Cooking

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

Tomatillo Mustard Seed Chutney

 

Hello there, Amy here with too many tomatillos! I had eaten plenty of salsa this season and was ready for something different from the bounty of my Tucson Community Supported Agriculture share.

 

I remembered my friend making an East Indian tomato chutney with mustard seeds and curry leaves, and a hint of tamarind for tartness. Tomatillos are already more tart than tomatoes, so this seemed perfect.

 

I collected the ingredients, including urad dahl, a dry black lentil, spilt and peeled. Feel free to omit. Also asafetida, a strong smelling spice that is totally optional, and curry leaves, which I grow in a pot. 

 

After washing the tomatillos, I prepared everything else.

I fried the urad dahl in coconut oil until golden brown.

Then I added chopped onion, garlic, jalapeno and a pinch of salt, and cooked until soft.

I cooked and smashed the tomatilos to a paste and transferred to a blender, but it would be just as good chunky.

In more coconut oil, I fried the mustard seeds until they were popped, followed by curry leaves and a pinch of asafetida.

In went the puree and I simmered it with the water that rinsed out the blender. After it thickened a bit, it was ready. One batch I made included mostly ripe tomatillos and suited my taste perfectly. The second batch was very firm, green tomatillos, so in went a pinch of sugar and another spoon of coconut oil.  I enjoyed with mung beans and rice. Happy summer!

 

1 teaspoon urad dahl

1 small onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 jalapeno, chopped or dried red chiles, or chile powder (to taste)

1 basket (or 2) tomatillos, well rinsed and chopped

2 teaspoons mustard seeds

Curry leaves (leaflets from 2 leaves stripped from the mid-vein)

A pinch of asafetida

Coconut oil

Salt to taste

Fry the urad dahl in coconut oil until well browned. Add onion, garlic, and jalapenos and cook until soft. Add tomatillos and salt to taste. Simmer until saucy then puree in a blender.

In more coconut oil, fry the mustard seeds until they mostly finish popping. Add curry leaves and fry until crisp. Add asafetida and stir for few seconds before adding puree. Rinse out the blender with a few tablespoons water and add to the pot. Cook for a few minutes to thicken and for flavors to combine. Cool and enjoy.

 

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

Mesquite: Not flour, broth!

This gorgeous photo shows the lifecycle of a mesquite pod. It was taken by talented photographer Jill Lorenzini whose skill at photographing wild plants never ceases to make me go “ooooh!”

This is the time of year to gather mesquite pods and look for places with hammermills that can grind them into flour or meal to use for baking. Everything is different this year and it may be some time before we can gather for a grinding event. But you can still make delicious treats with your mesquite pods by boiling them. Mesquite is one of Mother Nature’s sweetest offerings and can often replace the need for additional sugar.

It’s Carolyn today. I started playing with mesquite pods many years before Desert Harvesters began offering us the option of having our pods ground into lovely fine meal in their hammermill. I tried everything: blender, Cuisinart, Molina grain mill. Nothing worked well. I understand that a Vitamix does a decent job, but I didn’t have one. I developed a deep appreciation for those Native women who pounded pods in the rock mortar.

Desert Harvesters grinding mesquite pods in June 2018 using the hammermill.  This year we’re avoiding gatherings like this so we need to find another way to use our mesquite pods.

Without our friends at Desert Harvesters this year helping us to have beautiful fine mesquite meal at this time (maybe later, they say, stay tuned), I’m digging back into my book Cooking the Wild Southwest, to share some recipes for mesquite broth.  Here’s the basic: Take about 4 cups of broken mesquite pods and cover with about 2 quarts of water.

Start with four cups of broken mesquite pods.

Bring to a boil, cover the pot, turn down the heat, and simmer for about an hour. Cool. Next, put your hands into the broth and wring and tear the the pods in the broth, stirring and mashing the sweet pith into the liquid. This is a great place to get the kids or grandkids involved. They love the messiness of it. The object is to get as much of the pith (technically, the mesocarp) into the broth as possible. Strain the liquid through a fine wire-mesh trainer and discard the seeds and fiber. Simmer the liquid uncovered until reduced to three cups.

This is what your unstrained broth will look like.

Now we’re ready to make something delicious. Let’s start with something quick, a drink I call the Gila Monster. It’s a perfect beverage for a Sunday brunch or even dessert. It looks especially inviting in clear glass mugs.

Combine mesquite broth with cold coffee and whipped cream for a delicious brunch treat.

Gila Monster

(These proportions are a basic recipe. You can adjust to your taste. If you are including kids, use just a few tablespoons of coffee and go with mainly milk. )

Makes 6 servings.

1 1/2 cups cold coffee (use decaf for after-dinner)

2 1/2 cups cold Mesquite Broth

1/2 cup cold milk of your choice

1/2 cup coffee liqueur (optional)

Whipped cream

Cinnamon powder

Combine all ingredients in a pitcher or large bowl. Pour into glasses or cups. Top with whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon powder.

What are some other uses for your broth? Substitute for honey in a honey-mustard salad dressing. Instead of using brown sugar on baked sweet potatoes, drizzle with some mesquite broth. Thicken your broth with cornstarch and use on pancakes. You get the idea. If you want a little more direction, like actual recipes, get a copy of Cooking the Wild Southwest and I’ll guide you step by step through recipes for mesquite broth and mesquite meal. You’ll find even more recipes in the book Desert Harvesters put together Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods and Living.  In addition to recipes for mesquite, it covers lots of other desert plants as well.

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If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a compilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits. And remember Eat Mesquite and More: A Cookbook for Sonoran Desert Foods. In September, I’ll have a new title: A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage. There is more information about my books at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Mesquite, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Rusty Makes Barrel Cactus Jam with Less Sugar

Rusty Ramirez, cook at EXO, with one of the delicious breakfasts she serves with her homemade barrel cactus jam.

I just love to make jam. It’s Carolyn with you today and over the years in this blog I’ve shared with you lots of jam recipes, some with prickly pear, lots with citrus.  It does something to my soul to stand over a simmering pot of fruit and end up with glistening glass jars full of jewel-toned deliciousness. Today I want to talk about lemony-tasting barrel cactus jam.The issue with it and all jams is the sugar. Most jams take lots of sugar, at least as much sugar as fruit, sometimes more. Try reducing the sugar and you end up with runny jam.

But while doing research for my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage, I had the opportunity to interview lots of professional cooks. What fun that was, and I always learned something.  From Rusty Ramirez, the breakfast cook at EXO Coffee Roasters here in Tucson, I learned there is a way to make jam with less sugar. You use a product called Pomona Low Sugar Pectin.

There is a book I found with recipes using this product, and if you’d like to begin making jams with less sugar, it might be a good idea to try some of these recipes before modifying them with different fruit. When I get inspired, I’ll see what I can do about prickly pear jam. If you are used to making jam the old-fashioned way, you’ll find this a somewhat different process.

 

Rusty did her own research and came up with a formula to use the Pomona Low Sugar Pectin to  make barrel cactus jam. EXO serves it for breakfast on the fabulous bread from Barrio Bread made with heritage grains.

Cut barrel cactus fruit ready to be sliced and cooked.

I won’t be able to share all the stories in A Desert Feast with you until September, but I’m going to give you a sneak peak with Rusty’s recipe now. Rusty includes the seeds in her jam. If you don’t want to do that, in a previous post, I gave you a great recipe to use the seeds in a cheesy-rich appetizer.

EXO Coffee Roasters Barrel Cactus Jam

25-30 ripe barrel cactus fruits

½ cup water

¼ cup lemon juice

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons of  Pomona Low Sugar Pectin

4 teaspoons calcium water (instructions on how to make it are included in the pectin box)

Rinse the fruits, cut off the tops and bottoms, and chop roughly. Place the chopped fruits into a heavy-bottomed 2-quart saucepan and add water to about an inch over the fruits. Bring the water to a hard boil, and then reduce the heat to a slow boil for 30 minutes.

While the fruit is boiling, whisk together the sugar and pectin in a bowl and set aside.

When the fruit is cooked, remove from the heat and place into a fine mesh strainer or cheese cloth in a sink. You should have about 3 cups. Rinse the fruit with cold water until there isn’t much mucilage left in the fruits. They should be tender when you squeeze them.  The seeds will collect at the bottom, You can add them to the marmalade or dry them in the oven to snack on later.

Transfer the cooked and rinsed barrel cactus fruits back into the saucepan with 4 teaspoons of calcium water and the 1/4 cup of lemon juice. Stir well with a heat proof spatula. Bring the fruit to a soft boil and add the sugar/pectin mixture to the pot slowly while continuously stirring the fruit so that the pectin doesn’t clump. Before you remove the marmalade from the heat, make sure that all of the sugar/-pectin mixture has dissolved. Put your sterilized jars on a heat-resistant surface. Carefully ladle the marmalade into the jars, filling to the neck and leaving about a half inch at the top.

Cover with the lids and let the marmalade cool completely. Store in the refrigerator for up to three months.

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If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a complilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits.  In September, there will be a new title: A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage. There is more information about them at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Yellow squash blossoms with blue corn

 

Hello all, Amy here with my two little summer squash plants growing in the garden. 

They’ve been flowering beautifully, but I’ve only eaten one patty pan. 

Each squash plant produces flowers that make pollen (male flowers) and flowers that make fruit (female flowers). Each flower only opens for one day. On that day insects (or a human with a tiny paint brush) pollinate from one flower to the next, from the same or different plants, resulting in the famous swelling summer squash. Without pollination, the little fruit withers and dries. Looking at the stem below the flower is the fastest way to determine a fruit or pollen producing flower. Since I don’t plan to save seed and both plants are of the same species, I’m mingling pollen from the pale green patty pans and the yellow patty pans. I won’t see the difference in this year’s crop. Often pollen producing flowers bloom days before any fruit bearing flowers appear, so those are fair game to eat. Unfortunately, I also had many days with only female flowers and no pollen! I did not have any cheese on hand to stuff them like Carolyn used in this recipe, but I did have some lovely heirloom blue corn meal.

 

 

After dipping in beaten egg, I dusted the blossoms (a few male flowers from my Tucson CSA share and the females from my garden) in the salted cornmeal.

I also sliced a yellow crookneck from the share and treated it the same.

Then into hot oil…

While that was going, I RAN out to find something fresh to garnish this crispy little dish.

 I found garlic chives, flat leaf parsley and a volunteer “wild” tomato I’ve been babying in a pot since last summer.

After a final sprinkling of sea salt, I ate it immediately, very hot! 

A delicate treat from the garden. There’s plenty of summer left to eat giant green baseball bats. 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Gardening, Heirloom pumpkins & squashes, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Call It Prickly Pear, Call it Nopal. It’s time for harvest.

Every year, for thousands of years, people living in the Sonoran Desert could count on prickly pear producing succulent delicious new pads this time of year. The native varieties of Opuntia have lots of thorns and it must have been a chore to clean them when all you had was a sharp-edged stone for a tool. Carolyn here today, recalling that one of the reasons that Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is that modern Sonoran Desert dwellers eat some of the same foods people ate here when they were just small family groups drifting through the area, long before there were even villages. That’s quite a testament to the staying power of these local foods.

You need to pick prickly pear pads in the spring when they are only a few weeks old. As they mature they develop a woody interior structure. You can buy fresh pads year ’round in Mexican grocery stores. They are grown by farmers who know how to manipulate their plants through trimming and fertilizing to produce throughout the season.

 

A fresh prickly pear pad, tender and succulent. Very obvious that it is new growth.

Interior structure of a prickly pear pad where the green flesh has rotted away.

Today, most of us who like to pick and eat prickly pear use the Ficus indica variety that grows taller and without big thorns on the young pads. It is native to areas further south, but it can survive here in gardens. Although the big thorns are absent, there are, however, tiny stickers called glochids, and they can be dangerous so you should wear rubber gloves when working with the pads. The glochids look like small hairs but they do have barbs on the end. You don’t want them in your finger or your tongue! I tend to just scrape the sides of the pad with a serrated steak knife, then cut off the edge as in these pictures. The edge has so many thorns it is not worthwhile to try to clean it so just trim it off.

Use a serrated steak knife to clean the thorns and glochids from the prickly pear pad.

My friend Chad Borseth takes a more nuanced approach to cleaning the pads, cutting out just the glochids. He sells lots of edible wild plant products on his website Sky Island Spice Co. and has made this video of cleaning the pads. If you want a better idea of just how to go about it, take a look at the video.

The nopalitos are done when they turn olive green.

Once you have the cleaned pads, you’ll need to cut them up into strips or small squares and cook them. Now you have turned your nopal into nopalitos. You can do this in oil in a frying pan, or follow the Rick Bayless method and oil them, place on a cookie sheet and bake until olive green. The cooking shrivels them and dries up the gummy sap that is so healthful but that some people find objectionable.

You can put the cooked nopalitos into a taco, combined with meat or alone. Or, if you are introducing them to people who might be wary, include them as a new ingredient in some familiar food.  In a previous post we gave a recipe for nopalitos in pineapple salsa which is a great side dish. It comes from The Prickly Pear Cookbook. 

Another super easy familiar dish is this apple and carrot salad, with, of course, nopalitos. It is adapted from Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, a compilation of information on how to gather and cook 23 delicious and easily gathered desert plants.

Apple, carrot, and nopalito salad is a delicious way to introduce people to their first taste of cactus.

Apple, Carrot and Nopalito Salad

1 small cleaned prickly pear pad

1 cup shredded carrot

½ shredded apple

Dressing

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons milk

½ teaspoon sugar, honey, or agave syrup

Sprinkle of salt

Cut the prickly pear pad into very small pieces and bake on a greased cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven until dried and slightly chewy. This should take 15-30 minutes depending on how juicy the nopalitos are. Or put them in a frying pan with just enough oil to coat the pan and cook until olive green. The pieces will shrivel.

Meanwhile make the dressing by combining the mayonnaise and milk in a small bowl. Season with the sweetner and salt. Set aside.

When the nopalitos are chewy, add the carrot, apple, and nopalitos to the dressing. Stir and serve. It looks nice on a lettuce leaf.

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If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a complilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits. There is more information about them at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

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

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

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