Cooking

Flavorful Crispy Crackers with Barrel Cactus, Blue Corn and Herbs

Homemade crackers with lots of flavor are good for a snack plate or alongside soup or a salad.

I’ve spent the fall working on publicizing my new book, A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage, so I when I tied my apron on this morning, I was looking forward to once again working up a new recipe. It’s something I’ve done many times previously for my five cookbooks, but I always feel the thrill of anticipation as I get out the bowls and measuring spoons. My experiments don’t always turn out great the first time, but this morning everything went smoothly.

Barrel cactus fruits are ready for harvest in the winter. With no spines, they are easy to gather.

I wanted to make crackers with barrel cactus seeds because that is one of the only wild foods available in the desert winter. Crackers are always a good accompaniment to the soups we eat in the winter and they also go great with the salads that I make for lunch from greens harvested from my garden.

Halve barrel cactus fruit and set in sun to dry. Seeds will then be easy to remove.

The most delicious homemade crackers I’ve had were made by caterer Kristine Jensen of Gallery of Food here in Tucson, so I called and asked her for some tips. Kristine talked about the importance of adding lots of flavor to the crackers and that certainly is a reason for making your own. To get that flavor, she uses a variety of flours and adds lots of herbs and spices. Her new curry-flavored crackers are very popular. She also said it is important to roll the dough very thin, spray the top of the rolled dough with olive oil, and sprinkle with coarse-ground salt.

With Kristine’s tips in mind and after looking over a few published recipes, I decided to use blue corn and low-gluten Sonoran White Wheat for a good base flavor, barrel cactus seeds for crunch, and coriander and dried rosemary (of which I had lots in my garden) for an extra punch of flavor. I rolled the cracker dough out on parchment baking paper because the dough is very fragile and not having to transfer the unbaked crackers separately to the baking pan meant fewer disasters.

Rolling the cracker dough very thin with ensure a crisp cracker. Here the dough is 1/16 inch thick.

Cut rolled out dough with a sharp knife and carefully separate pieces on paper before transferring on the parchment paper to a baking sheet.

Blue Corn Crackers with Barrel Cactus Seeds

1/2 cup Sonoran white wheat or all-purpose flour

1/2 cup blue corn meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon fine salt

2 tablespoons melted butter

2tablespoons olive oil

5 tablespoons water

Coarse salt

2-3 tablespoons barrel cactus seeds

2-3 tablespoons crushed dried herbs

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix the dough until well combined, then knead a little to even out the texture. Divide in half. Roll out on parchment baking paper. Brush or spray lightly with olive oil. Sprinkle salt, seeds and dried herbs on top and roll again to press into the dough. Cut into squares and gently separate. Transfer paper to a baking sheet. Bake in heated oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Check at 15 minutes, you don’t want them to burn. They should be lightly brown on the bottom. They may be a little soft but will crisp up as they cool.

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A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage tells the history of how residents of the Santa Cruz Valley have fed themselves over thousands of years, why they are still eating some of the same foods over that time, and how that led to Tucson’s designation of the first American city to earn the coveted UNESCO City of Gastronomy. You can order the book from your favorite bookstore, on-line, or from the Native Seeds/SEARCH bookstore.

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , | 5 Comments

Atole, a mug of warm comfort

Hi friends, Amy here with a hot drink way more satisfying and nourishing than hot cocoa for a quiet, cold night. Atole is a drinkable porridge that can be flavored to suit your taste and whim. Of course, fond family memories of making and enjoying it this time of year make it all the sweeter.

The ingredients are flexible and it is a great way to showcase a small amount of wild harvested or specialty food items.

Corn tortilla meal, in this case from a very starchy blue corn, was treated with lime, dried and ground for making tortillas or tamales. Of course it also comes in white and yellow varieties, but all colors are much starchier than grocery store corn meal. There are also toasted starchy corn meals specifically for making atole. If you don’t have of these on hand, you can substitute corn starch or a mix of corn starch and regular corn meal.

I used water but milk of any sort (cow, coconut, almond, rice) is great. Local honey is delicious, but any sweetener, including granulated sugar, is fine. Or the drink can be left unsweetened.

I shelled and ground acorns from Emory Oak trees (Quercus emoryi), that are mild and edible as is. Other species of acorns are more bitter but can be leached by putting the shelled acorns, whole or ground, in cold water for a few minutes and draining. Repeat the leaching of tannins this way until they are not bitter, to your taste. Mesquite meal is excellent in place of, or in addition to, the acorn meal.

Atole is great with or without chocolate. Cocoa powder works perfectly, but instead I toasted raw cacao nibs in a dry pan until shiny and fragrant, then ground them. For spice, I added a chiltepin to the molcajete with the nibs. A coffee grinder is also a excellent way to grind the acorns and nibs.

I also added a spoon of Mano Y Metate Mole Negro powder for spice. Cinnamon or vanilla would also be welcome additions. Everything goes together cold in a pan and thickens as it comes to a simmer.

Due to ingredient variation, more liquid may be needed to make drinkable. Adjust the seasonings and add a pinch of salt to taste.

Enjoy, stirring often to keep everything suspended. Mmmmm… Stay safe and warm!

Atole de bellota
From Amy Valdés Schwemm of Mano Y Metate

Per serving:

1 cup water or milk (cow, coconut, nut, grain, etc)
1 tablespoon corn masa meal (or corn starch)
1 tablespoon acorn meal (or mesquite meal or more corn)

To taste:
1 tablespoon cacao nibs (or cocoa powder)
1 tablespoon Mano Y Metate Mole Negro powder (see ManoYMetate.com)
1 tablespoon honey
1 chiltepin
A dash of salt

If stating from whole acorns, shell and grind. If bitter, cover with water, soak for 30 minutes and drain. Repeat as necessary for your taste.

Toast the cacao nibs until shiny and fragrant, then grind with the chiltepin.

Put the water in a small pan and whisk in the acorn and corn meals. Heat, stirring often, until slightly thick. Add the rest of the seasonings and stir until well combined. Drink in mugs, stirring with a spoon to suspend the coarser parts as you enjoy.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Libations, Mesquite, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Watch The Savor Sisters Demo Wild Foods at Native Plants Christmas Party

 

The Tucson Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society has asked the Savor Sisters–Tia Marta, Amy, and me, Carolyn, to demonstrate cooking some virtual appetizers and “libations” for their on-line Christmas Party. You can join in on Thursday, December 10,  at 7 p.m. MST at a zoom meeting with this link. Amy’s making something with her delicious mole mix, Tia Marta is doing a wild rhubarb pudding, and I’m making a delicious goodie with a mixture of quinoa and popped amaranth seeds bound with agave syrup and coated with chocolate. This is a 21st century version of a treat previously made by the Aztecs. I’m also taking everyone on a field trip to a local craft brewery where the head brewer tells us about all the heritage ingredients that go in his beers.

My newest book, A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage, is more a book of stories with just a few recipes to illustrate past and present food trends. So I went back to my previous cookbook, Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants to find the perfect recipe for this event.

Hank Rowe at Catalina Brewing adds desert flavors such as prickly pear and mesquite to his brews. Come along to hear Hank tell about his beers at the on-line Native Plant Society Party.

When you pour the amaranth into a hot wok, the golden seeds will pop and become like tiny kernels of popcorn. Work quickly and don’t let the seeds burn or they will be bitter.

 

Using two forks, dip each ball into the melted chocolate. They are fragile, so if any break, don’t panic or be upset. Just eat them immediately! Transfer coated balls to refrigerator to harden.

Aztec Delight

This recipe is from my book Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. In the video, you can watch the little amaranth seeds pop to a snowy cloud.

¼ cup chia seed

¼ cup amaranth seed

2-3 tablespoons agave syrup

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

            In a wok or heavy bottomed pan over medium heat parch the chia seed for just a minute or two, stirring constantly. Transfer to a coffee grinder or blender and grind to a powder. Put into a bowl.  Repeat with the amaranth grain.  It is possible the amaranth grain will pop while being parched, resulting in a light cloud, like very tiny popcorn kernels. If that happens, fine; if not, equally fine. Combine the ground chia and amaranth in a bowl and begin adding the agave syrup and stirring until you have a stiff dough that holds together.

            Form balls the size of a large olive. Put the chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl and melt in the microwave or over hot water.  If using the microwave, heat for one minute, check, then continue heating in 30 second increments until melted. If too stiff, add a few drops of neutral oil, like grapeseed.

            Line a plate with waxed paper or plastic wrap.  Using the tines of a fork, roll each ball of the chia/amaranth dough in the chocolate. These balls are rather fragile so be careful. If one breaks apart, the best way to deal with that catastrophe is to eat it immediately.  Transfer the perfect ones to the plate.  Refrigerate until the chocolate has hardened.

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Still looking for a Christmas gift for your foodie friend? In my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary History, you’ll read stories of how early residents existed on wild foods, how agriculture developed and the people built massive irrigation ditches with only wooden tools and baskets, and how the arrival of the Spanish changed everything. I also visit today’s farmers and talk about their challenges and how Tucsonans are learning to garden and grow their own food, starting with school and community gardens. You can order it from your local bookstore (they’ll love you for that) , from Native Seeds/SEARCH, or Amazon.

 

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

Holiday Citrus Treats and Zoom Invite

MEYER LEMONS and heirloom citrus fruits are ripening at Mission Garden orchard and in my own little desert oasis. Every part of this glorious fruit can add to festivities.  Read on to see how to even use citrus RIND in delectable confections!

Tia Marta here to share an easy and festive recipe my Great Aunt Rina used to make for the holidays when I was young–Citrus-Rind Candy.  With a combination of grapefruit, tangerine and orange–rare and special in early 1900s New England–she made sweet confections.  Now, in the Sonoran Desert where a diversity of citrus abounds thanks to introductions by early missionaries, I’m expanding on Aunt Rina’s inspiration.

Heirloom sweet lime is growing in profusion at Mission Garden. I can hardly wait to use its surprisingly sweet juice in a libation–then, to harness its unusually fragrant rind to make a confection.  It’s the ultimate “recycling” reward!

With citrus, nothing gets put in the compost except the seeds.  Check out two great posts for holiday libations with heirloom SWEET LIME and explore others thru the SavortheSouthwest Searchbox.

Meyer Lemon Rind Confection Step 1: After juicing lemon, cut rind into strips and put in saucepan.

RECIPE for MEYER LEMON-RIND CONFECTION:

Place 1 qt sliced lemon peel in saucepan.  Cover with 2 cups granulated sugar or 1 1/2 cups agave nectar.  (No water is needed as there is enough moisture in the rind’s white pulp to supply it.)  Mix well and simmer slowly until sugary liquid thickens, being careful not to scorch or caramelize.  Remove from pan and spread out slices on wax paper to cool, dry, and begin to crytallize.  Dust with powdered sugar.  If this candy remains pliable and sticky, you can dust again with powdered sugar.

A little bundle makes a fun old-fashioned stocking-stuffer, or, served on a buffet platter with other sweets it offers a “bitter-sweet” alternative.

Meyer lemon-rind confection is a welcome flavor surprise offering a pleasant bitter note with the sweet.

Processing (de-hulling) pine nuts from our native pinyon trees is an ordeal….

…but the rewards of our local pinyones (pine nutmeats) are a joy to the tastebuds! Our native pinyon pine nuts (Pinus cembroides and Pinus edulis) are bigger and tastier than Italian pignolas.

To add a local wild ingredient to your holiday confection, try adding some Southwest pinyones.  (New World pinyones is a local industry waiting to happen.  Thousands of years of Indigenous harvests of pinyon nuts should teach us what a treasure this desert tree gives!)

Of course you can cheat for this recipe and buy delicious Italian stone-pine nuts already de-hulled from Trader Joe’s.

The best “sticking ingredient” for attaching pinyon nutmeats to your citrus-peel confection is–tah dah you got it!!–our sublime western-hemisphere contribution to human bliss–chocolate! 

For the ultimate in Meyer lemon delicacies, try dipping your crystallized lemon-rind into melted chocolate, then while it is still hot and molten, imbed a sprinkle of pine nuts.  There’s no more decadent and delectable combo of flavors!

For more great ideas, you are cordially invited to join our Arizona Native Plant Society December Zoom meeting, Thursday, December 10, 2020, at 7pm for a delightful virtual pot luck — Native Plant Desserts and Libations!  Tia Marta will join Tucson’s culinary artists Carolyn Niethammer (author of the new book A Desert Feast) and Amy Valdes Schwemm (molera extraordinaire and creator of ManoyMetate mole mixes) with creative ideas and virtual “tastes” live.  To join the zoom go to www.aznps.com/chapters/tucson in early December for details, or send an email to NativePlantsTucson@gmail.com to request Zoom login.  The meeting will also be streamed on Facebook, starting at 7:00 pm Dec.10.

Happy holiday cooking with our local heirlooms!

Tia Marta’s heirloom products and Southwest foods artwork are available at www.flordemayoarts.com, www.nativeseeds.org, www.tohonochul.org, and in person over the holidays at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Turkey Mole Shepherd’s Pie

Hello Friends, Amy here with comforting dish of turkey in rich Mole Dulce topped with buttery, browned mashed potatoes. I made a single size portion and just devoured it myself. Perfect to change up leftover turkey or special enough for the main event in a very non-traditional year.

I started with cooked turkey in turkey broth from my freezer. Of course, chicken would also be perfect here.

Then I cooked a rounded spoon of Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce powder in enough oil to make a paste. I let it get darker in color and bubbly.

By this time, the turkey broth was mostly defrosted.

Then I added the broth to the mole paste.

When the mole was smooth and thick, I added the turkey…

and placed it in a little oven safe dish. Of course, you can stop here and just enjoy it with tortillas!

But to make something different, I continued. So after covering with mashed potatoes, I put it to bake.

The top browned easily, but I really let it go until the whole thing bubbled and glistened. I ate the whole thing in the beautiful autumn sun.

Enjoy and stay safe!

Categories: Cooking, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Quince: Having Fun with an Old Fruit

Quinces come with a fuzz that must be washed off before cooking.

There are some people who like to cook, but want an explicit recipe to follow. Then there are others who dare to plunge in with new ingredients, new techniques, making it up as they go along. It’s Carolyn today and for all of my professional life, through five cookbooks, I’ve belonged to the later group. Most of my experimental cooking over the years has involved wild plants, but this week I began to make friends with an old-fashioned cultivar: the quince. There is plenty of advice for how to cook quinces, I’d just never done it before. And the advice isn’t foolproof. 

Quince is native to rocky slopes and woodland margins in Western Asia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Georgia and from northern Iran to Afghanistan. It was brought to the New World by the Spanish and is very popular in Sonora, Mexico. Several years ago, the Kino Fruit Tree Project propagated cuttings from quince trees in Sonora and many of those cuttings have grown into huge and prolific trees in the Mission Garden in Tucson. I write about these in my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary History. Quinces aren’t as popular as apples, to which they are related, because they can’t be plucked from the tree and eaten. They are hard and astringent and they need to be cooked to be good. 

After looking through a number of recipes, I decided to take a risk and combine a couple of them. One bit of advice that ran through all the recipes was not to peel the quinces because that’s where much of the pectin (the jelling factor) lies. I decided to use half quince and half green apple and chose a technique of grating the fruit rather than chopping it. Then I mixed the sugar with the fruit, lemon juice, and water and cooked it. I kept having to add more water to get the fruit soft. Because I had added the sugar right away, the mixture jelled before it was adequately soft. 

Green apple on the left, quince on the right. Related but different.

This is a case of I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Quince, even when shredded is a hard fruit and takes a long time to cook. When I finally gave up, the resulting jam was rather chewy. 

Quince, when cooked with sugar, turns slightly pink.

In the middle of my experiment, I reached out to gardening and cooking expert Dena Cowan for advice. Maybe I should have done that first. Here is her response:  “For the past two years I have been making it in the crock pot! I cook the whole quinces first in a pot full of water for about 10 or 15 minutes, just to make it easier to cut them. (If you have a microwave, you can put the whole fruit in it for a minute). No need to peel. I cut around the core and wrap all the cores in cheesecloth. Then I dice the rest of the quince. I put the diced quince, the cores in the cheesecloth, and the cane sugar into the crock pot, stir it up, and leave it overnight. In the morning I mush the core and use what in Spain they call a “chino” (basically a strainer) to get the gelatin out of the cooked core. Then I mush all the quince with a masher and leave it a couple of hours more.”

Ultimately, I used my jam as filling for some turnovers. The texture is perfect for them. I have about a cup left. We can use it on toast or I might try it as an alternate filling in a recipe I have used for fig or date bars. 

Quince-Apple Preserves

2 quinces, unpeeled

2 green apples, unpeeled

¼ cup lemon juice

½ cup water (be prepared to add more)

2 cups sugar

Cut washed fruit in quarters and remove cores. Grate apples into a bowl; grate quince into heavy-bottomed medium saucepan. Add water to grated quince and cook over low heat until soft, about 15 minutes. Add grated apple, lemon juice, sugar, and more water if necessary. Cook over medium heat, watching closely and adding more water as necessary, around another 15 minutes. The mixture is done when it turns pink. Makes about 1 pint.

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A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage tells the history of how residents of the Santa Cruz Valley have fed themselves over thousands of years, why they are still eating some of the same foods over that time, and how that led to Tucson’s designation of the first American city to earn the coveted UNESCO City of Gastronomy. You can order the book from your favorite bookstore, on-line, or from the Native Seeds/SEARCH bookstore.

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Prickly Pear Coconut Frozen Pops

Hello friends, it’s Amy here with my new favorite late summer treat. Pink prickly pear pops are creamy and easy to bite, yet vegan using coconut milk. For a prickly pear peach sorbet using cream and honey, try Carolyn’s recipe from last season. Also, try Tia Marta’s Prickly Pear-Mesquite-White Sonora Wheat Muffins (Ihbhai c Kui Wihog Pas-tihl).

 

With the drought, there are very few prickly pears out in the wild this year.

However, the young plants in my yard near water harvesting basins set a decent amount of fruit, especially for their size.

Even though the fruit may look purple sooner, I usually wait until September to harvest. If picked before total ripeness, the firm flesh holds onto the juice and it is more difficult to extract. To check, I simply pluck them off the plant with kitchen tongs. Ideally, the fruit separates easily from the plant and the skin with no tinge of green at the base tears the fruit open a bit (see the holes in the bottoms of the fruit in the photo below). If juice runs where the tongs squeeze the flesh, it’s definitely ready!!!! 

I then blend the whole fruit, spines and all.

The hard seeds remain intact, while the pulp and skins are pureed. Then I strain the slurry through a cloth napkin or other piece of fabric. Cheese cloth is not fine enough.

This strains out the seeds, pulp, pieces of skin, spines and the tiny, skin-irritating glochids.

It drains slowly, so sometimes I tie the ends of the fabric, hanging it to drip in the refrigerator. 

The clear juice is ready to make treats or savory food right away, or freeze for later. As an extra precaution, I let the juice stand, then pour the clear liquid from the top, sacrificing the bottom inch from the vessel to leave behind any sediment.

To make pops, I heated some juice with lemon and sugar, then thickened it slightly with cornstarch to make a thin syrup.

After taking it off the heat, I added a can of coconut milk. Add a little lemon or orange extract, if you like.

When completely chilled in the refrigerator over night, it is ready to be frozen in an ice cream maker.

If you just pour the mixture into the pop molds, it will freeze as hard as ice. But this method makes pops that are easy to bite.

Of course, it can be eaten now as soft serve or frozen in one container to enjoy as a sorbet. But spooned into reusable pop molds, it is portion controlled!!!

Prickly pear coconut frozen pops (or sorbet) 

By Amy Valdes Schwemm

1 cup prickly pear juice

1 ½ cups sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup lemon juice

1 tablespoon cornstarch

13-15 oz coconut milk

lemon or orange extract (commercial or 100 proof vodka infused with zest) to taste

Bring first four ingredients to a gentle boil. Dissolve cornstarch in 2 tablespoons water in a small dish. Add to pan, and simmer for one minute. Add coconut milk and extract. Remove from heat to cool and refrigerate until well chilled. Pour into ice cream maker and freeze. Firm in freezer, either in pop molds or a lidded container. Enjoy!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mesquite and Chocolate: A Love Story

Mesquite Chocolate Mousse for two

 

Cooks and those they cook for all love chocolate. It’s Carolyn today and I see in other food blogs I follow that people light up for chocolate recipes. Our readers loved Amy’s recipe for Chocolate Mole Dulce Cake a few weeks ago. Today I’m going to give you a recipe for combining chocolate and mesquite. The two flavors enhance each other perfectly, making for creamy, caramel-y, chocolate-y deliciousness. And rich. You always want rich with chocolate.

I usually make my mesquite broth starting with pods. Most mesquite pods appear in late June to early July, but there is usually a small fall crop as well. Even with our very scanty rains this year, I see lots of new mesquite pods on trees in our neighborhood. The crop is much smaller than the early summer crop, but you can probably find enough pods to make this recipe. If all you have is the mesquite meal from a previous year, that will work as well.

For the liqueur in the recipe, which is optional, you can use coffee liqueur (like Kahlua), maybe hazelnut, or whatever you have on hand and like. Or you might even substitute a little strong coffee.

Gather a basket of mesquite pods. Remember to gather only from the tree, never from the ground. Some people say the ones with red stripes are sweeter. I can’t tell the difference myself.

Mesquite Broth

To make mesquite broth, slowly simmer 2 cups of broken pods in 4 cups of water for about an hour until they are very soft. When cool, wring and tear them (hands in!) to release the sweet goodness into the water. Strain.  You can get more details in my previous post on mesquite broth here. If you don’t have the pods, you can make broth with mesquite meal. For this recipe, combine 1/2 cup mesquite meal with 1 1/2 cups water and stir until completely dissolved. You may have to use a whisk. If your mesquite meal is coarse and doesn’t totally dissolve, strain before making the Mesquite Mousse.

These wine glasses contain a rather large serving of this rich dessert. But it is so delicious, you’ll probably finish it off anyhow.

Mesquite Mousse

2 cups mesquite broth

1 can (12 oz) evaporated milk

½ cup water

6 tablespoons cornstarch

2 beaten eggs

¼ cup liqueur (optional)

¼ cup cocoa

¼ cup sugar

Combine mesquite broth and milk in saucepan. In small bowl, combine water and cornstarch and stir until smooth. Add to mesquite mixture. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until thickness of pancake batter. Turn off heat and let cool for about eight minutes. Stir occasionally to keep skin from forming. If it has a few lumps, beat with a whisk until smooth. Meanwhile beat eggs in small bowl.

Please follow the next step carefully. If you try to rush, you will end up with bits of scrambled eggs. Here we go: When mesquite mixture has cooled somewhat, add about a fourth cup of mesquite mixture to the beaten eggs and stir. Add another fourth cup and stir, and then add a half cup. Add egg-mesquite mixture to the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for about four minutes.

Divide the mixture, taking out half which is about two cups. Put it in another saucepan, and stir in ¼ cup cocoa and ¼ cup sugar. Stir over low heat until cocoa is incorporated, about 2 minutes.

Layer mesquite and chocolate mixtures in small wine glasses and chill until set.

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In just two weeks my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage will have the official publication date. It’s already in the warehouse and ready to ship. Five years ago Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy and this is the story of why a desert town received that honor. All history is a series of stories and A Desert Feast tells in lively stories how the residents of the Santa Cruz Valley developed from hunter-gatherers to corn growers to cattle raisers to today’s sophisticated consumers where prickly pear even goes in our local craft beer. We’re going to have a big rollout party in October, but if you can’t wait, ask your local bookstore to order it for you. For more mesquite recipes, check out Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Peanut Butter Bellota Bars

As we are sequestering, we Sonoran Desertofiles should all be out harvesting juicy tunas, ok more on that later, because….

It’s also bellota time!  In mid-August, we went on a bellota quest. Three of us set out, socially distanced, up into Arizona’s oak woodland near the border.  Two inspiring foodie-pals, Dr.Letitia McCune “BotanyDoc.com” and Mission Garden mover-shaker Emily Rockey, y yo–Tia Marta–were on a treasure hunt to relocate the wonderful, giving trees where my Tohono O’odham mentor Juanita Ahil used to gather wi-yo:thi.  Our quarry:  the little acorns of Emory oak.

Socially distanced bellota-rustlers under giant Emory oaks near the border

Yes we found them, with thanks–Ah such plenty!  Fruit of Quercus emoryi  are the only acorns I know of in the world that don’t need to be leached of their tannins before eating.  You can eat them fresh off the tree.

Quick-wash the dust off your bellota harvest

…then quick-dry or “roast” your bellotas in the hot sunshine

Bellotas are increditbly nutritious– full of complex carbs that help balance blood sugar and almost 50% rich oil similar in quality to olive oil.

But they require some work, and can be difficult to de-hull to extract each little morsel of goodness inside–the nutmeat.

Always check for holes–We aren’t the only ones who eat bellota.  Nature needs to feed all her creatures.

There are lots of ways to crack the shell.  I  like to crack them ever-so-gently when placed longitudinally between opposite molars, then manually remove the shell.  Jesus Garcia, the Desert Museum’s primo ethnobotanist, demonstrates the “traditional Sonoran” method using his incisors to cut a “waistline” around the midriff of the acorn so two perfect half-cups of shell release a perfect nutmeat.  Experiment to find your own favorite method.

Don’t use the rolling pin method unless your bellota shells are very brittle–or you’ll be hunter/gatherer once again, indoors.

…A tedious process no matter what. Hey, try shelling bellotas while listening to audiobooks or good music.

As with your molars, if you’re careful, cracking bellota shells with pliers can yield perfect nutmeats.

Ingredients you’ll need for Peanut Butter Bellota Bars (shelled bellotas to left, mesquite flour to right)

This easy recipe combines sweets, like mesquite pod flour and piñon nuts, with the excitingly bitter notes of bellotas.  Bellota Bars, with chocolate, are a decadent dessert served with ice-cream.  Without chocolate (less melt-able), they are an energizing bar great for hikes and picnics.

RECIPE — Tia Marta’s Peanut Butter Bellota Bars —

Ingredients:

1/2 C chunky organic peanut butter

1/3 C butter

1   C sugar

1/2  C  brown sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

1  C  flour (any flour combo works–I used 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour & 1/2 cup barley flour)

1/4 C  mesquite flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/2 C  shelled pinyon nuts. (optional)

1/2  C high cacao chocolate morsels (optional)

Topping:   1/4  C shelled bellotas (Quercus emoryi acorn nutmeats)

As you sprinkle bellotas on top, pat the dough evenly into all corners of your pyrex baking dish.

Recipe Directions:  Preheat oven to 350F.  Cream peanut butter and butter.  Add sugar and brown sugar.  Beat in eggs.  Add vanilla and beat until smooth.  Separately, sift flours, baking powder and salt together.  Mix these dry ingredients into wet ingredients thoroughly.  Add optional pinyones and/or chocolate morsels according to your “richness palette.”  Press dough into a 8×8″ greased pyrex pan.  Sprinkle bellotas as “topping”.  Bake 30-35 minutes.  Cool, then cut into delectable chewy energy bars.

When cool, cut into small squares, as they are super-rich and energy-packed.

If you can’t harvest your own bellotas, you can buy them this time of year, before Dia de San Francisco in October, at most Mexican markets or along the road to Magdalena, Sonora.  They will keep a long time in your frig or freezer for future joyful cracking.  Nature’s wild bounty is so diverse in our borderlands desert!

Find many of our Southwest traditional foods respectfully captured in my artwork at www.flordemayoarts.com for all to enjoy.

Check our SavortheSouthwest blog archive for other bellota recipe ideas and anecdotes.

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

Chocolate Mole Dulce Cake

Hello friends, Amy here feeling completely indulgent and impractical today. Lately my meals have featured lots of summer squash and cold dishes with fresh basil, so I wanted something sweet and different. 

Also, in the low desert summer, some people go months without turning on the oven. However, wanting to use mole powder in a creative way was a great excuse to play. This recipe is based off of Wacky Cake, a vegan World War II era chocolate cake I remember from my elementary school cafeteria. 


Although the original recipe calls for mixing all the ingredients directly in an ungreased 8×8 pan, I decided to sift the all purpose flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. 

I also sifted in 3 tablespoons of Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce powder. 

Water, apple cider vinegar, oil and vanilla make an easy batter to mix by hand.

After pouring in a greased bunt pan, it baked at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes.

Smelling wonderful, it slowly cooled…

While waiting, I made a glaze of powdered sugar, cocoa powder and vanilla thinned with coconut milk. 

I alternately drizzled on the glaze and sprinkled with more Mole Dulce powder.

Chocolaty sweet and also salty spicy, this is one I’ll make again. The measurements are easily cut in half for a short bunt or a smaller baking dish. If you’re looking for something richer (with eggs, lots of butter and twice the sugar) try Mole Dulce brownies. But you can eat bigger pieces of this cake. !Buen provecho!

Mole Dulce Cake

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup granulated sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

3 tablespoons Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce powder

1 cup water

6 tablespoons oil (I used coconut oil)

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon vanilla

For glaze

1/3 cup powdered sugar

4 teaspoons cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

2 tablespoons coconut milk

For topping

Mole Dulce powder

Sift dry ingredients into a bowl. Measure wet ingredients in a separate bowl and combine with the dry. Or make a well in the dry ingredients, quickly measure the wet ingredients directly into the well, and combine. Pour into an ungreased 8 inch x 8 inch pan or greased bunt pan. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes or until cake tester or toothpick comes out clean. Cool completely before unmolding, drizzling with glaze, and sprinkling more Mole Dulce powder on top.

Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

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