Sonoran Native

The New Southwest Cookbook: Recipe Inspiration

All of my kitchen appliances, including the stove from the dismantled island, are sitting on the back patio as two workers go about putting in a new kitchen floor in our 100-year-old house. Forty-two years ago, my mother-in-law Dorothy and I spent days on our knees scraping off linoleum and the black gunk beneath to reveal the reddish fir floor underneath. But that has begun to splinter, and its time is up.

Unable to cook and photograph something yummy for today’s column, I’m going to talk about my re-released The New Southwest Cookbook and what adventurous home cooks can learn from the talented chefs from all over the Southwest who contributed recipes to the book.

In the early 1990s, professional chefs began to look at our traditional Southwestern ingredients and come up with new and delicious ways to combine them. The one element that seems to characterize the best of the recipes is a willingness to go for bold flavors enhanced by chiles, citrus and herbs. Not just a squirt or a sprinkle, but lots. Even if you don’t have time to go all out on a recipe, using flavorings generously can elevate a weeknight recipe.

Preparing for the new kitchen floor. The pipe in the foreground is where the stove should be.

I took the Tequila Braised Country-style ribs to a recently widowed neighbor who loved them. Rub the ribs with brown sugar, 5-spice, and lots of garlic and marinate overnight. Then bake in a sauce of caramelized onions, garlic, tequila, orange juice, tomatoes, and chipotle. The recipe came from a chef in Albuquerque.

Another winner is roasted poblano chiles stuffed with a mixture of goat and cream cheese, dried cranberries, corn kernels, mint, and basil. The recipe originated at the Hilton in Santa Fe.

My favorite recipe in the book and the one I’ve made for company so often that the page is spattered in Chicken with Citrus, Prickly Pear and Chipotle. It was invented by Sue Scheff, a popular Tucson caterer. It involves marinating chicken thighs in a citrus chile mixture, then coating them in mustard and herbs before roasting. They are topped with a prickly pear-chipotle-orange sauce. It is dreamy with flavors that explode in your mouth (in a good way.). For a company dinner it is a wow entree that isn’t expensive.

Southwest cuisine often incorporates citrus juices and lots of fresh herbs such as  mint, cilantro, and basil.

Another favorite is Green Chile Macaroni from Roaring Fork in Scottsdale. It’s a more complex take on the dish with added vegetables and pureed poblano chiles. It goes well beside roasted salmon or grilled steak or burgers.

These recipes do not require complicated techniques and have few exotic ingredients. Those ingredients not available outside the Southwest, such as prickly pear syrup, can be easily found on-line. The prime factor that leads to their deliciousness is the creativity of the chef who invented them.

If you are an adventurous cook, you can possibly follow the ideas and come up with something fabulous. Or if you like to follow a recipe, at least the first time,  you can order The New Southwest Cookbook directly from the publisher, Rio Nuevo, or from your independent bookstore, or Amazon or Barnes & Nobel.

 

 

 

 

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

Festive Buffet Ideas–Southwest Style

Winter is here, and out-of-town company is sure to invade our relatively sunny climes in Baja Arizona.  Tia Marta here with some ideas for local Sonoran Desert goodies that you can make ahead to have at-the-ready for creating a glorious buffet or instant party.

This festive table features colorful, delectable Sonoran-desert fare.  Note lemon juice ice-float for flavoring and chilling the punch.  Many other buffet ideas following….. (MABurgess photo)

With freezing nights everyone is harvesting citrus like mad.  What to do with all those lemons your neighbor has generously dumped at your door?  Right!–save space and squeeze the wonderful juice into a plastic bowl to freeze and use as a floating ice-block or as lemon ice cubes.

Zoom in to check out the buffet table details:  On the cheese plate note the thin slices of barrel cactus fruit as rings atop the cheese wedge, adding a zesty touch to the spread.  Squares of white manchego cheese top squares of sweet local cajeta de membrillo, a lovely conserve made with heirloom quince fruits from Mission Garden.  My special veggie dip is laced with “chives” of chopped I’itoi’s Onion and fresh oregano from my garden, moringa leaves from friend Wanda’s tree, and a single crushed dry chiltepin pepper for a picante kick.

Tangy pickled cholla cactus flower bud hors d’oeuvres (MABurgess photo)

In place of olives or pickles I like to feature my pickled cholla flower buds  or nopalito pickles.  In place of mixed nuts I serve bellotas (Emory oak acorns) or pinyon nuts, both supporting local harvesters (see Southwest Foraging).  Instead of peanuts I like to present Incan corn nuts (not local, from Peru, but a bow to Native tradition.)

Refreshing and colorful prickly pear lemonade and mesquite-amaranth-white Sonora wheat-chocolate chip cookies! (MABurgess photo)

For luscious “local cookies” I use a basic toll-house cookie recipe (calling for 2 cups flour) by substituting 1/2 cup mesquite flour, 1/2 cup amaranth flour, and 1 cup white Sonora wheat flour, plus an extra egg and a cup of pine nuts in place of pecans.  These treats will get snarfed up as soon as you put them on the table.  (See Dec13 post for other cookie recipes)

Sparkly and nutritious cherry punch with ginger ale and a floating iceberg of pure prickly pear juice (MABurgess photo)

Whirl your thawed prickly pear tunas in blender

Squeeze whirled prickly pear fruit thru 4 layers of cheesecloth

SPARKLY PRICKLY PEAR CHERRY PUNCH RECIPE:

In a big clear punchbowl mix:

1  block of frozen pure prickly pear juice   (OR, 1 bottle of Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup plus ice cubes)

1 pint (half jar) Trader Joe’s pure Cherry Juice

1 liter chilled ginger ale

Serve with joy!

(As ice block is thawing in the punchbowl and the punch is consumed around it, add the remaining pint of cherry juice and another liter of chilled ginger ale over the block.)

With a bag of prickly pear tunas frozen whole from last September’s hasty harvest, I thawed them to extract the juice to then refreeze as a cactus-fruit ice-block.  It is an easy process–but timely action required.  If you haven’t harvested from the desert, Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup is available at NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue or at other special Southwest food shops.

To make your own cholla or nopalito pickles, as March approaches, watch for announcements of cholla bud harvesting workshops.  Tia Marta may schedule classes through Mission Garden or www.flordemayoarts.com.

Happy entertaining with a local Southwest flair!

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

Mesquite Cookies with an Moroccan Twist

Whenever I travel I love browsing through the local cookware shops and grocery stores. Vienna has fabulous cookware shops and Sarajevo has fabulous teas. But what made me pull out my wallet full of dirhams was small cookie presses in the bazaar in Marrakesh. I chose three and used one of them this year on mesquite ginger cookies I make every year for Christmas. This is an easy recipe that makes lots of cookies. The way to introduce people to new flavors is through something they already know. Everybody loves cookies and these are delicious.

Jumble of cookie shapers in the Marrakesh market.

 

These little devices don’t cut the cookies. They are pressed on little balls of dough to make shapes.

Sonoran White wheat is great for pastry so if you have some, this is a good use. Otherwise, all-purpose flour works fine. This year, because I was using the fancy little press, I added a Middle Eastern flavor by adding cardamom along with the ginger.

I recently treated myself to a set of Silpat silicon sheets and love them for cookies.

Cookies ready for the oven. A little dried cranberry made them holiday ready.

Mesquite Ginger Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter

½ cup firmly packed brown sugar

1 egg

¾ cup honey

1 cup White Sonoran or all-purpose flour

1 cup mesquite meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

½-1 teaspoon powdered ginger

½ teaspoon powdered cardamom (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. and lightly grease two cookie sheets or line with Silpat sheets.

Beat together butter, sugar and egg until light and fluffy. Add honey and beat until combined. Add flours, mesquite meal, baking powder, spices, and salt and beat well.

Drop by teaspoonfuls onto greased cookie sheets. Form with cookie stamp or dampen the end of a clean dish town and wrap it around the bottom or a juice glass. Use the cookie stamp or glass to flatten each dab of cookie dough.

Bake about 12 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. The cookies are soft and fragile when they come out of the oven, but the become firmer as they cool.

Makes about 5 ½ dozen small cookies.

Cookies ready for the party.

In Morocco, you could find someone to serve you a nice cup of mint tea to go along with the cookies.

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One more thing: My book on the 10,000 years of culinary history that led to Tucson being named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy has entered editing and over the next few months I’ll be posting a few bits of the most interesting information I learned in the two years I spent researching. Please follow me on my Facebook author page (Carolyn Niethammer author). I learned lots and would like to share it with you.  This will be the first book authorized to use the City of Gastronomy logo.  See my other books at www.cniethammer.com.  If you are looking for a Christmas gift for a foodie friend, stop by the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store in Tucson or go online at nativeseeds.org and you’ll find wonderful gift items plus all my cookbooks.

Categories: Sonoran Native | 3 Comments

Get Gardening! a Post-Turkey Exercise Plan

When you’ve barely slept off your Thanksgiving feast, while deep thanks are still in your heart and your significant other is deeply absorbed in TV football, here’s an option that can lead to joy, nutrition, productivity, fulfillment, and calorie burning:  planting a little winter-spring garden!

Seasonal seeds and I’itoi onion starts for your winter garden in low desert.  Check out the seed-ideas for winter veggie gardens at the NativeSeedsSEARCH store.

Young I’itoi’s onions emerging. Use them this winter and spring for chives or shallots–indeed the gift that keeps on giving!

Peas love desert winters and will give wonderful pods next spring. So easy to grow! O’odham Wihol (peas) have become well-adapted to low desert since their welcome introduction about 350 years ago.

Tia Marta here to encourage you to think FUTURE FOOD!  That is, take the simple steps–right now–to envision food from your own little piece of earth.  Time to simply put some seeds or starts into the ground.  Now–while the desert is rejoicing in rain!  Now–before your to-do list or other emails divert your better intentions.!

Your little desert plot of good soil need not be spacious.  It can even be in lovely or homely pots on your patio.  Hopefully this post will fill you with inspiration, motivation, and access for planting your own food!

Little   bulbils from the bloom-stalk now ready for planting….

 

Begin gardening with the end in sight!  We must believe in the FUTURE of our FOOD then take steps to make it happen.  Gardening is an act of FAITH and HOPE, so let’s get down on our knees and do it!

For seasonal gratification, try Tohono O’odham peas, either in a pot or a garden edge where the vines can climb a wall or trellis. For the much longer view of gratification, try planting agave clones.  It may be 10-15 years before they are ready to harvest but the wait will be a sweet, nutritious gift for you, or your grandkids, or some other hungry desert dweller dealing with global warming.

Hohokam agave (Agave murpheyi) bulbil clones planted in pots for growing out and sharing….

Desert Laboratory Director Ben Wilder and Desert Ecologist Tony Burgess sampling sweet roasted agave heart at Tucson’s Agave Heritage Festival, Mission Garden

Winter/spring is grain-growing time in low desert!  Organic heirloom White Sonora Wheat-berries are ready for planting or cooking, available at the NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue, Tucson (locally grown at BKWFarms)

White Sonora Wheat kernels –so easy to plant in crowded pots or in small garden plots

Young White Sonora Wheat sprouts enjoying the rain–and ready to harvest for juicing–healthy local food right from your patio!

Young starts of heirloom Magdalena acelgas (chard) grown from seed available at Mission Garden or NativeSeedsSEARCH store or online www.nativeseeds.org

Heirloom Magdalena acelgas will give you sumptuously delicious harvests of greens all winter–as these at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Colorful rainbow chard in handsome pots grown by herb-gardener-alchemist-friend Linda Sherwood.  Isn’t this a stunning ornamental –and edible–addition to the patio?!

These are just a few fun ideas of the veggies suited for planting this season.  Find lots more ideas by visiting Tucson’s Mission Garden , the NativeSeedsSEARCH Store , and Flor de Mayo website.

There’s no finer way to express Thanksgiving, or to exercise off your feasted calories, than to be outside in the dirt.  So I’m wishing you happy winter gardening on your patio, backyard, or why not your front yard!!  Now get out your trowel and pots, and those seeds you’ve been accumulating, get your hands dirty and sing a prayer-song as you plant your future food with faith and hope!

 

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 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

The Sioux Chef Cooks Southwest Heritage Foods

Chef Sean Sherman, founder of the company The Sioux Chef, uses indigenous ingredients in creative dishes.  He was invited by the New York Times to submit ten essential Native American dishes.   (Photo courtesy of The Sioux Chef)

The Desert People have grown and eaten tepary beans for more than a thousand years. In the mid-20th century they nearly disappeared, but became popular again when people began to realize how well they were adapted to the hot, dry Southwestern climate. Just recently, they appeared in the food pages of the New York Times, courtesy of Chef Sean Sherman , founder of the company”The Sioux Chef.”

Sherman  grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in the 1970s. As a kid, he and his cousins harvested edible wild plants that grew there including chokecheries, wild prarie turnips and juniper berries. As an adult he became a professional chef, eventually turning to more wild foods from his heritage and that of other Native American nations. In 2014, he started The Sioux Chef, connecting with other indigenous chefs, farmers, seed keepers and leaders. His cookbook, The Sioux Chef, won the 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award. Sherman focuses on making appealing foods using only indigenous American ingredients, nothing imported by Europeans.

Sherman’s recipe for teparies involves seasoning the cooked beans with sautéed onions, a little agave nectar, and chile–either Hatch ground dried chile or chipotle chile. He calls for half brown and half white teparies, but you can use whatever you have on hand. The New York Times sends readers wanting to purchase teparies to two sources we’ve often cited here, Ramona Farms and Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Teparies have been a frequent subject on this blog. We love their flavor and adaptability. Tia Marta wrote about them here; Amy uses them in a mixed vegetable stew.

Below is another of the Sioux Chef recipes the Times printed, this one using chia, which grows wild in Southern Arizona, and domesticated amaranth grain, a relative of the wild amaranth that shows up after the summer monsoons. Sherman calls for domestic berries, but they are found in woodlands. If you are lucky enough to have access to wild wolf berries or hackberries, they would be a perfect addition. I used some saguaro fruit I had in the freezer.

Popping the amaranth is easy in a dry hot wok. The popped kernels look like teensy pieces of popped corn. Watch closely when popping. The time between popped and burnt can be a matter of seconds.

Amaranth showing both popped and unpopped seed. Like popcorn, seeds don’t all pop at the same time. Keep stirring until most are popped.

 

Chia pudding with saguaro fruit and popped amaranth. I added a couple of blueberries and some kiwi for contrast. After I made this for the photo, my husband and I ate it for breakfast.

Almond Chia Pudding

1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk, plus more if needed

½ cup chia seeds

¼ cup light agave nectar

Pinch of fine sea salt

¼ cup amaranth

1 to 2 cups fresh mixed berries (any combination of blackberries, blueberries and raspberries)

¼ cup crushed manzanita berries (optional)

Small fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

In a lidded quart container, vigorously whisk together the 1 1/2 cups almond milk, chia seeds, agave and salt. (This ensures the chia seeds are evenly hydrated.) Let the mixture soak in the refrigerator at least 1 hour and up to overnight, so it develops a rich, creamy texture that is similar to that of rice pudding. If the mixture becomes too thick, whisk in more almond milk.

While the pudding soaks, heat a small skillet over medium-high. Add the amaranth and cook, shaking the skillet, until the amaranth begins to smell toasty and about half of the seeds have popped, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the amaranth to a plate to cool to room temperature. (Popped amaranth can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and stored in a lidded container in a cool, dark place.)

To serve, whisk the pudding to incorporate any liquid on top and break up the chia seeds, then spoon pudding into bowls. Top with the berries, popped amaranth and mint sprigs.

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One more thing: My book on the 10,000 years of culinary history that led to Tucson being named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy has entered editing and over the next few months I’ll be posting a few bits of the most interesting information I learned in the two years I spent researching. Please follow me on my Facebook author page (Carolyn Niethammer author). I learned lots and would like to share it with you.  This will be the first book authorized to use the City of Gastronomy logo.  See my other books at http://www.cniethammer.com.

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

It’s Masa Time!–Making Tortillas with “Fast” Corn

Pearly kernels of Tohono O’odham 60-day corn (MABurgess photo)

Gardening is hardly an “instant-gratification” activity (altho’ the gardening process from the git-go is instantly gratifying to soul and body).  But if you want to try the fastest seed-to-harvest corn cycle on the Planet, next summer try growing Tohono O’odham 60-day Hu:ñ!  It’s the closest thing to instant-gratification-gardening.  Trust the Desert People–the Tohono O’odham of southern Arizona and northwest Sonora– to have selected and perfected a flour corn fit for the rainfall vagaries of a Sonoran Desert summer!  Seeds of this precious crop have been conserved and multiplied over the years by the caring folks at NativeSeedsSEARCH and are available for Southwest gardeners to plant.

Tia Marta here, inspiring you to try your hand at making corn tortillas with this ancient, local, and well-adapted corn!  Volunteers at Tucson’s Mission Garden just harvested their monsoon crop of Tohono O’odham 60-day dried cobs, and they invited MaizTucson’s Carlos Figueroa to make masa with it and to provide tastes of tortillas made with this special heirloom corn.

Three kinds of heirloom corn kernels ready for nixtamalization. Tohono O’odham 60-day corn is at lower right (blue corn at top, traditional nixtamal corn lower left)

He explained how he boiled the kernels until they were softening, then he added slake lime (food grade calcium hydroxide) and let it stand overnight.  [There are detailed instructions online how to make nixtamal.]  He ground the  nixtamal in a stone mill to make the masa, adding enough of the reserved cooking liquid to have the right dough consistency.

Form your masa into a ball about the size of a golf ball before putting into your tortilla press or rolling with rolling pin.

He formed the masa into balls for placing between two sheets of wax paper in a tortilla press.  No problem if you do not have a press.  A rolling pin works fine with your dough sandwiched in wax paper.

60-day corn tortillas and blue corn on the grill at Mission Garden

a 60-day corn tortilla on the grill with blue corn tortilla

forming a basin in the soft masa as it heats on the griddle, to make quesadilla-style cheese-and-salsa melt or “Southwest pizza”

 

After pressing, he showed how to peel one sheet of wax paper and put the dough side into his hand for easy placing onto a very hot grill.  Instead of a grill, I use an ungreased iron skillet on the stovetop.  Grill your round of masa until it begins to puff on top, then flip it to allow it to puff up on the other side.  You may want to flip it twice before it is grilled through.  The great news is that MaizTucson has ready-to-use masa from Tohono O’odham 60-day Corn available for sale at some farmers markets, so you can take the gardening-later short-cut!

Serve your tortillas hot –as with the preceding delicious recipe for tomatillo stew (scroll back to the Oct.20 post in this same blog!)  You could also create a fancy appetizer by pinching masa dough into a little basin.  After it is grilled, fill it with grated cheese, chopped tomatoes or salsa and melt it in a quick oven for a “Southwest pizza”.

MaizTucson has prepared masa from the heirloom Tohono O’odham 60-day corn grown at Tucson’ Mission Garden.  Check the MaizTucson instagram for where to buy it.  (MABurgess photo)

Talk about sustainability!  Think about the month of water saved by growing a short-season corn compared to normal 90-day  corn varieties.  All the more reason for happy tortilla-grilling and eating with this desert-adapted, highly nutritious Tohono O’odham 60-day corn masa!

Your homemade corn tortillas will go really well with Tia Marta’s heirloom bean soup mixes!

Tom’s Mix Southwest Bean Mix–14 delicious heirlooms with recipes

Native American-grown Tepary Bean Mix with recipes, available at http://www.flordemayoarts.com and other southwest specialty stores

For Southwest heirloom foods and gift ideas for the holiday season check out my website www.FlordeMayoArts.com and order early.  Or you can find my jojoba herbal soaps, notecard and canvas art tote creations, sacred sage bundles, white Sonora wheat berries, and colorful heirloom bean  and tepary mixes at special stores–Tohono Chul Museum Shop, NativeSeedsSEARCH store, Presidio Museum in the center of Tucson, Old Town Artisans, Wiwpul Du’ag East at San Xavier Mission Plaza, Saguaro National Park West bookstore, and Caduceus Cellars in Jerome, AZ.

Notecard and canvas tote artwork by Martha Ames Burgess, http://www.flordemayoarts.com

Luxurious herbal jojoba soaps created by Martha Ames Burgess, made with local desert plants and healing jojoba

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

What to do with tomatillos? Carne en su Jugo

Hello, Amy here, with tomatillos from my Tucson CSA share. Some people asked me what to do with them if they don’t like salsa. Try a soup! Carne en su jugo, meat stewed in is own juices, is a traditional Mexican dish that features tomatilos and makes a little meat go a long way. Mole Verde powder contains lots of green chile and cilantro, so I used that for seasoning and it worked perfectly.

Start by sorting, soaking and boiling pinto beans.

Use any cut of beef; trim and cut into tiny bites. Boil the trimmings to make a broth. Cut a few slices of bacon into tiny bites and fry to make it crispy and render the fat. Set aside the bacon and save the fat in the pan.

Then husk and boil tomatillos in water.

They will start bright green but are done when soft and dull green.

Drain the tomatillos. Then peel and mash, or just puree whole in the blender.

Next, brown the beef in the bacon fat. Salt to taste. Add some sliced garlic and onion, to taste. I used elephant garlic and red onion from Tucson CSA. Then add some home made beef broth and stew until tender.

Add the pureed tomatillos. In a separate pan, I cooked a couple tablespoons of Mole Verde powder in a little oil and then thinned with more beef broth. All that went into the pot, too. Salt to taste again.

Spoon in some cooked pintos. Cook for a few minutes for the flavors come together and the stew thicken a little. At the last moment, stir in the crunchy bacon or sprinkle on top of each serving. Eat with hot corn tortillas. Enjoy!


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

Home-Cured Olives are Easy

I like to pick olives when they are part green and part black. But all green or all black, if they aren’t over ripe, are fine as well.

Fall may mean colorful leaves and apple harvests in the temperate regions of the globe, but in Southern Arizona and warm desert regions around the world, it is olive harvest time. Several years ago, a famous author died, and many notables who had been guests in his home on the coast of Southern Italy recalled their visits. One woman remembered walking through the olive groves and plucking and eating juicy olives. I laughed aloud when I read that. She may have plucked something, but it wasn’t olives. Olives off the tree are very bitter and they must be processed to be edible. The bitterness is due to a substance called oleuropein.

Various cultures have their own methods of removing the bitterness from olives. There’s the dry salt method, the brine method, the water method and the lye method. For 30 years I have followed instructions taught by the late Dr. Robert H. Forbes, who became dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona in 1899. He had made an intensive study of the home processing of curing olives. His process uses lye and the method has always worked for me. Last week when I went to the hardware store to buy the lye and told the clerk what I was going to do with it, he kept cautioning me that it was poison and came close to refusing to sell it to me. By following the instructions carefully, I never poisoned myself or the recipients of my olives.

(Aside: Dr. Forbes was still alive when I was a young journalism student in 1964. I interviewed him at his home on the edge of the University of Arizona campus on Olive Street, surrounded by gnarled old olive trees. His house stood where the Center for Creative Photography is now.)

You can home process green olives, black olives or those somewhere in between. Many people with olive trees would be happy to have you harvest from their yard and cut down on the mess when the olive drop. I just knock on the door and ask. Then later I leave a small jar of finished olives on their porch with a note.

You’ll need some glass jars to process your olives.

It’s too much typing to explain Dr. Forbes’ method, but the good folks at UC Davis have done a complete description of each method of olive processing and you can find them here.    The difference in Dr. Forbes’ lye method is that it doesn’t call for a changing of the lye bath.  You just leave the olives in the original lye solution until either taste or a litmus paper shows that the bitterness has been removed.  For me, this has been between five and seven days.  But lye is cheap and you’ll have more than necessary, so if changing helps, why not?  You can find another whole way to dealing with olives in a months’ long process here.

If you happen to live in Tucson, Jill Lorenzini will be discussing olive curing at the Santa Cruz River Farmers Market on the afternoon of October 24.

With the lye plan, after the bitterness is gone, the olives are rinsed (and rinsed!) to remove the lye and hardened with successively strong salt brine solutions. Lastly, they are freshened in water.  Whatever your processing plan, I like to flavor mine with a mixture of olive oil, wine vinegar, garlic cloves and fresh herbs from my garden. You can also slip in a small chile.

A few olives, some cheeses, all you need is a glass of wine to make a perfect Happy Hour snack.

Home processing olives is neither difficult nor overly time consuming, but you do need to get yourself some big glass jars and commit about five minutes a day to the endeavor.  For that little bit of effort, you can end up with a year’s supply of olives for only the cost of lye and salt and some nice gifts for your friends and family. Just one caution: don’t tell the clerk what you are buying the lye for.

One more thing: My book on the 10,000 years of culinary history that led to Tucson being named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy has entered editing and over the next few months I’ll be posting a few bits of the most interesting information I learned in the two years I spent researching. Please follow me on my Facebook author page (Carolyn Niethammer author). I learned lots and would like to share it with you.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Savoring Bellotas in Apache Acorn Stew

Emory oak acorns (bellotas in Spanish, chich’il in Ndee, and wi-yo:thi or toa in O’odham), harvested from our native Southwestern live-oak Quercus emoryi, have traditionally provided a superbly nutritious and flavorful summer staple for the Tohono O’odham, the Apache, and other local people of the borderlands. (MABurgess photo)

You can shake them off the tree.  You can buy them by the (expensive!) bag on the roadside en route to Magdalena on pilgrimage for Dia de San Francisco.  You can sometimes find them in small Mexican markets in Tucson–if you ask.  These are bellotas, a seasonal treat of late summer gathered from the desert oak grasslands and woodlands flanking our sky islands.

The White Mountain Apache now have a richly productive community farm. It is the venue for their Traditional Foods Festival where they celebrate their young farmers, their delicious roasted heirloom corn, and many wild foods that their ancestors thrived on. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share a recipe learned on a trip recently to the Ndee Nation, to the Western Apache Traditional Foods Festival.  With my talented friend Dr. Letitia McCune (known as BotanyDoc) we enjoyed this special event where elders and young people together were celebrating and sampling their harvest of heirloom crops and wild mountain foods. Botanist and diabetes-nutritionist McCune has recently provided the Ndee Nation with nutritional analyses of their ancient, honored foods.  It’s eye-opening to learn how important the traditional Native foods are for health and disease prevention.

Apache ladies at their Traditional Foods Festival prepare cauldrons of acorn stew. As the stock simmers they add pieces of dough to make dumplings that will take on the rich flavor of the bellotas. (MABurgess photo)

The breeze was full of delicious aromas of oakwood smoke, pit-roasted corn in the husk and juicy banana yucca pods (…that’s another post!) We watched as the Ndee cooks slowly simmered locally-farmed squash and chunks of range beef over the open fire.  They had prepped dough to pull into ribbons then tore pieces to drop into the stock as dumplings.  Over some hours, we kept returning to the cook-fire to watch the stew process.  Whole corn cobs covered with plump kernels went into the giant pot.  At last the cooks brought out the precious acorn flour they had ground from the chich’il (Quercus emoryi) they’d collected this summer and stored carefully for feast occasions.  With the acorn flour the soup stock became thicker and “creamier.”

You can easily crack the shells of Emory oak acorns (bellotas) with a rolling pin or, as in this image, on a stone metate with a mano to release the yummy golden nut-meat inside. (MABurgess photo)

Acorns are chuck-full of healthy oils that are akin to olive oil, complex carbs that slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, enabling sustained energy and blood sugar balancing.  It is no surprise that Indigenous people all over the planet have used acorns wherever oaks naturally grow.  The big issue with most acorns is their high tannin content, a chemical that can be damaging internally, but which can be easily leached out with water treatments beforehand.  Fortunately –hooray for our Emory oak acorn!–bellota–it is one of the few acorns which has low tannin content and can be eaten raw right off the tree!

You may not be able to see it but you can taste its wonderful bitter-sweetness–the flavor and thickening of Emory oak acorn flour–in delectable Apache acorn stew. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s a recipe for the Apache Acorn Stew that we tasted in delight at the Festival, here adapted to serving 8-10 persons instead of a whole tribal gathering:

Ingredients:

4-5 qts (or more) drinking water

1-2 lbs bigger-than-bite-size chunks of stew beef or wild elk meat

4-5 summer squash of whatever you grow (e.g.medium to large zucchini or 8-10 paddie-pan)

8-10 whole corn-on-the-cob (de-husked, broken in half)

1-3 cups prepared bread dough, pinched into ribbons and torn into 2″ pieces

1/2-1cup ground Emory oak acorn flour

Directions:

Over an open fire in a big pot, boil beef until tender, making a rich stock.  Add chunked/diced summer squash. Keep simmering. Add torn pieces of bread dough and let puff up.  Add whole corn cobs cut in half. When everything is well-simmered and tastes great, and still on the fire, gradually stir in the acorn flour.  Serve outside with a sample of each ingredient in each bowl.

This hearty stew has elements of Mexican cocido, but in taste it is all its own.  Enjoy the timeless flavors!

An interesting note:  It was the Spanish who brought the name “bellota”–their name for Old World cork oak–to apply to our New World Emory oak, as the two oaks are so similar in their animate, tortuous yet graceful shape.  Andalusians must have felt quite at home when they first encountered our Emory oak in what is now southern Arizona.  To gather bellotas for yourself, head to the grasslands in July or early August to groves of the beautiful Emory oak, shake a branch and let the bellotas fall onto a blanket, and enjoy these precious acorns as Nature’s manna.

[For another traditional acorn stew recipe check out SavorSister and gourmet cook Carolyn Niethammer’s American Indian Cooking, Univ.of Nebraska Press. You can find other great acorn recipes and instructions in DesertHarvesters‘ book Eat Mesquite and MoreSouthwest Foraging by wild-crafter and herbalist John Slattery also gives good instructions how to remove tannins from acorns.   Grow your own heirloom squash and corn, and white Sonora wheat for dough, as ingredients for this stew with saved seed from NativeSeedsSEARCH  !]

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

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