Mexican Food

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

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

Mexican Cornbread: Familiar, Comforting and Delicious

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

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

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

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

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

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

Most of the ingredients for Mexican Cornbread are pantry staples.

Ready for the oven.

 

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

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

Mexican Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup flour

1/2 cup melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup buttermilk or milk

1 cup cream-style canned corn

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

1/4 cup minced jalapeño peppers (optional)

1 ½  cups shredded longhorn, pepperjack or cheddar cheese

Instructions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just out of the oven.

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

Try frying Mexican Cornbread for breakfast.

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

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

Mole Negro Sourdough Pizza

Hello, Amy here with a results of a fun project. My Uncle Bob recently gave my mom a sourdough culture, and she sent the whole thing home with me.

The pancakes and multigrain crepes were delicious! But now that I have this culture going, what I really wanted was pizza. After a few days in the refrigerator, it was sluggish. So, I fed it and fed it, every 12 hours for a week, until it was as almost as active as when it came from my uncle. The gift came with these instructions. Before each feeding, it looked like a flour and water paste, as expected. But after bubbling on the counter for 12 hours, it was shiny, stretchy, over twice the volume, and ready to make into bread!

I added water, salt and more flour to make a dough. Mostly white flour with a handful of whole wheat.

After the first rise, the dough was irresistible to fold down, and I forgot to take a photo. But the after the second rising (below), it was airy and smelled sour and yeasty.

Flattened into a round on a cornmeal lined surface, I let it rise again.

For sauce I used leftover Mano Y Metate Mole Negro with turkey!

Then I topped it with grated jack cheese (because that’s what I already had on hand) and thoroughly preheated the oven to blasting (500 degrees F).

After carefully sliding it onto a preheated cast iron griddle in the oven and baking for about 15 minutes…

The smell was unbelievable!!!!!

To restrain myself from burning my mouth, I focused on garnishing it. Cilantro from the garden is just barely ready to harvest.

I also sliced some white onion and cut the pie to hasten the cooling.

The crust was puffy with bubbles, sour and delicious, and the crust so crisp the slice did not flop. Plus the coarse cornmeal gave additional crunch and taste.

Thanks for the inspiration, Uncle Bob!

 

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Rosie Bravo’s Chimichangas

Hello, Amy here. Once I lived next door to Rosie, who made food that her husband Arturo peddled in the neighborhood. She made Sonoran classics including tamales de res, THE BEST tamales de elote, Mexican interpretations of Chinese food (for parties), and her own creations. One of Rosie’s creations was a spicy bean burrito, wrapped in bacon and fried, served with her own salsa roja.

Inspired by Sonoran Hot Dogs wrapped in bacon, she had no name for this delicious lunch, but it seems to me to classify as a chimichanga. The chimichanga has a few often sited origin stories, but it is a logical thing to fry stuffed flour tortillas just like you do corn tortillas!

 

To replicate Rosie’s dish, I started with Mano y Metate Adobo Powder. I cooked a couple tablespoons of powder in a splash of grape seed oil until it got bubbly and slightly brown.

 

Then I added a couple cups of cooked pinto beans and their cooking liquid. (Yes, these were from the freezer.) Of course, any bean would be delicious.

I let them defrost and reduced the liquid until it was almost dry. Then I mashed the beans by hand.

I heated a big wheat flour tortilla in by biggest pan JUST until pliable, an important step in making any burrito. Skipping this step makes for cracked, loosely rolled burritos. That is never good, but for this project would be a disaster.

The beans have to be spread pretty thinly, because these are only rolled without folding the ends, and because they have to be sturdy enough to fry.

Then a strip of bacon (or two) are wrapped around the burrito and fastened with toothpicks. (Yes, you could totally just fry the burrito without the bacon!)

Fry until golden and crispy. I had to add a little splash of oil to the pan, but by no means was it deep fried. Simply roll the chimichanga to brown on all sides. The bacon shrinks and attaches firmly to the tortilla as it cooks. If you started with a good flour tortilla, it might shed flakes of crispy dough, so handle gently.

I suggest eating immediately. (Yes, before you cook the next one.) Rosie used to pack each in small brown paper bag, to keep them crispy. But they are still wonderful at room temperature. ¡Buen Provecho!

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Raspados-A Sonoran Summer Treat

                  Summer fruit perfect for a raspado.

We’re heading into deep summer here in Southern Arizona. Days typically top 100 degrees. It’s perfect time for a raspado.  Raspados are sweet, creamy, fruity, sometimes a little salty, and always very cold. They are a cross between a Snow Cone, a slushie, and a fruit sundae. Perfect to cool you down from the inside out on a Tucson summer day. Since there is usually plenty of fruit, you could call it lunch.

A raspado from a shop that puts the ice cream on top with fruit layered between crushed ice.

The raspados that hail from Sonora are found throughout Southern Arizona and other spots where Mexican culture florishes. Similar treats appear throughout the tropical world, differing in detail from country to country.

The typical prep steps of the Sonoran style raspados are simple,  but they vary from shop to shop. In general, it is a layer of shaved or finely crushed ice, then fruit in syrup,  then the layers are repeated. A topping of  sweetened condensed milk trickles down. Canned Mexican crema can be used instead of the condensed milk. Sometimes vanilla ice cream is the final layer. Or the ice cream could be added halfway up. Typical fruits are fresh strawberries or peaches. Go tropical with mango, coconut, or pineapple. Then there can be nuts or chile in some form. If you followed Tia Marta’s suggestion for gathering saguaro fruit, you could add some of that for a special regional flavor.

My raspado with the ice cream in the middle, and more fruit on top.

The fancier raspados called Macedonias include several fruits and more creaminess.  Obviously, you’ll have to explore for yourself! Be bold with the flavors. There’s no way you can go wrong.

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Carolyn Niethammer has been writing about ancient and modern foods of the Southwest for forty years. You can see her books at her website. She has a new book coming out (Fall 2020) on the 10,000 years of food history of the Santa Cruz Valley that is the basis for why Tucson was named the UNESCO World City of Gastronomy.

 

Categories: fruit, Mexican Food, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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

Tortilla soup with Mano Y Metate

Hello all, Amy here on a cold November evening. Lately I’ve been living off soups and here is tonight’s tortilla soup, red and savory from Mano Y Metate Pipian Rojo powder. My soup turned out mild, but you could make it with Pipian Picante to make it medium spicy.

I got the idea from a longtime customer and Desert Botanical Garden staff member last weekend at the annual Chiles and Chocolate Festival in Phoenix. My mom, sister and I had a great time, seeing old friends and talking about food and recipes.

 

Tortilla soup usually starts with tomato, but I had Tucson CSA tomatillos. They all went in the stove top cast iron grill pan, some for the soup and the rest for salsa tomorrow.

Once charred, I coarsely chopped and set them aside. This step makes the tomatillos so much more flavorful and mellow. For red or other colored tomatoes, the charring would be an optional step.

Then I cut the kernels from an ear of sweet corn. The shucked ear could be charred first if you wanted more toasty corn flavor.

Then I browned a chopped white onion, a few cloves of sliced garlic and the corn in a little oil.

To that I added a tablespoon Pipian Rojo powder, about a cup of chicken (or veggie or turkey) broth and chopped tomatillos. After simmering for a few minutes, it smelled great.

Then I fried corn tortilla strips in hot oil until lightly brown and very crispy.

In each bowl, cilantro and green onion from the CSA share went over the soup, as well as a sliced avocado and the crispy tortillas.

I sprinkled on chopped Oaxaca cheese, which melted into the hot broth. Oaxaca cheese is made by stretching, similar to mozzarella, and it melts like it, too. Chicken in bite sized pieces would be very nice, but I’m using it for another soup, and I didn’t miss it here. Finally, a drizzle of cultured crema and a squeeze of ripe lime (or any tart citrus) finishes it. !Buen provecho!

Tortilla soup with Mano Y Metate Pipian Rojo

Quantities of all ingredients are to taste

 

Onion

Garlic

Sweet corn

Pipian Rojo powder (1 tablespoon per 1 cup broth)

Tomatillos

Chicken (or veggie or turkey) broth

Salt to taste

Oil as needed

 

Garnishes:

Tortilla strips, fried crunchy and light brown

Cilantro

Green onion

Avocado

Oaxaca or mozzarella cheese

Crema or sour cream

Lime squeeze

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Chile poblano and pomegranate season: Chiles Rellenos en Nogada

Hello all, Amy here. Every year in the late summer or early fall, I end up with pomegranates and fresh green poblano chiles at the same moment, and need to make Chiles en Nogada. The huge, green (but this time blushing red!) poblano chiles were from Tucson CSA/Crooked Sky Farms and a CSA member brought in the pomegranates from their bush at home.

There are many filling options for chiles rellenos (singular: chile relleno) but I love a traditional picadillo for this dish. I started by cooking ground pork with onion, garlic, and whole cumin. But beef, or a mix of the two, is good, too.

Then I spiced the meat with ground coriander seed, cinnamon, Mexican oregano, tomato, raisins, slivered almonds and green olives.

Charring fresh chiles over an open flame smells so wonderful! After evenly blackening the chiles, place them in a paper bag or saucepan with a lid as they cool and sweat off their skins. Peel without rinsing, as few pieces of skin are not worth watering down the chile’s flavor. While I was already making a mess on the stove top, I roasted a few chiles for other projects. Of course any chile or bell pepper could be used with this filling, so use what you have. Chile poblano, to some people at least, is the fresh version of chile ancho. I always add a disclaimer since chile nomenclature varies, and different chiles get different names and some names are used for different chiles!

Slit each chile and remove the core and seeds while keeping the stem and the rest of the chile as intact as possible. Stuff the chile with the meat.

For the sauce, soak about one cup walnuts in water.

Then drain and liquify in a blender with about one cup Mexican crema or sour cream and half a pound of queso fresco.

Salt to taste and adjust with a little water or more cheese or nuts to taste. Make plenty of this cooling sauce in case one of the chiles is very spicy! Top with sauce immediately before eating and garnish with plenty of pomegranate arils (seeds).

Unlike the fried version, this dish is great served hot, warm or room temperature, which it makes is good to serve a crowd. Another time I’ll post my great grandmother’s battered and fried version that is famous for a reason, but they need to be eaten as they are made. Also, when you have pomegranates, make this one. !Buen provecho!

 

 

Categories: Cooking, fruit, heirloom crops, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

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