Watch The Savor Sisters Demo Wild Foods at Native Plants Christmas Party


The Tucson Chapter of the Arizona Native Plant Society has asked the Savor Sisters–Tia Marta, Amy, and me, Carolyn, to demonstrate cooking some virtual appetizers and “libations” for their on-line Christmas Party. You can join in on Thursday, December 10,  at 7 p.m. MST at a zoom meeting with this link. Amy’s making something with her delicious mole mix, Tia Marta is doing a wild rhubarb pudding, and I’m making a delicious goodie with a mixture of quinoa and popped amaranth seeds bound with agave syrup and coated with chocolate. This is a 21st century version of a treat previously made by the Aztecs. I’m also taking everyone on a field trip to a local craft brewery where the head brewer tells us about all the heritage ingredients that go in his beers.

My newest book, A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage, is more a book of stories with just a few recipes to illustrate past and present food trends. So I went back to my previous cookbook, Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants to find the perfect recipe for this event.

Hank Rowe at Catalina Brewing adds desert flavors such as prickly pear and mesquite to his brews. Come along to hear Hank tell about his beers at the on-line Native Plant Society Party.

When you pour the amaranth into a hot wok, the golden seeds will pop and become like tiny kernels of popcorn. Work quickly and don’t let the seeds burn or they will be bitter.


Using two forks, dip each ball into the melted chocolate. They are fragile, so if any break, don’t panic or be upset. Just eat them immediately! Transfer coated balls to refrigerator to harden.

Aztec Delight

This recipe is from my book Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. In the video, you can watch the little amaranth seeds pop to a snowy cloud.

¼ cup chia seed

¼ cup amaranth seed

2-3 tablespoons agave syrup

½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

            In a wok or heavy bottomed pan over medium heat parch the chia seed for just a minute or two, stirring constantly. Transfer to a coffee grinder or blender and grind to a powder. Put into a bowl.  Repeat with the amaranth grain.  It is possible the amaranth grain will pop while being parched, resulting in a light cloud, like very tiny popcorn kernels. If that happens, fine; if not, equally fine. Combine the ground chia and amaranth in a bowl and begin adding the agave syrup and stirring until you have a stiff dough that holds together.

            Form balls the size of a large olive. Put the chocolate chips in a heat-proof bowl and melt in the microwave or over hot water.  If using the microwave, heat for one minute, check, then continue heating in 30 second increments until melted. If too stiff, add a few drops of neutral oil, like grapeseed.

            Line a plate with waxed paper or plastic wrap.  Using the tines of a fork, roll each ball of the chia/amaranth dough in the chocolate. These balls are rather fragile so be careful. If one breaks apart, the best way to deal with that catastrophe is to eat it immediately.  Transfer the perfect ones to the plate.  Refrigerate until the chocolate has hardened.


Still looking for a Christmas gift for your foodie friend? In my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary History, you’ll read stories of how early residents existed on wild foods, how agriculture developed and the people built massive irrigation ditches with only wooden tools and baskets, and how the arrival of the Spanish changed everything. I also visit today’s farmers and talk about their challenges and how Tucsonans are learning to garden and grow their own food, starting with school and community gardens. You can order it from your local bookstore (they’ll love you for that) , from Native Seeds/SEARCH, or Amazon.


Pear Prickly Pear Desert Dessert

Hello, Amy here, preparing a dessert for some new friends completely new to the desert, passing through on their way to Costa Rica. A few pears that had seen some travel were sitting on the kitchen counter…

So I pared, sliced and put them in the oven with a few cubes of frozen prickly pear juice.

After baking and stirring, they looked like this!

Then I made a crumble topping, staring with plenty of desert seeds, from left to right: saguaro, amaranth, chia, barrel cactus.

The bulk of the mixture was mesquite meal, rolled oats, pecan meal, butter, sugar (evaporated cane juice). For seasoning, I used cinnamon, cardamon, dried rose petals and dried ocotillo flowers.

Once mixed, I crumbled the mixture over the pears and put back into the 350 degree F oven to bake until browned and crunchy.

It is best served warm, here with a little homemade goat yogurt, but cream or ice cream works, too!

The recipe can be found in the Desert Harvesters’ Cookbook:

This recipe is so forgiving. I was short on oats so increased the pecans. I doubled the cardamom, traded evaporated cane juice for the brown sugar, substituted water for milk, changed the orange/apple juice to prickly pear, and doubled the seeds. Coconut oil works fine instead of butter for this, too.


Amy’s Apple Crisp

2 pounds apples, local organic heirlooms if possible (Or pears. No need to weigh!)

2 tablespoons orange, apple or prickly pear juice (or more)



1 cup mesquite meal

1 cup rolled oats

1/2 cup seeds, like amaranth, chia, barrel cactus, saguaro

1/3 cup evaporated cane juice or brown sugar (0r less)

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 pound (1 stick) butter

2 tablespoons milk or water

Slice the fruit into a baking dish, add juice, and bake at 350 degrees while preparing the topping. Mix all the topping ingredients in the food processor, distribute over sliced fruit, and bake at 350-375 degrees F until browned. Enjoy!


Huevos Rancheros with Mole


Hello, Amy here, full from a hardy brunch. Earlier this week my friend invited me to lunch at the Tucson Botanical Garden, where we enjoyed a lamb empanada, calabacitas tamal and huevos rancheros made with mole, black tepary beans and queso fresco. It was ALL soooo good, but I think you can guess my favorite!

Café Botanica is delicious, adorable (the old adobe Friends’ House, inside or on the patio) has really nice staff, and is open 8am-2pm daily. You do have to pay admission or be a member to get to the café, so we wandered, looking at plants in the shade and a gallery or two after our meal. Perfect afternoon.

I had never heard of huevos rancheros with mole, and I had to make it at home, often! Since I was only making brunch for two, I used dry corn tortilla meal I had on hand instead of buying or making a batch of highly perishable fresh masa. Maseca is a common brand name in Tucson grocery stores, or online.

Café Botanica used parsley in their masa for flavor and color, so I chopped a few leaves of quelites (young amaranth greens) raw and mixed them into the masa. This of course is optional, but quelites are so prolific this year with our above average rainfall this summer. Recently Carolyn used amaranth seed her in corn tortillas.

Add enough water to make a soft dough. Mix about a quarter cup meal to a few tablespoons water and adjust as necessary. If it is too dry, it will crack. If it is too wet, it will stick to your hands. Form into two balls, cover, and let rest for a few minutes. Then reassess the moisture.

Place the ball in a plastic bag and flatten with a tortilla press, a dinner plate or a rolling pin.

Thoroughly heat a comal (a dry cast iron griddle) over medium heat and put tortilla to cook. Flip a few times until both sides are covered with brown spots. No need to keep them hot, they’ll be fried!

Next I made a small amount of Mano y Metate Mole Dulce with oil and veggie broth. Other varieties of mole would work, and any broth you like. Since the dish was vegetarian, I decided to keep with the theme.

Café Botanica used black tepary beans, but I used a summer squash from the Tucson CSA. I had never heard of Tromboncino before this year, and we love the taste and its trombone shapes! As a mature, winter squash, it resembles its relative the butternut. Even as a baby, it is slightly yellow on the inside with tender skin and really nice flavor. I sautéed it with onion, salt and pepper.

Next fry the tortillas in a little bit of oil until beautiful brown and fragrant.

Fry eggs over medium, or to taste. These eggs were from a friend of a friend. The deep color of the yolk is due to the hen’s diet and I bet these birds eat plenty of fresh greenery and insects.

Assemble the dish: tortilla, squash, egg. You could melt some cheese over the tortilla if you want.

Finally, top with the Mole Dulce and I’itoi onion tops. My new favorite.

Playing with Washingtonia palm fruit

Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm)

Washingtonia filifera (California fan palm)


It’s Carolyn this week, taking you backstage to a food experiment. As we move into a hotter, drier climate here in the Southwest, we’ll have to consider agricultural products that can handle the changes. Although I’ve been playing with edible wild plants for decades and Tia Marta (Muffin Burgess) has put in similar years of work, it’s always exciting for us to find something new. We’re going to do a two-part investigation of what to do with a wild food new to both of us.


Big box of palm fruit.

A big box of  W. robusta palm fruit arrived at my house.


Last fall I received an email from noted ethnobotanist Dr.Richard Felger. He and a colleague, Dr. Don Hodel, an environmental horticulturist for the University of California Cooperative Extension, were working on some wild palm fruits, two species of Washingtonia, also called Mexican or California fan palm. He wondered if I could come up with some recipes. Back in the early 1970s when I was just beginning work with wild edibles, Dr. Felger took me on one of my first plant walks and over the years has answered many questions for me. I figured I owed him. I also asked Tia Marta if she wanted to join in the fun.

After a couple of days,  FedX deposited a box with about 10 pounds of tiny hard black nodules on my doorstep – Washingtonia robusta fruit gathered from a park in Signal Hill, Calif. , near Long Beach. Not promising, they were little more than skin on seed with almost nonexistent flesh, nothing like their cousins the palm fruits we know as dates. Humans have a long history of using palm fruits – in fact some scholars think that the honey referenced in the Bible was actually date syrup.

Wendy Hodgson, THE expert on wild desert foods, says in her book Food Plants of the Sonoran Desert, that the Washingtonia fruits were very important to the Cahuilla and Cocopa. She writes, “They made flour from the ground dried fruits and mixed it with other flours and water to form a mush.” We don’t eat much mush anymore (unless you consider oatmeal for breakfast), so I’d have to devise something else to do with them.

I took 4 cups of fruit and covered them with 8 cups of water. Brought it all it to a boil, then simmered uncovered for 30 minutes. I ran the softened fruit through a blender in batches and strained the liquid, ending up with 5 cups of almost black liquid that tasted something like prune juice.

Even flowers don't make this liquid look appetizing.

Even flowers don’t make this liquid look appetizing.

. I simmered it until reduced to ¾ cup pulpy liquid then spread the remaining pulp and seeds on a cookie sheet and put it in sun to dry. Later, I sifted out ¼ cup dried flakes and discarded the hard seeds.

Pulp and seeds drying in the sun.

Pulp and seeds drying in the sun.

At this point I wrote Dr. Felger my scientific assessment: Sweet — but definitely not yummy. I pressed on and made some tasty muffins. Since there is interest in natural sweeteners, I concentrated on that aspect. Using a standard muffin recipe, I substituted the palm syrup for the liquid milk and reduced the sugar. I added the dried flakes just because I had them and to add some texture.

Muffins with palm syrup and dried flakes.

Muffins with palm syrup and dried flakes.

Fan Palm Muffins

Makes 1 dozen

1 ¾ cup unbleached white flour

¾ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup dry powdered milk

¼ cup dried Washingtonia  flakes

2 eggs

¾ cup pulpy Washingtonia syrup

3 tablespoons melted butter

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl. In another bowl, mix eggs, Washingtonia syrup and melted butter. Stir wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Do not overmix; some lumps are OK. Bake in greased muffin tins at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes or until they appear done.

Washingtonia filifera fruit (about 1/4 inch) on left and W. robusta on the right.

Washingtonia filifera fruit (about 1/4 inch) on left and              W. robusta on the right.

Meanwhile, Dr. Hodel acquired some Washingtonia filifera fruit from a street tree near Indio, Calif., and sent another 10 pounds. Oh boy. They were still tiny, but bigger than the robusta. I put them through a similar process of simmering, blending, straining and reducing. The taste difference was subtle – more date-like than prune-like. Better.

I decided to use the filifera syrup in a healthy treat, showcasing its natural sweetness, and came up with these truffles. I used almond butter, but other nut butters will do.


Nutty truffles sweetened with W. filifera syrup and rolled in cocoa.

Nutty truffles sweetened with palm syrup and rolled in cocoa.

Nutty Truffles

Makes 1 dozen

½ cup almond butter

½  cup popped amaranth grain

¼ cup ground popped amaranth

6 tablespoons Washingtonia filifera palm syrup

1/3 cup cocoa or carob powder

Combine all ingredients except cocoa in a bowl and blend with a spoon. Form into 12 small balls. Roll each in cocoa. (You can buy popped amanranth at Native Seeds SEARCH)

 ♥  ♦  ♥  ♦

What’s the point of trying to find a way to use the fan palm fruits? With climate change bringing hotter, drier summers to the Southwest, ethnobotanists like Dr. Felger and Dr. Hodel are looking for plants that can take those conditions and still produce food.

I don’t expect a rush of  people heading out to gather bushel baskets of fan palm fruits. They’ll appeal to the more ardent wild food enthusiasts who, like me, want to taste every berry on every bush.  But  they may have uses in more industrialized food production. They are sweet and easy to harvest and process. Some entrepreneur may see opportunity there. After all, nobody I know makes their own agave syrup.

(Check out Dr. Richard Felger ‘s article at  “Arizona Native Food Plants for a Dry Future” in The Plant Press: The Arizona Native Plant Society vol. 37, no. 2: 1, 3-5.)


Wild Greens and Mole Enchiladas

blog1Hello, this is Amy Valdés Schwem, and I’m honored to be here with such esteemed plant and cooking women!

I love harvesting wild greens, but my day job is making mole as Mano Y Metate. Today I’m going to make enchiladas made with Mole Dulce and fill them with wild greens and summer squash. It won’t heat up the house, if you take the toaster oven outside! Enchiladas made with tomato sauce instead of chile are called entomatados, and those made with mole are enmoladas. So the menu can read: Enmoladas de Mole Dulce con Quelites y Calabacitas.

Quelites can refer to several unrelated wild greens, but to me they are wild amaranth greens, Amaranthus palmeri, also known as pigweed.

I grew up eating quelites with my maternal grandfather, and he knew no shame jumping fences to pick weeds. They make a few tiny black seeds, unlike its Mexican domesticated relatives that make enough blond seed to fill bulk bins at the health food store.

It is native to the southwest US and northwest Mexico, and its wild and domesticated relatives are enjoyed around the world both as a green and for its grain-like seed. It easily out-competes summer garden and field crops and is becoming resistant to glyposphate (Roundup). But you wouldn’t want to harvest from those over fertilized fields anyway, since it can absorb too much nitrate, making it unsafe for humans and animals. However, grown in native desert soil, they are safe and nutritious, high in vitamin A, vitamin C, and folate, among other vitamins and valuable minerals.

Some species and cultivars available at Native Seeds/SEARCH are used for dye and have red leaves, and some make a huge red inflorescence pretty enough to grow as an ornamental, even if the birds eat all the seed. I’ve never had much luck popping the seed I grew, but you can buy commercially popped seed, like miniature popped corn.

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I just visited my closest community garden, Las Milpitas de Cottonwood, and found these beauties in the irrigated beds already in flower. If this was all I had, I would pick the smallest leaves from the stalks and use those.

blog5Hopefully you find quelites before flowering, shorter than a foot tall. I found a few plants in my yard where other things get watered. Many more will sprout with the summer rains.









Last year I had so many from my Tucson Community Supported Agriculture share that I dried some, just like my great aunt Tia Lucy told me they used to do. I just plucked leaves from the stems and air dried them in the house. To use, I soaked in water overnight, then sauteed with the others. I’ll dry more this summer, for sure.

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To prepare the fresh quelites, wash, chop tender stems and all, and saute with a little onion and garlic in oil. My grandfather always used bacon grease, so that’s what I did.



It’s also prime season for calabacitas, so use them if you don’t have any fresh or dried quelites. My grandfather also collected and cooked verdolagas for us, which would work here, too.






Calabacitas, sauteed with onion and garlic. This filling with mushrooms and queso fresco, inside mole dulce enchiladas, is my brother’s signature dish. Well, one of his signature dishes.




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Now for the mole! For a half dozen enchiladas, to serve two people, I used about half of a tin of Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce powder, cooked in mild olive oil to make paste.


Then I added about half a cup homemade chicken stock and a dash of salt, but veggie stock is great, too. Water doesn’t quite do it. Simmer until you have a nice sauce, adding more broth as necessary. There will be steam and good smells.




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The secret to enchiladas: start with thin corn tortillas and fry briefly in oil hot enough to sizzle, but not hot enough to make them crispy!!! DO NOT skip this step!

If the tortilla cooks too much, or if it breaks, just turn up the heat and make that one into a corn chip.

Dip the flexible tortilla in the mole dulce.

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Put quelites or calabacitas in the tortilla and roll.

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Top with homemade queso fresco and bake until heated though. My grandfather used the toaster oven outside on the patio in the summer to make enchiladas. No need to heat the house!

Depending on your oven, you may need to cover them with foil, but I didn’t. I like crispy edges. Serve with a cucumber, tomato salad dressed with a squeeze of lime, beans, and prickly pear grapefruit-ade.

Leftovers are best fried in a cast iron pan until crispy.

Mano Y Metate moles can be purchased from Martha Burgess of Flor de Mayo Arts at the Sunday Heirloom Farmers’ Market at St. Philip’s Plaza, Native Seeds/SEARCH, and