Monthly Archives: March 2019

Browse and Bedeck with Desert’s Bounty–Mustards and more!

Meadows of bladderpod are carpeting Tucson’s West Side, parts of Avra Valley, and the Tohono O’odham Nation. Bare ground between creosote bushes has turned yellow! Enough for all!  (MABurgess photo)

How glorious!  We haven’t had a spring like this in the Sonoran Desert for so long!  With continuing rains, there’s such plenty around us that there is more than enough for all the pollinators, herbivores, insectivores, granivores, and omnivores that may wish to indulge in the wild-mustard smorgasbord–including two-leggeds.  We are drinking in–yea, indulging in–their beauty.  But we also can benefit from their phytonutrients and enjoy their spicy flavors.  Tia Marta here to share some fun ideas for including the “weeds” from the back-forty into your cuisine and your nutrition.   [As you know, I don’t really believe in weeds.  They all have purpose].

Dancing yellow Crucifers–Yellow Bladderpod (Lesquerella gordoni, members of the mustard family–are not only showy but edible too. Try them as a garnish or a spicy addition to salads. (MABurgess photo)

The name bladder pod refers to the spherical little fruit (seedpod) that looks like a tiny balloon with a divider down the middle, which forms after the 4-petaled flower is pollinated.

Yellow Bladderpod (aka Lesquerella gordoni) flowers gives your salad a wonderful little flavor-kick and a touch of beauty to boot. Nip off the very fresh tops of this wild mustard and toss it in with your favorite salad. (MABurgess photo)

Verbena gooddinggii–Goodding’s verbena–is forming lovely mounds of lavender in arroyos across the Sonoran Desert. Keep your eyes peeled as you drive. It also makes a fabulous landscape plant for xeriscape yards. Notice how the flowerless in each cluster turn from orchid to French blue after pollination. Try verbena as a garnish on any platter for a winsome look and edible addition. (MABurgess photo)

Lovely, fragrant Goodding’s Verbena makes a refreshing tea steeped for a few minutes. It has a hint of sweet on one part of the tongue and a little interesting bitterness on another. It’s as if flavor could be depicted as color! Pleasantly, verbena tea is a beautiful calming tea. It can safely mellow you out which is what tea-time should do for all–young and old! (MABurgess photo)

Peppergrass (Lepidium sp.) is not a grass at all! So what’s in a name? Well it is kinda spicy–I wouldn’t say peppery–just a gentle “bite.” It’s a delicate little mustard growing in profuse mounds and sprays this spring. You don’t usually notice it until you are up close. Check out the 2 bladder-pod flowers in the midst of the peppergrass seedpod stalks in this image. (MABurgess photo)

Peppergrass–another mustard family plant growing in plenty this spring–makes a zesty herbal addition to roast chicken (and other meats). It also makes an edible little garnish spray to liven up any platter. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta encourages you to go out and enjoy this amazing desert floral display.  You can visit special places like the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum or Tohono Chul Park to learn names of the flowers.  In natural places where you find meadows of mustards or verbena, know that they can provide you not only visual joy but also vitamins and minerals that only fresh greens can give.  Happy flower hunting!

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, Sonoran Native | 1 Comment

Love Chimichangas? Here’s a book for you.

Carolyn here today. I have been spending the last 18 months working on a book about why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015. It covers what Tucsonans have been eating over the last 10,000 years and also delves into many of the foods we love but aren’t found elsewhere. Along the way, I’ve talked to anthropologists, farmers, chefs, teachers, and people working hard to see that the less fortunate have enough food. And I’ve also kept an eye out for what my fellow writers have been producing. Over the next year, I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned. Today, we’ll start with Rita Connelly’s new book Arizona Chimichangas.

For ten years Connelly provided the restaurant reviews for the Tucson Weekly, so she’s been in a fair number of local restaurants. She’s seen them come and go. Actually, she wrote an earlier book about beloved restaurants that have vanished.

Chimichangas have a cache about them that somehow is more than a sum of their parts. A chimichanga is a deep-fried burro, and a burro is just a flour tortilla wrapped around a filling of beans or meat. Somehow, dropping that humble burro into a sizzling pan of oil transforms it into a flaky pleasureful indulgence. It becomes even better when topped with your choice of condiments such as melted cheese, sour cream, guacamole or enchilada sauce.

Chimichanga “enchilada style” or a “wet” chimi. Photo from Arizona Chimichangas.

Tucsonans want to believe that the chimichanga was invented here in Tucson by accident, but in Connelly’s six-month odyssey of scoping out Mexican restaurants in little towns all over Southern Arizona, she found a fair number of people who swear the delicacy originated right in their restaurant. She even found people who suggest that the chimichanga is an outgrowth of the egg rolls produced by the Chinese who settled in Northern Mexico. And because good flour tortillas are key to a good chimi, Connelly takes us into a tortilla factory.

The reputation of chimichangas is worldwide. Here is a picture I took of a restaurant marquee in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, offering a Balkan version of Mexican food. Looks like they are into the sweet version of the chimichanga.

       Menu from Mexican restaurant in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

If you love chimichangas, if you really love chimichangas, you’ll want to read Connelly’s book on the multi-generation traditions from family restaurants all over Southern Arizona.  Use it as a guide to where to get your next chimi fix. Arizona Chimichangas is available at local bookstores.

Recipe

You really don’t need a recipe for a chimichanga. Brown some ground beef or shred some chicken or beef or pork roast. Sauté it with some chopped onion and garlic, maybe some green bell pepper, maybe a little tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper. If you want a vegetarian version, use some nicely cooked beans or cooked veggies. Wrap up the filling in a flour tortilla, tucking in the sides as you roll to contain the filling. Heat some neutral vegetable oil  in a frying pan until it is about 375 degrees. Fry the chimis until they are golden and crispy, using tongs to turn them. Drain on several thicknesses of paper towels. Serve with guacamole and sour cream or enchilada sauce for a “wet” chimichanga.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about the food and people of the Southwest. See all her books at www.cniethammer.comCooking the Wild Southwest covers identification information and recipes for 23 delicious, easy-to-gather, and easily recognized edible wild plants of the Sonoran Desert.  Order it from the Native Seeds/SEARCH store. 

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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