goes “whoopee!”  After they dry, they can be kept for months, even years, but New Year’s is a good time to share them for good luck.

A prolific producer is pioneer heirloom Bisbee cowpea saved by NativeSeeds/SEARCH, available at the NSS Store (NativeSeeds/SEARCH photo)

My favorite dish is a simple compote of cowpeas with garden vegetables.  As cooking beans goes, cowpeas are much speedier than common beans, as they do not need to be presoaked, although soaking an hour before cooking does reduce cooking time.  I quick-sauté my onions, garlic, carrots and celery in a little olive oil, add them to cowpeas and soak-water in a dark lidded saucepan, and put them in the solar oven.  They will be done and smelling delightful in 2-3 hours, depending on the summer or winter sun during the brighter time of day.  You can also make a hummus with black-eyes for a cool summertime dip.

Black-eye pea compote with garden vegetables –cooked in the solar oven! (MABurgess photo)

We grew a red cowpea heirloom from NativeSeedsSEARCH one summer that had foot-long straight pods.  The refreshing green mass of foliage, flowers and pods sprawled across the garden and kept producing for weeks.

For a rainbow of cowpea ideas for your garden, go to www.nativeseeds.org, click on shop then enter cowpeas in the search box, or go directly to the NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, 3061 N Campbell and browse for instant gratification.  Prep your soil, pop seeds in the ground, add water and get ready for botanical action.  By late August you will be pleasing palates with your own home-grown cowpeas, black-eyes, crowders, u’us mu:n–fabulous food by whatever name you want to give them!  Savor Sister Jacqueline Soule discusses growing beans in our area on her site, Gardening With Soule here.

The colorful and reliable Tohono O’odham cowpea in the NSS Conservation Garden–U’us Mu:n (NativeSeeds/SEARCH photo)

Can you hardly wait to have such greenery and goodness in your garden?  All it takes is some seeds in the ground!  You can find even more detailed info about cowpeas at the NativeSeedsSEARCH blog and scroll down to May 14, 2018 post.  Tia Marta wishing you happy and prolific gardening with the monsoons!

Mosaic of cowpeas created by NativeSeedsSEARCH aficionados (credit NSS)

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Sweet Desert Nectars

We start July with guest blogger Monica King, a rancher near Tucson Arizona, here to tell us about the product of her littlest, and busiest, “livestock.”

mesquite Monica King 605

With help from our friend, the honeybee, we can explore the palate of desert flora riches in a different way. These pollinators are beneficial to agriculture and two out of three bites you take you owe to honeybees! There would be little to no melons, strawberries, almonds, coffee or chocolate, just to name a few, if it were not for these busy tiny creatures.

As a worker honeybee heads out foraging, at around twenty-one days of age, they are not only pollinating, but also gathering many different flowers nectars.  But not all at once!  A foraging bee will visit the same kind of flower repeatedly on each excursion. This behavior is called flower fidelity. This is how pure honey is produced. I will get back to this.

honey monica king 005

A chunk of comb full of honey.

A worker bee’s tiny body can carry more than her own weight in nectar. As she is on her way home with her bounty the nectar is mixed inside her honey sac with an enzyme called invertase, which begins the nectar to honey transformation. Upon return to the hive she then transfers her load to her sisters which continue the process. These workers manipulate it in their mouthparts exposing it to try air and add even more enzymes. They then put it into a honey cell and the bees fan their wings producing a breeze, which mixed with the warm air of the hive, continues to reduce the water content. When it is dehydrated to 17-18% moisture it becomes pure honey. Our moisture content in Southern Arizona is more like 10% due to our arid environment. Once the bees fill a cell they cap it with wax for storage. It is at this time a beekeeper may harvest the excess.

cat claw monica king 055

Honey bee on cat claw acacia.

 

When it comes to honey from Sonoran Desert plants – there are two, local, well known spring harvests – mesquite and cat claw acacia.  In general, most local beekeepers will wait until the honey box is full and extract all the honey from one bee yard in one trip.  This is the less labor intensive way, and thus more economical. This honey is correctly called a Sonoran Desert blend. With each season being slightly different, no two harvests will be the same.

honey Monica King 001

But sometimes, you can find a beekeeper that doesn’t do things the simple, economical way – and they may have a pure cat claw acacia honey.  Cat claw acacia honey has a very light to almost white color and exquisite sweetness. This honey also has a heavy, thick texture and it will naturally granulate quickly.  My favorite way to savor this honey is spread like butter on toast or slightly warmed served drizzled over vanilla ice cream with fresh chopped local pecans.  Honey that granulates has not gone bad, and is just fine to use.

mesquite Monica king 607

Honeybee on mesquite.

Another specialty honey is mesquite.   Honey from the light colored mesquite flowers is transformed into a dark rich honey, smooth on the tongue, and may remind you of brown sugar or maple syrup. This honey pairs nicely with cheeses, especially Gouda, and makes wonderful BBQ sauces. When drizzled on blue corn pancakes you will think you are in heaven.

honey M King 002

Many beekeepers have their bees near agricultural or residential neighborhoods where the bees just don’t forage on native plants. I like to call this honey a desert urban blend and again it is very unique. The taste varies as the honey from some locations may have more clover in the area and other locations may have more citrus, etc.. Honey contains over 600 volatile organic compounds or plant-based essential oils, and these make it possible to have honey tested for pureness and provide the botanical and geographical origin. But the best way to know if your honey is pure, is to buy it from a local, respected, beekeeper.  And then you can taste the sweet desert nectars.

Monica King 001

Monica King is a rancher near Tucson.

 

 

 

Categories: Beekeeping, Cooking, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.