Monthly Archives: April 2020

Enjoy Ya Cholla!

With so much plenty around us in the desert–like this glorious staghorn cholla (Cylindropuntia versicolor)–2-leggeds can be rewarded while social-distancing with healthy outdoor exercise and super nutrition.  Read on…… (MABurgess photo)

The cholla bloom is in full swing!  The low desert in Baja Arizona continues to explode with color late April into early May, with several species of cholla cactus punctuating the landscape colorfully with a rainbow of colors-and a fiesta of flavor.  When the first flower buds open on cholla, traditional O’odham harvesters knew this short window of time is for feasting on this nutritious food, and for drying and storing enough for the rest of the year.

Tia Marta here to share creative and fun ideas for the generous harvest available without getting near a grocery.  For detailed “how-to” ideas, view this earlier SavortheSouthwest post and a short video from a  NativeSeedsSEARCH workshop.

Why harvest unopened buds? Note how loosely opening petals grab spines and don’t let go. After brushing and screening off spines, cleaned buds must be boiled or roasted before eating. (MABurgess photo)

Enjoy my article A Budding Meal _ Martha Ames Burgess EdibleBajaAZ 2014 explaining how Tohono O’odham Elder Juanita Ahil harvested cholla, or, check out www.desertharvesters.org for guidance.

Jambalaya a la Cholla made with andouille sausage, sauteed garlic and celery, cooked cholla buds, served with brown rice. Find great jambalaya recipes online–just add prepared cholla buds!

Jambalaya a la Cholla was our centerpiece dinner shared on Zoom with pals.

When you venture into harvesting, be sure to start with three awarenesses:  giving thanks for this plentiful gift from the desert,  watching for snakes, and checking the wind for where spines might blow.

These off-the-wall ideas for sure are not traditional ways of cooking cholla.  Hopefully these ideas can inspire you to get creative with cholla.  As desert dwellers we should all have a deep respect for this much ignored or maligned cactus.  Cholla reminds us that there is no time for boredom.

Try diluting the pucker-up sourness of sauerkraut by adding chunks of apple, caraway seed, and…tah-dah…cooked cholla buds for a wonderful addition!

Try this variation on a favorite comfort food–Add prepared cholla buds to creamed chicken or chicken stew.

Using a simple dill pickling recipe online, I packed 20-minute-boiled buds into canning jars with snips of fresh oregano and I’itoi’s onion from my garden, then filled jars with a cider vinegar and spice mix. After a 15-minute waterbath jars were ready for storage or use as gourmet hors d’oeuvres.

Deviled eggs made with chopped pickled cholla buds are a perfect hot-weather lunch or unusual buffet feature.  Try spicing up your deviled eggs with curry powder for a great complement to cholla!

If planning for future food is on your mind, consider drying your cholla buds. Compare sizes on my drying screen of freshly boiled buds (right) and tiny, stone-hard dry buds(left) ready for storage. If fully dried patiently over several days, buds will keep for years in a glass jar.

For the best in local libation to allay woes of social distancing, quaff a Sonoran quarantini made with Tucson’s ThreeWells Mt.Lemmon gin and garnished with a pickled cholla bud in place of an olive, plus a bulb of I’itoi’s onion. It can’t get more festively flavorful and local than that!

Read more about traditional cholla bud use by Native cultures in Dr.Wendy Hodgson’s Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert (University of Arizona Press).  Find more cactus cookery ideas in Cooking the Wild Southwest by Savor-Sister Carolyn Niethammer (also UofA Press).

Tia Marta wishes you happy cholla harvesting in our beautiful desert spring!

Dried cholla buds are available online at www.nativeseeds.org and at www.flordemayoarts.com.  You can find them also at the SanXavier Co-op.  For cooking with the sun on these hot days, order handy solar ovens at www.flordemayoarts.com or check craigslist for used solar ovens.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Libations, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Backyard Wolfberry Salsa

I planted a one gallon container wolfberry bush in a water harvesting basin on a dry corner of the yard in 2015. That first summer I watered it sporadically, then after that I left it alone to compete with the grass and weeds. Five years later, it’s a seven foot tall by seven foot wide bird sanctuary. Wolfberry certainly once grew wild on this land, in the floodplain of the Santa Cruz River, about a third of a mile from the current channel.

Actually I planted several species of wolfberry, and a Baja species has only lavender flowers now, but has a very long fruiting season.

This Tucson native Fremont wolfberry, however, has a short bountiful spring fruiting in years with good winter rains. If you look closely, you’ll see a few white flowers among the red berries.

The North American wolfberries are close relatives of the gojiberry from China and distant relatives of tomatoes. Wolfberries are slightly sweet but taste and look somewhat like little tomatoes, so are also called tomatillos.

Harvesting in the thorny branches is meditative to me, unlike for the flitting verdins working the other side of the bush.

In the absence of fresh tomatoes, I decided to make a salsa. Also in the yard are I’itoi’s bunching onion.

Our Tucson wild oregano, oreganillo, is also known as Aloysia wrightii or Wright’s beebrush. It tastes somewhat like Mediterranean Mint family oregano, somewhat like other Verbena family Mexican oregano species. It definitely has a lemony scent that I sometimes catch in the breeze before I spot the scraggly plants hiding in plain sight in the wild. The leaves never get much larger than this.

Putting all this together, I broke out last year’s stash of backyard grown chiltepin and the salt I collected a few years ago near the Sea of Cortez.

In the molcajete, I started with the chiltepin and salt.

The diced I’itoi’s onions

And the fresh wolfberries and oreganillo

When making Mano Y Metate mole powders, I sift the largest particles from the lime treated masa meal. I’ve been making this leftover coarse meal into a mush and frying it. From frozen to crispy in the time it took to make the salsa.

I ate in the yard, contemplating the bounty of the desert.

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Mexican Cornbread: Familiar, Comforting and Delicious

Mexican Cornbread goes with every meal. Great for breakfast, aside a salad for lunch, and the perfect accompaniment to a hearty soup for dinner.

In this food blog, we often challenge you with recipes using wild plants, unusual flavors, and special ingredients that will help you make great food with Southwest flavors.  But maybe this is time time for something familiar and comforting. Mexican Cornbread used to be in regular rotation on our dinner menu, but I’d forgotten about it.

It’s Carolyn today and this has been a head-spinning month for anyone in the food world. Which I guess includes anyone who eats, but especially those involved in getting you that food. First, I want to celebrate the incredible response of the Tucson restaurant community in the first American UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Many sit-down restaurants managed to pivot in a day to take-out establishments after our mayor declared they could no longer seat patrons. When hundreds of restaurant workers lost their jobs, some of their colleagues with funding from generous donors, stepped up to provide meals for their out-of-work buddies.

My friend Lorien who has a small in-town farm is staying away from the farmer’s market and instead is serving customers from the alleyway behind her garden. (Those are her chicken’s beautiful eggs in the photo below). This is just one example of how Tucson’s food community is adapting to the pandemic. My forthcoming book “A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage” is entering the design stage, but my editors allowed me the opportunity to quickly add an Epilogue discussing the heroic measures that help keep the food flowing in our city.

Lorien’s neighbor gets some eggs from the alley behind her Dreamflower Garden.

So, on to the recipe. There is a standard method for putting all the ingredients together, but I’d bet if you just dumped everything in the bowl at once and stirred, it probably would be fine.

Most of the ingredients for Mexican Cornbread are pantry staples.

Ready for the oven.

 

This recipe is remarkably forgiving. Since I store my cornmeal at the back of the fridge and hadn’t seen it recently, I was surprised to find that I didn’t have quite enough yellow cornmeal. I certainly wasn’t going to run to the store for one item, so I  filled in with blue cornmeal of which I had an abundance. I prefer to use whole wheat flour, but you might want to use white flour. You probably don’t have buttermilk. Instead add a tablespoon of vinegar to regular milk. It will help the baking soda to do its work.  Here in the Southwest, we are used to eating spicy food, so we’d use at least some pepperjack cheese and add some jalapeños. But the cornbread is delicious in the milder version as well.

If you live in an area where prickly pear cactus are growing new pads and you are itching to use them, feel free to add some nopalitos to this recipe. Here, in a previous post, are full instructions on how to prepare them.  Nopalitos will add additional nutrition to your cornbread.

Mexican Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup flour

1/2 cup melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup buttermilk or milk

1 cup cream-style canned corn

1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles (chopped)

1/4 cup minced jalapeño peppers (optional)

1 ½  cups shredded longhorn, pepperjack or cheddar cheese

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, melted butter, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk. Add melted butter. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Stir in the cream-style corn and chopped chiles. Add jalapeños if using. Stir to blend.

Pour half the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle half of the shredded cheese over the batter.

Spoon remaining batter over the cheese layer and then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.

Just out of the oven.

Unless you have a large family or are really hungry, you’ll have some cornbread left. This is a good thing. It makes a lunch salad a satisfying meal, it is great beside a supper soup, and any leftovers can be fried in a little butter for breakfast. Add an over easy egg.  Oh my!

Try frying Mexican Cornbread for breakfast.

_____________________________________

Carolyn Niethammer has written about the food of the Southwest for more decades that she is willing to admit to. She is excited that The New Southwest Cookbook has been recently re-released. The New Southwest Cookbook can help you up your game with easy but innovative recipes. The dishes originated with top chefs using familiar Southwest ingredients in delicious new ways. These chefs were well-trained and knew how to layer flavors to come up with either new spins on the old favorites or entirely unique ways of blending the iconic chiles, corn, beans, and citrus.  The New Southwest Cookbook can be ordered from your favorite bookstore or ordered from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or the publisher.

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

Blog at WordPress.com.