herbs

Nopalitos Pulao

Hello friends, Amy here making something different out of the same characters I always eat, again and again and again. Eating more locally and seasonally encourages creativity! Nopalitos, young prickly pear cactus pads of many species, are DELICIOUS but like okra need special care to not let them overpower the texture of a meal. Start by harvesting a tender young pad that still has its true leaves, the little cones at the top of the pads seen in the photo below. As the pad matures, the leaves yellow, fall, and a woody internal structure develops. This might be the last I harvest before a new flush of pads comes with summer rains.

Any large spines or tiny glochids can be quickly singed to ash over an open flame, holding the pad with tongs.

Singed nopalitos can be safely touched and if they turn from bright green to pale olive, they are cooked and ready to be eaten.

To showcase this little harvest I made pulao, an extremely flexible rice pilaf from India. I started with a traditional recipe changing to local veggies and nuts. Whole cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise, Indian bay, fennel and black cumin can be toasted in oil or ghee. I wish I had whole nutmeg or mace to add at the beginning, because I forgot to add them as ground spices later.

Then onion, garlic, ginger and a whole green chile (a serrano frozen from last autumn’s harvest) went in to fry. Followed by Tucson CSA carrots.

Then Tucson CSA zucchini, soaked basmati rice and mint from the garden.

After several years without, I now have a great spearmint patch again. A smart gardener gives plant starts away to friends and family for backups and last year I was a grateful recipient. Anybody need some?

After water, salt and 20 minutes covered over low heat, it was ready.

After fluffing, I toasted some local pecans and sprinkled them as well as the nopalitos on top. A totally new taste for my usual veggie friends. If you like this, you make like Tia Marta’s cholla bud jambalaya.

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, herbs, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Coriander: Herb Gives Depth to Southwest Spice Blends

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Dried balls of coriander from my garden.

First, I’d like to welcome all of our 401 followers. The three of us-Tia Marta, Amy and, me, Carolyn Niethammer–realize that we write about quirky subjects and we will never attract the numbers of readers as do bloggers who concentrate on such things as chocolate and whipped cream. Here you’ll most likely find foods that hide their goodness beneath spines, spices that tingle on the tongue,  plants that have fed humans for thousands of years. We love having you as a community of cooks who love trying wild foods and getting creative with Southwest flavors. We come to you every 10 days with something seasonal and delicious.

It’s getting very warm in our Southwestern desert city and garden plants that don’t like hot weather are giving up. This includes cilantro that has been such a lovely addition to so many foods all winter. But it doesn’t go away entirely. First it flowers, then it leaves tiny balls that when dried we call coriander. Some people call both the fresh herb and the dried coriander, but each of them has a distinct flavor so giving them each their own name seems fair.  

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Fresh cilantro likes cooler weather in the garden.

 

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After the cilantro leaves dry up, the flowers produce these tiny balls that we call coriander.

Coriander combines beautifully with other Southwestern herbs, giving them a twang, a tiny bit of sweetness, and a depth of flavor that works to meld the other flavors. It is widely used in East Indian dishes.  Below is a beginning recipe, but you should feel free to customize it to your own taste. Then you can use it as a rub for pork or chicken, you can add it to sauces that need a little something,  use it while stir-frying veggies, and even just use it as a dipping spice for pita bread or fat flour tortillas.

Southwestern Spice Rub

Go very light on the salt or it can overwhelm the other flavors. Taste the blend without the salt first; you may decide you don’t need it. 

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic

1/2 teaspoon chile powder of choice

1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seed (optional)

pinch of salt (optional) 

Combine all herbs and flavorings. Taste and adjust. Use as a rub or a dipping spice.

Put a small puddle of good olive oil on a plate, dip your pita in the oil and then your coriander spice mix. Delicious!


Why was Tucson named the first US UNESCO City of Gastronomy? How about 8,000 years of food history, the first agriculture in what we now call the United States, the first irrigation, and the fact that people in the Santa Cruz Valley still eat some of the same foods that the Native population enjoyed all those years ago. You can read the whole fascinating story in my new book “A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage.” And find recipes for these foods in “Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.”

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, herbs, Sonoran herb, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , | 2 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

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

Backyard Wolfberry Salsa

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The diced I’itoi’s onions

And the fresh wolfberries and oreganillo

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

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

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, herbs, Kino herb, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Savor–with your Sniffin’ Sense!

I was down on hands and knees in olfactory ecstasy, to sniff my lonesome but persistent hyacinth’s sweet bouquet.  Each February it appears in my little orchard’s undergrowth to remind me that spring is on the way. (MABurgess)

I was out on a trail and caught a whiff of what seemed like Avon perfume ahead. Surprised to find that it was blooming mistletoe in the palo verde tree!

You know spring is springing when a waft of sweet scent catches you unaware.  What a great way to SAVOR THE SOUTHWEST!  Tia Marta here to share some olfactory sensations and some ideas for carrying them to your breakfast table or teatime in an aromatic cup.

Mescalbean is a favorite ornamental from the Chihuahuan Desert planted in my Southern Arizona garden. Last night, walking from the driveway I was hit by the scent of grape Kool-aid. Finally traced it to the nocturnally-active flowers of this beautiful “Texas mountain laurel.”

I first met lemongrass on an adventurous trip in central Sonora.  As we walked by a kitchen garden in the lovely Rio Sonora town of Banamichi, an elderly gardener hailed us, inviting us in for a cup of the most refreshing tea–té de limón.  Inspired by her, I’ve been growing it in my own kitchen garden ever since.  I love to snip it to steep and serve as a quick pick-me-up tea on a cool day.  With a few sprigs bundled and cooked in a pot of whole chicken soup, it makes the best lemon-chicken you ever tasted!  Lemongrass is the gift that keeps on giving; it multiplies, and plants can be gladly shared.

My lemongrass made it through the winter freezes and is rich with concentrated lemon essence.

 

Te de limon has a blast of lemon flavor and is full of nutrition–no need to even add sweet.  It is packed with vitamins A, C, and B complex, plus calcium, magnesium, potassium and other important trace minerals.

Scratch the rind of a lemon–especially a Meyer–and your sniff sense will soar into heaven. Add a wedge of lemon rind or tangerine rind to hot tea. Or harvest a couple of young leaves for a simply fine herbal tea!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Steep 3-5 fresh young leaves of a lemon tree, tangerine or lime tree for a gentle no-caffein tea. Its aroma is a soothing gift….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was Magdalena Mahieux, at her family’s farm west of Hermosillo, who introduced me to té de oja.  For breakfast she instructed me how to go harvest my own fresh leaves for morning tea from their lime tree.  Come to find out it is not only refreshing, it is a traditional medicine for calming nervousness and insomnia when made in concentration.

Flowers of our native Goodding’s verbena are sending out their sweetness into the desert air. Soon they will form round mounds of lavender in arroyos and along the highway.

Harvest the fragrant flower stalks of Goodding’s verbena for a calming tea. It can a soothing “slow-down” for active children or adults!

 

 

 

 

Goodding’s verbena is a delightful addition to your garden–and to your olfactory enjoyment.  It is a native (not related at all to lemon verbena) that will re-seed itself to return year after year with its glorious long-lasting lavender color and sweet scent.

Happy sniffing into spring as you savor the Southwest with all your senses!

Tia Marta’ artwork and heirloom foods can be found at www.flordemayoarts.com.  For native desert plants go to Desert Survivors Nursery , www.desertsurvivors.org.

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

Camp cooking at home

Hi all, Greetings from sunny Tucson! Amy here, at my new urban homestead. Taking out a wall left me a pile of old bricks to re-purpose, so I made a little outdoor hearth. This bucket of rainwater helped me level the cooking rack, sturdy enough for my over-sized, seldom used, cast iron cookware.

Making dinner for myself outside to admire the newly cleared yard, I cooked what was on hand from my Tucson CSA share: a butternut squash, Yukon gold potato, yellow onion, and French breakfast radishes. I decided to make a dish from my camping childhood, a foil meal cooked on the fire!

I cut the veggies into bite sized pieces, added a sprinkle of salt, and doused with olive oil and Mano Y Metate Mole Verde powder.

Then I sealed the foil seams very well and made a mesquite fire.

When the fire was almost down to coals, I put the sealed packet on the grill.

After about 45 minutes, the potatoes were perfectly tender and the embers glowing more dimly.

The steam from the veggies and the Mole Verde powder made a slight bit of sauce in the packet. It was mildly spicy and herbaceous from the cilantro, parsley and epazote in the mole powder. Of course, this would work with many other veggie and meat combinations, and any of the mole powder varieties.

I ate my dinner by the fire and dreamed of what might come next on this old urban lot.

Buenas noches, Amy

 

Categories: Cooking, herbs, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Brown Goddess Dressing; Copycat Recipe?

Brown Goddess Dressing!!!! A mole vinaigrette over a cucumber salad with mint and candied pepitas!!!!!


Long a fan of salad on the same plate next to a mole-sauced entree, the idea of a mole vinaigrette sounded familiar and spectacular. I came across a 2017 article mentioning this salad from a restaurant named Lalito, opened by chef Gerardo Gonzalez in New York. The restaurant is still there but Chef Gonzalez is not, and there’s no sign of any Brown Goddess Cucumber Salad, or anything else with the dressing on their current menu posted online. Not ever eating there myself, who knows.

With no further direction, I attempted Mole Dulce candied pepitas. I started with a cup of pumpkin seeds dry toasting in a pan on medium heat.

After they darkened and smelled toasty, I added a tablespoon Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce powder, a tablespoon sugar and a half teaspoon salt.

Stirring, I added a couple tablespoons of water and cooked until sticky and glossy. Then I transferred to a plate to cool.

For the Brown Goddess Mole Vinaigrette, I used the same skillet to cook a tablespoon Mole Dulce powder in a tablespoon of mild oil (grape seed) over medium heat.

When it was a fragrant paste, I added a tablespoon white wine vinegar and cooled completely.

I tossed two small sliced cucumbers into the room temperature pan, topped with tiny spearmint leaves and few candied pepitas.

After taking a photo and eating some, I sliced the third (slightly opaque from my too cold fridge) cucumber, and remixed all. Topped with the rest of the mint leaves and a handful of pepitas, it was a great little summer meal.

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

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

Create a Sonoran Scents Pomander

I posted this in 2013, but was just learning to blog and I didn’t make it searchable.  Here it is again – in time for holiday decorating.

Pomanders are used to add fragrance to stored clothing while they are said to also deter moths.  Pomanders have traditionally been made by sticking cloves into oranges, or mixing cinnamon and nutmeg with applesauce.  For those of you that love the scent of creosote bush, here is a Sonoran Pomander recipe I invented.

Dry creosote leaves until well dried.

Dry leaves of creosote bush.  Collect more than you think you need!

Dry leaves of creosote bush. Collect more than you think you need!

Turn them into leaf “powder” in a blender.

Mix three parts leaf powder to one part applesauce.

Mix powdered leaves with applesauce.

Mix powdered leaves with applesauce.

Form into walnut sized balls, or pat into thick disks.  If you get the mix too wet and have no more leaf powder, use a mild spice (like nutmeg) to add more “powder.”  Don’t use something moths eat, like flour or mesquite meal.

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You can use nutmeg if you run out of powdered leaves.

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Use small cookie cutters to make impressions if you wish.

Add ribbon if you wish to hang them (later!).  Poke ribbon into the center with a toothpick.
Allow to dry for three to seven days.  If you hang them too soon they fall apart.

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Insert ribbon into still moist pomander with a toothpick.

Notes:
* Substitute white glue for some or all of the applesauce.
* Hang one of these in your car and carry the desert with you as you drive!

 

JAS avatarYou can read more about using creosote bush (and other native herbs) in my book Father Kino’s Herbs: Growing and Using Them Today.

If you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my lectures. Look for me at your local Pima County Library branch, Steam Pump Ranch, Tubac Presidio, Tucson Festival of Books and other venues. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including the latest, “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press, $23).

© All articles are copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

Categories: herbs, Kino herb, Sonoran Native | Tags: | 1 Comment

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