Cooking

Fern Shoots Are Delicious Spring Treat

Young bracken fern with shoots perfect for harvest.

As long as I’ve been writing about wild foods–and that is many decades–I’ve read about eating the just-emerging shoots of ferns, a great delicacy. But since practically all of my foraging has been in the desert, I’ve never had a chance to gather this mountain treat. Then last year, we became part owners of a cabin on Mt. Lemmon, next to Tucson, at 8,000 feet. The hill behind the cabin is covered with FERNS due to a fire on the mountain about 15 years ago. As soon as I saw them last summer, I began plotting my gathering experience.

First, I had to figure out if my ferns were edible. I turned to John Slattery’s book Southwest Foraging, and he assured his readers that only one kind of fern grows in Southern Arizona, the bracken fern, and that it is edible. He did advise cooking it in two changes of water to deal with “carcinogenic substances.”

We’ve had a unusually cool spring in Southern Arizona, so cool that we didn’t get up to our cabin until late May. But spring was very slow coming that high (it had snowed earlier in May), and the ferns were just coming up. I was in luck. I only picked a handful because I wasn’t sure I’d even like them and I didn’t want to waste any.

However, a rinse, the two changes of cooking water, and a quick saute in butter and lemon juice provided a little snack with a slightly nutty taste just as delicious as promised. There will be no second chance this year, it’s a fleeting season. By the time we get to the mountain cabin again the ferns will be unfurled. But I will for sure be up there next year in May and this time I will gather more!

Cleaned young ferns ready for cooking.

 

Shoots nicely cooked with butter and lemon juice and ready for eating.

Update:  I did my original gathering and cooking in the third week of May. We returned to the cabin the first week of June and there were still ferns just emerging and the tops of others further along were still furled and tender. I had forgotten to take butter and lemon juice, so I cooked the tips in olive oil and drizzled a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar over them. Great! So depending on the year, the fern season at 8,000 feet runs for maybe a month.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants of the desert Southwest. You can see her books at http://www.cniethammer.com. In the fall of 2020 her book on why Tucson was named a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy will be released by the University of Arizona Press. In it she details the last 10,000 years of culinary history of the Santa Cruz Valley and why the inhabitants of the area are still eating the same things after all these years!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Raspberry Beet Stem Turnovers

Amy here today, with beautiful red beets! You know, beet stems look like rhubarb…what if…

I had beets from Tucson CSA and from a friend’s garden. There are plenty of beet root dishes I make, like roasted beet salads, pickled or fermented beets, and borscht. Also, I LOVE cooked beet greens, with their salty, mineral character, sautéed in olive oil and garlic or many other ways. I usually chop the stems and cook along with the leaves, but they have a different texture and make the dish more red than green. Like in beans simmered with greens, or in a quiche, I want less of that hue. What to do with extra beet stems? Since they look like rhubarb, would they work as a substitute????


Rhubarb, and wild desert rhubarb (See Tia Marta’s desert rhubarb upside down cake and pie on this blog) are much more tart that beet stems, so I could add lemon. Strawberries are the classic pair with rhubarb, but raspberries have the tartness I wanted. I harvested wild raspberries in the mountains last summer for the freezer, but they were long gone. A little carton of raspberries from the store had the same volume as the chopped beet stems I had, so that’s what I used.


I simmered the beet stems, raspberries, a lot of lemon juice and zest, sugar and a shot of vanilla, then thickened with cornstarch. A delicious compote. It totally worked!!!!!
There wasn’t enough to fill a pie plate, so I made a few turnovers.


A simple short pastry: butter cut into all-purpose flour, a pinch of salt, a bit of cold water to make it come together, and refrigerated until firm.

After dividing the dough into 8 balls, I rolled one thinly. Then filled with the compote, moistened the edges with water and folded. On ungreased parchment paper, I crimped, poked steam vents, wet the tops with water and sprinkled with sugar. Maybe next time they’ll get egg wash or fancy sugar.


At 425 degrees F they took 20 minutes to get golden brown top and bottom.


They came out flakey, tart, and beautiful color. Don’t waste those beet stems!

Raspberry and Beet Stem Turnovers

by Amy Valdés Schwemm

Filling:

1 cup red beet stems, chopped

1 cup red raspberries

1/2 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon cornstarch

Pastry:

1 cup all purpose flour

5 tablespoons cold butter

dash of salt, if using unsalted butter

1/3 cup cold water

 

Cut butter (and salt if using unsalted butter) into flour to make uneven crumbs. Add water to make a dough, form a ball and refrigerate until firm.

Simmer the beet stems with sugar and lemon juice until tender. Add raspberries and lemon zest, and cook until reduced and the raspberries fall apart. Mix the cornstarch in a tablespoon of water, add to the pan and cook until clear and thickened. Stir in vanilla and allow to cool.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Divide the dough into 8 balls. Roll one ball into a thin circle and fill with two tablespoons of the compote. Moisten the edges with water and fold. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper; no need to grease. Crimp the edges with a fork or fingers and poke steam vents in the top with a fork or knife. When all are formed, wet the tops with water or a beaten egg and sprinkle with sugar.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden brown, top and bottom.

Enjoy!

Categories: Cooking, fruit, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Delectable Cholla bud and Nopalito Recipe Ideas

 

Blooming staghorn cholla and foothills palo verde bathe the Sonoran Desert in color. Surprisingly, this 2019 spring season has been so cool and moist that we are still harvesting cholla buds and fresh nopales in May. (MABurgess photo)

“Act now while this offer lasts!”–so says Mother Nature in the Sonoran Desert.  She only offers her bounty in certain pulses or moments, and we must harvest while her “window of opportunity” is open. Tia Marta here to share some delectable ideas for serving your own desert harvest from our glorious bloomin’ cholla and prickly pears.

The YOUNGEST pads of new growth on prickly pear are the ones with tiny leaves at the areoles (where spines will later grow). (MABurgess photo)

After singe-ing off the tiny leaves and spiny glochids using tongs over a flame (either campfire or gas stove), slice and saute young prickly pear pads in olive oil. Now they are ready to use in lots of great recipes…(MABurgess photo)

Young prickly pear pads (many species in Baja Arizona) have no woody tissue yet developed inside. In their youthful stage (see photo) they are not only edible but also super-nutritious! The photo is our native Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) with flower buds forming. Traditional Tohono O’odham call the edible young pads nawi.

After spines and areoles are singed off you can chop and scramble nopalitos with eggs, bake them into a quiche, pickle them, OR simmer them in a delicious mole sauce….The fastest and easiest way to prep a gourmet nopalito meal is to use Mano y Metate’s Mole Mixes.  Savor blog writer Amy Valdes Schwemm has created several different sabores of mole–many without chocolate.  My sweetie loves Amy’s Mole Adobe as its savory spice binder is pumpkin seeds with no tree nuts.

Nopalitos in Mano y Metate Mole Adobo sauce–here served with a mesquite tortilla (from Tortilleria Arevalo available at farmers’ markets in Tucson.) Nopalitos en Mole over brown rice is delicious too.

Get out your tongs and whisk brooms to harvest the last of the cholla buds this season!

A staghorn cholla cactus flower bud (Cylindropuntia versicolor) still with spines in need of cleaning. Buds with petals not yet open are the ones to pick–carefully.(MABurgess)

A harvest of staghorn cholla buds in screen box to remove spines from areoles (MABurgess photo)

Tohono O’odham harvesters know this cholla species as ciolim–pronounce it chee’o-lim.

Once de-spined, cholla buds must be boiled or roasted to denature its protective oxalic acid. Then, tah-dah!, cholla buds lend themselves to wonderful recipes similar to nopalitos in omelettes, quiches, stir-fries… They are flavorfully exotic, tangy, definitely nutritious containing gobs of available calcium and energy-sustaining complex carbs!

Pickled cholla buds (MABurgess photo)

I love to pickle my fresh cholla buds to enjoy later as garnish for wintertime dishes. For the salad recipe below, I’d canned them with pickling spices, but an easier alternative is to marinate them short-term for 24-48 hours in your favorite dressing for a quick fix.

 

Muff’s Easy Marinated Cholla Bud and Sonoran Wheat-berry Salad Recipe:

First–prep ahead–heirloom White Sonoran Wheat-berries:   boil 1 cup dry wheat-berries in 4 cups drinking water for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until water is fully absorbed and grains are puffed up, then chill.

Also prep ahead— marinate fresh boiled cholla buds in pickle juice, or your favorite marinade or salad dressing for 24-48 hours in refrigerator.

Then–Chop any combination of your favorite fresh veggies–sweet peppers, tomatoes, summer squash, celery, carrots, artichoke hearts, etc….

Toss veggies with cooked chilled wheat-berries and marinated cholla buds.  Add spices and pinyones if desired.  Dress with remaining cholla marinade.  Allow to chill before serving, neat or on a bed of fresh salad greens.

 

The yummiest cholla bud and wheat-berry marinated salad ever! (MABurgess photo)

Let’s honor, tend, and enjoy these desert foods that have fed generations of desert people for hundreds–thousands–of years, keeping them healthy and strong!  Thanks to traditional harvesters, newcomers can more deeply appreciate and take good care of this beautiful desert.

An energy-saving idea:   You can save energy and keep the heat out of the kitchen this summer by cooking your cholla buds or your wheat-berries in a solar oven!  Check out a light-weight streamlined model solar oven at www.flordemayoarts.com.

[White Sonora Wheat-berries are available at NativeSeedsSEARCH store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue, Tucson.  Not to fret if cholla and prickly pear harvests are done for this spring in your neighborhood!  During the rest of the year, you can find dried cholla buds at NativeSeedsSEARCH, at San Xavier Coop, OldTown Artisans, and at Flor de Mayo and fresh nopales in the Mexican foods section at groceries like Food City.]

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Agave Fest!

Every year in late April and early May, Tucson residents and visitors celebrate the agave plant in all its glory with dinners, cocktail demos, mescal and bacanora tastings, demonstrations and fiestas. It’s Carolyn today and for the third year, I’ve taken part in the agave roasting at Mission Garden.  The agave plant is a succulent that thrives in arid conditions and when roasted becomes very sweet. It is the defining ingredient in mescal and tequila. It has also been used for thousands of years by the Native Americans as food. The Hohokam even planted agave fields stretching over 1,200  acres in the north end of the Santa Cruz basin. It was a crop that needed little tending and propagated on it’s own by sending out pups. Anthroplogist Suzanne Fish estimates that the Hohokam in the area could have harvested up to 10,000 agave plants annually.

There are many species of agave. We’re not sure how many kinds were used by the Native Americans. (MABurgess photo)

Historically, the stiff and thorny leaves were cut from the agave and the hearts are baked in an earth oven. The people just chewed the pulp from the fibers. Then there was a step up in technology when the hearts were steamed and roasted, crushed and used to make tequila, mescal and bacanora. Here is a link to a demonstration of a old-fashioned bacanora “factory” in Mexico. Of course, today the big commercial mescal and tequila makers use industrial ovens.

But during Agave Fest, we like to celebrate the oldest traditions, so Jesus Garcia demonstrates baking agave in an earth oven.

Jesus Garcia placing an agave heart in an earth oven on the grounds of Mission Garden. (CNiethammer photo)

Because we don’t all have earth ovens, I am in charge of the home-baking demonstration. I wrap the hearts securely in heavy foil and bake them for about 10 hours at 350 degrees F. (If you try this, be sure to put a foil-lined pan under the agaves because even the most securely wrapped hearts leak sugary juice.)

Agave heart split in two so it could fit in my home oven.

This is what the roasted heart looked like after 10 hours. The core on the right is where I removed some of the leaves.

The next challenge is to get enough pulp from the fibers to actually make something. The Native Americans just chewed on the baked leaves and discarded the fibers. Distillers and people who make agave syrup crush the juice from the fibers. To further soften the leaves, I tried boiling them for a while. I also put them in my food processor which did a good job of separating fiber from pulp.

You can also tease out the pulp with a knife.

(We are all constantly experimenting to try to find what works best. A woman who attended my presentation said she has cut up a small agave heart and cooked it in her large slow cooker for three days.)

So once you’ve gone to the trouble of getting pulp, what do you do with it? Here’s where the experimenting comes in. I’ve combined it with water to make a murky homemade agave syrup. You can use it to season anything you want to sweeten a little. For the Agave Fest demonstrations, I’ve made a mixed squash, nopalito, and onion saute and added some of the agave pulp. It adds a subtle sweetness and everybody loves it. I also used the pulp to mix with some ground popped amaranth and ground chia. Added a little commercial agave syrup. Formed little balls, firmed up in the fridge, then dipped in melted chocolate. Yum!

Amaranth, chia, agave balls with chocolate coating.

Of course, by the time I served the food, it was nearing 7:30 or 8 p.m. and everybody was starved so it all tasted especially good!

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Want to learn more about wild desert foods and how to prepare them? My book American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest tells how the Native Americans used the wild plants for food. Cooking the Wild Southwest gives modern recipes for 23 delicious Sonoran Desert plants. There are all available at Native Seeds/SEARCH, online or in the retail store.

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom crops, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Mole Spiced Dark Chocolate Sablé Cookies

Do you like dark chocolate with a hint of spice?

How about not too sweet but buttery rich cookies that are cute and easy to make?

Hello friends, Amy here today with a cookie perfect for Easter from my friend Joy Vargo.

Yes, that Joy from Tucson CSA. She also is a chef and AMAZING caterer. She brought these cookies into CSA, spiced with Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce. The texture is delicate and crumbly, and Joy said that the French name Sablé translates as sandy.

Joy is a trained baker, so her original measurements are the weights listed in the recipe. If you have a kitchen scale at home, please use those instead of my approximations for the volumes.

I made both the logs sliced thinly and the roll and cut method. Since the rolled were thinner, I preferred those. The sugar sprinkled on top of the unbaked cookie was a nice touch. The sea salt I used was too fine and dissolved on the surface, but tasted good. However, the combination of salt AND sugar on the top of the cookie was a hit!!!! If I had saved any Mole Dulce powder I would have tried that as a sprinkle as well, like on these brownies.

They don’t rise at all, so this is a great recipe to use those cookie cutters with intricate designs. Also, they can be crammed close on the baking sheet. That is good because this recipe makes a big batch, of course depending on the size and thickness of the cookies. I froze some of the dough to defrost and roll fresh for Sunday.

 

Mole Spiced Dark Chocolate Sablé Cookies

By Joy Vargo

 

2 sticks Unsalted Butter, Room Temperature (7.5 oz)

½ cup Sugar (3 oz)

2 Eggs, Beaten (3 oz)

1 tablespoon Vanilla

1 tin Mole Dulce, Mano y Metate (2.2oz)

1 cup Dutch Process Cocoa Powder (4.5 oz)

2 ½ cups All Purpose Flour (10.5 oz)

Pinch Sea Salt

 

In a large mixing bowl whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, sea salt, and Mole Dulce. Set aside.

 

In stand mixer bowl cream together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add eggs, about half at a time, making sure to incorporate fully into the batter before each addition. Scrape down bowl frequently to help fully incorporate all ingredients. Add vanilla. Mix. Add flour mixture all at once and very slowly mix until a soft dough forms. If dough is still too wet and sticky add a few pinches more flour. If dough is too dry add just a couple drops of water. The goal is to have a smooth soft dough that can be rolled/shaped easily, but also take care to not overwork the dough.

 

At this point, form the dough into either patties that can later be rolled out, cut and baked OR roll the dough into the desired size of logs that can be cut and baked. Cover dough and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

 

When ready to bake, Preheat oven to 350F.

 

If dough has been shaped into patties then gently roll to desired thickness, cut desired shapes. If dough was rolled into logs then gently cut to desired thickness with a sharp knife to avoid crushing the logs.

 

Place evenly on parchment lined cookie sheets. Sprinkle tops of cookies with a bit of sugar, a sprinkle of sea salt or both.

 

Bake cookies for 10-15 minutes, or until just set. Cookies should still be slightly soft to the touch as they will firm when cooled. Let cool completely before serving.

 

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

Wild Rhubarb Upside-down Cake!

Wild desert rhubarb–canagria–is up from its hiding place deep in sandy desert soil triggered by our wonderful winter 2019 rains– ready to harvest for upside-down cake! (MABurgess photo)

Known as hiwidchuls by traditional Tohono O’odham harvesters, canagria (literally “sour cane”) by Spanish-speaking amigos, Rumex hymenosepalus by science nerds, Arizona dock by herbalists, and wild rhubarb by those who might know its relatives in northern climes, this rarely-seen tuberous perennial has responded gloriously to our winter rainfall.  It is currently bedecking the riverbanks along the Pantano, Rillito and Santa Cruz where Native People have gathered it probably for millennia.  But it won’t be there for long–so act now if you want a tangy-sweet treat!

Tia Marta here to share a fun recipe that celebrates this short-lived desert food:  Wild Rhubarb Upside-down Cake.  (If you seek a rationalization to counter sugars and fat, check out its available Calcium, plus helpful soluble and insoluble fiber.)

Wild rhubarb stalks look like celery with a pink tinge. Peel off any tough fibers, then chop into 1/2 inch pieces to use as the lemony flavor in the “bottom” of your cake–which becomes the top when turned upside-down. (MABurgess photo)

Put chopped canaigria into the butter-and-brown-sugar melt in the iron skillet, and dredge them til all coated with sweetness. It helps to have your skillet warm, as a head-start before baking. (MABurgess photo)

Wild rhubarb leaves can be boiled twice to eat as greens.  The plant also has many important uses other than food–tannins for medicine, dye from its root, and food for a native butterfly.  Read more about hiwidchuls in my February 2017 savor-post using rhubarb as the keyword in the SearchBox above.

 

I’ve used other ingredients in this recipe from our Baja Arizona palette of delicious heirlooms to make it super-local.

RECIPE FOR WILD ARIZONA RHUBARB UPSIDE-DOWN CAKE (“Skillet Cake”):

Preheat oven to 350F.

Into an iron skillet, melt 1/4 – 1/2 cup butter.

Stir in and stir until dissolved 1/2 – 1 cup brown sugar. (I use 1 cup to balance the rhubarb’s lemony sourness.)

Place diced wild rhubarb on top of butter/sugar mixture (as in photos above).

Pour batter right over the wild rhubarb/butter/brown sugar mix in bottom of skillet. (MABurgess photo)

When done, the cake will pull away from sides of skillet. At this point you can keep it in pan to cool down and heat again later, or turn it over immediately. (MABurgess)

To make batter, sift together: 3/4 cup White Sonora Wheat flour

1/4 cup amaranth flour (e.g.Bob’s Red Mill)

1/4 cup mesquite meal

1 tsp baking powder

pinch of sea salt.

Separate 4 eggs, yokes from whites to beat separately. Beat egg whites gradually with 1 cup sugar and whip until stiff.

Add  1 Tbsp melted butter and 1 tsp vanilla to beaten egg yokes.  Fold egg yoke and whites mixture together then gradually add sifted flour mixture.  Pour batter over the still warm or hot rhubarb in skillet.  Bake about 30 minutes or until it tests done.  To serve right away, place a pizza pan or plate on top of the skillet bottom side up, then carefully turn the paired pans over.  Your warm cake will drop easily onto the inverted (now right-side-up) plate.  Remove the skillet carefully.  To gild the lily, you can garnish your cake top with whipped cream.  Enjoy the zippy tang and good nutrition of a wild rhubarb upside-down-cake made with our special heirloom wheat, mesquite, and amaranth!

 

We took our cake out on a camping trip, quick re-heated it in the skillet over the campfire, and turned it over to serve on a pizza pan for a fabulous and nutritious breakfast pastry. (MABurgess photo)

For access to heirloom products and artwork of heirlooms from Flor de Mayo, check out NativeSeeds/SEARCH store and catalog,  and museum shops at Tucson Presidio, Old Town Artisans, and Tohono Chul Park.  And visit my website http://www.flordemayoarts.com.  (Enter your favorite native food word and find great recipes at this very blog–search box at top right.)  Enjoy every bite of flavor with gifts from our beloved Sonoran Desert!

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Citrus Season is Time for Marmalade

Mix citrus for a delicious marmalade with my favorite recipe.

It’s Carolyn Niethammer here today to share my favorite recipe for citrus marmalade. It comes from an early version of The Joy of Cooking that I received as a gift in 1965. The most recent Joy of Cooking doesn’t even have an entry for jams though I hear there is a resurgence of interest in making them. I love citrus marmalade, but don’t like the overly sweet grocery-story version. I like a little bitterness, more like the English version rather than the American style.  I’ve used this recipe for at least 30 years, varying the proportion of fruit according to what I have.

Some of the oranges come from a Sweet Orange tree in my front yard that my husband as a small child planted with his dad, Dr. Leland Burkhart, a half time extension agent, half time college ag professor.  Dr. Burkhart used to travel all over the state consulting with citrus growers. Since my own grapefruit tree died, I have to snitch a few of those from my neighbors. I also gather a few sour oranges from street trees in the neighborhood because I like the tang it gives my marmalade.  If you don’t have access to free fruit, the farmer’s markets are full of all varieties right now.

Farmers’ markets in the Southwest have abundant citrus for sale now.

Although I have been using this recipe successfully for years, a couple of years ago I decided to get fancy and carefully cut away all the white pith on the inside of the fruit rinds. Then the mixture simply would not jell no matter how long I cooked it. So….I learned this is where the pectin is, what makes the marmalade thicken up. Leave the white stuff on; it disappears during the soaking and cooking.

Use whatever fruit you have; don’t worry about the proportions. You could use all lemons. Last year I foraged an abundance of kumquats and used those. You might decide to make your version of spring marmalade special by adding some thinly slice barrel cactus fruit, or a little prickly pear juice if you have some, or even some berries. This is a very adaptable recipe. I always try to stress experimentation. Here’s a place to construct your own signature jam to your special taste preference.

The recipe is very easy, but you have to start the process a few days before you plan to do the cooking. The fruit soaks and softens in a corner of your kitchen. During the days when the fruit is soaking, gather up your jars. If you have those with the sealing lids, fine. If not use any jars. Put them in your biggest pot, cover with water, and boil for a few minutes to sterilize. If you don’t have the lids with the rings that seal, be sure to refrigerate the jam until use. If you give it away, caution the receiver not to stick it on a shelf and forget it.

I use whatever jars I have for the marmalade.

Mixed Citrus Marmalade

1 grapefruit

3 oranges

3 lemons

Sugar

Scrub the fruit, cut each in quarters, and remove the seeds. Slice very thinly. Measure the amount of fruit and juice and add 3 times the amount of water. Set aside and let the fruit soak for 12 hours. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Let stand again for 12 hours.

For every cup of fruit and juice, add ¾ cup sugar. Divide into two pots if you have them or cook one half at a time. Cook these ingredients until they reach 220-222 degrees F. on a food thermometer . It will seem like it takes a long time at first and then at the end it moves rapidly. If you don’t have a food thermometer, once you think it’s looking a little thicker, turn off the heat, put a little of the jelly on a china plate and put it in the freezer for a minute. If it firms up, it is ready. If it is still liquid, cook for a little while longer. It usually firms up a bit more once it cools in the jars.

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Ready for another challenge? It was a rainy winter this year in the Southwest which means lots of edible wild desert plants. You can find recipes for 23 of the  easiest to gather and the tastiest in my book Cooking the Wild Southwest available from Native Seeds/SEARCH and from on-line stores.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

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

Pollo Milanesa

Hello friends, Amy here today making a dish my mom imagined, and I’m so happy to report that it’s a keeper. Chicken Milanesa is a crunchy breaded cutlet of breast meat. Beef Milanesa in a torta (sandwich) is a Mexican favorite! My mom makes excellent Pollo Milanesa with panko, Japanese bread crumbs, which she plates as a main course. She had the idea to season the crumbs with Mano Y Metate Pipian Rojo powder. Another day I’ll try it with other varieties of mole powder. The flavor of the Pipian really came through in the finished dish.

Start with a whole chicken breast in a heavy duty plastic bag.

Then pound gently until the meat is very thin.

I cut the breast in a few pieces. This time, I forgot to dredge in flour first, which makes a thicker coating. Then dip the meat in a beaten egg.

I seasoned panko bread crumbs with Pipian Rojo powder. Salt to taste, if you like.

The seasoned crumbs stick to the egg coated chicken, but I pressed extra on to the meat.

Use one hand for the wet egg and the other for the dry crumbs, keeping your hands a little less messy…

Place the meat in a medium hot skillet with small amount of neutral frying oil.

It only takes a few minutes per side for the crumbs to brown and the inside to cook.

Spicy, juicy and tender. It would be perfect served with rice, beans and a salad, but I just ate them as quickly as I made them. Thanks for the idea Mom!

Update: Then I made a torta with homemade mayo, home pickled jalapenos, lettuce from Tucson CSA, tomato and avocado on a bolillo. YUM!

 

 

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

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