Delicious Beverages to Make from Pomegranate and Hibiscus

A lovely hot drink made from pomegranate rind and hibiscus flowers.

Hello! It’s Carolyn today and after nine years of Savor the Southwest, we have an updated look. All the old posts for wild food and Southwest specialties are still in the archives, although they all have the new look.

Today I’m going to talk about tea–well actually “infusions,” since tea must refer to the leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Fall is pomegranate season in Tucson and many people in the warm Southwest have the trees in their yards. Pomegranates are one of the Old World Mediterranean crops brought to the area by Father Eusebio Kino in the early 1700’s. 

Many people let their precious pomegranates go to waste because they don’t know how to get out the seeds and then how to eat them. An easy way to do this is to quarter the fruit and then submerge the pieces in a bowl of cold water. Pick the seeds out with your fingers. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the fiber will float. 

Pomegranate being cleaned in a bowl of water. 

The cleaned seeds can be sprinkled on fruit salads or squeezed for juice. But what of the peels? I was amazed to learn recently that the dried pomegranate rinds can make a great tea–whoops, infusion. The imparter of this old-fashioned knowledge was Josefina Lizárraga, who comes often to Mission Garden to share her tips for dealing with local fruit. She is affectionately called La Madrina del Jardín. According to Josefina, the drink is also good to soothe colds or flu.

Josefina with pomegranate at the Mission Garden. (photo by Emily Rockey) 

Another delicious drink can be made from hibiscus flowers from the variety Hibiscus sabdariffa, easily grown in the summer and dried for year round use.  Mexicans use it to make a drink called jamaica (Ha-my-ca). In Cairo the juice is heavily sugared for a popular drink called karkadai.

While either the pomegranate or hibiscus teas are good alone, try combining them for a fruity, herby treat. If you have mint in your garden, you could even add a few sprigs of that. 

Hibiscus sabdariffa, also called Jamaica.

Té de Granada (Pomegranate Tea)

Recipe by Josephina Lizarraga (as told to Emily Rockey)

Bring 2-3 cups of water to a boil. Put 1.5-2 teaspoons of ground pomegranate rind in a pan or teapot.

When water boils, pour over ground pomegranate skin. Allow to steep 10-15 minutes. The pomegranate will settle to the bottom. Alternately, if you don’t grind the skins, you can leave them in 1-2 inch pieces and boil them for 15-20 minutes.

Enjoy simply as it is, or add sugar or honey.

Drink anytime, or for soothing colds or flu, add honey and lemon.

Jamaica (Hibiscus) Tea

1 quart water

1/2 cup dried hibiscus flowers

1/4-1/2 cup sugar

Ginger slices, cinnamon stick, lime juice (optional)

Bring the water to a boil and pour over the hibiscus flowers and other flavorings you choose. Add sugar and stir until dissolved. Steep about 20 minutes or until desired strength. You can also mix half and half with club soda for something a little fancier.

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Want more recipes for prickly pear and other wild foods? You’ll find delicious ways to bring these healthy plants to your table in my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Wild Plants and The New Southwest Cookbook. The links take you on-line, but consider ordering from your local bookstore. They will love you for it. Interested in the history of food in the Southwest? A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage takes you through the last five thousand years, from prehistory through the challenges faced by today’s farmers.

Brown Figs and Black Plums: Savor the Lush Sweet Dark Fruits of Summer

Dark plums and brown figs aren’t brilliantly colored but they bring deep sweetness to summer jam.

When we think of summer fruits, we usually think of jewel tones: the glowing amber of peaches, deep garnet of cherries and raspberries, the sapphire of blueberries, and bright gold of pineapple. But reddish brown figs and dark (sometimes called “black”) plums are also summer fruits with deep flavor and sweetness that combine in an easy jam.

It’s Carolyn with you today and I just love to make jam. When I saw that the fig tree where I glean had some ripening figs, I got up at 6 a.m. and headed out on a seven-block walk to fill a basket. 

Decades ago my friend Suzy had a big fig tree, and I learned to protect my arms when harvesting because of rubbing something off of the fuzzy leaves. But my memory of the problem faded over thirty years, and this morning I harvested with bare arms, reaching deep into the interior of the old fig tree to grab the earliest ripening fruit. On the walk home, my forearms were on fire. Tip: wear long sleeves when harvesting figs. The irritation abated after I got home and washed off whatever was causing the problem, but don’t make my mistake. 

A lovely basket of figs.

Making the jam  couldn’t be easier. Cut the plums and figs into half-inch chunks and combine with the sugar and lemon juice. Bring to a low simmer. Stir occasionally, making sure it doesn’t scorch. Cook until a thermometer registers 220 degrees F. If it seems plenty thick at 218 degrees, you can stop there. Ladle into clean, boiled jars. This makes less than a pint so you probably don’t need to seal the jars; you’ll eat it up quickly.

Cut the figs and plums into half-inch chunks.

Your homemade jam will be delicious on toast, especially if you also add some goat or ricotta cheese. The picture shows some whole wheat toast made by my husband Ford. 

Fig and Plum Jam is delicious on toast. Add goat or ricotta cheese for added richness.

Easy Fig and Plum Jam

1 cup chopped ripe figs

1 cup chopped black plums (about 2)

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan and stir to combine. Cook over medium heat, stirring frequently until thermometer registers 218-220 degrees F. Since you are cooking such a small amount, this won’t take too long. Ladle into sterile jars and refrigerate until use. The recipe can be doubled. In that case, for unrefrigerated storage, be sure to use jars with two-section lids that seal. For long-term storage process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.

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For more great recipes using Southwest foods, check out my cookbooks. The New Southwest Cookbook has recipes from some of the Southwest’s top chefs. Cooking the Wild Southwest includes recipes for foods you can gather in the wild.   The  Prickly  Pear  Cookbook  teaches you how to gather and prepare prickly pear pads and fruit.  Recipes in these books will get you started. Soon you’ll be coming up with great recipes on your own. 

Nopalitos for a Healthy Side Dish

The Savor Sisters, Amy, Carolyn, and Tia Marta, are good friends, but busy lives mean we rarely get together. Recently we gathered for a memorial service.

For nine years now, we Savor Sisters have regularly brought you interesting and unusual recipes for both wild and heritage foods of the Southwest.  If there is a delicious Southwest food, we’ve probably written about it. We concentrate on the food, not ourselves. But recently we found ourselves at the same event, celebrating the life of ecologist Tony Burgess.  Thought you might be interested in the faces behind the recipes.

Gather prickly pear pads when they are young and tender.

In the spring, I like to remind people that it’s time to gather and cook fresh nopales or prickly pear pads. Although all prickly pear pads are edible, you want to look for the Ficus indica,  the kind imported from Mexico with fewer spines.  (The native Engelmann Opuntia produce better fruit.) Gather the pads in your or a neighbor’s yard (ask!) using tongs or buy them from a Mexican grocery store.

Although this variety of prickly pear lacks the big spines of the native variety, they still have very small spines that need to be removed before cooking. In this column we’ve discussed many times how to clean them.  Here are the instructions with photos. Wild food enthusiast, Chad Borseth, has put together a helpful video on cleaning freshly harvested nopal pads. You can watch it here. Chad doesn’t have gloves on and is courting disaster. I suggest you wear rubber gloves, just the kind you get at the grocery for washing dishes are adequate.  Also, keep a tweezers handy. If you get a sticker in your finger, just take it out. Don’t make a big deal out of it.

Once you have cleaned the prickly pear pads, you can cut them into small pieces (nopalitos) or strips, coat them with a little oil, and either fry or grill or bake in the oven. When they turn olive green, they are done. 

Nopales are delicious and also really healthy. Medical studies have confirmed the folk wisdom that they are great at reducing blood sugar and cholesterol. In fact one study showed that just two small pads eaten daily can control non-insulin dependent diabetes and prevent it from worsening.

Today, I want to give you some easy ideas what to do with the nopales once you’ve cooked them. Whenever you are introducing a new unusual food to people who might be a little skeptical (or maybe it is you who is skeptical!), it is good to include them in something familiar. So here are some of my favorites. Be creative and include nopales in your family favorites.

Tomato Nopalito Salsa: In a bowl combine 1/2 cup tomato salsa (homemade or commercial), 1/2 cup cooked black beans, 1/2 cup cooked nopalitos, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, 1 tablespoon lime juice. Serve with chips and watch it disappear. 

Grilled Chicken with Nopalito and Pineapple Salsa

Pineapple Salsa:  Combine cooked nopalitos with crushed pineapple, red pepper, onion, garlic and other flavorings. Terrific as a topping for grilled chicken.  See complete recipe in previous post here.

Fundido de Nopalito: In a small black iron frying pan, brown 1/4 cup chorizo until cooked. Add 1/4 cup cooked nopalitos, and top with 1/4 cup shredded Mexican or Monterrey jack cheese. Heat in 400 degree oven until cheese melts. Serve with soft tortillas or chips. This recipe makes a small amount so be prepared to make more right away.

Nopalito tacos: Cooked nopales have the texture and bite of meat so they make great vegetarian tacos. Use nice soft flour tortillas (the small ones). For tacos, cut your nopales in strips. Top with salsa and cheese. Add chicken or fish if you like. 

Use your own recipe for Apple and Carrot Salad and add nopalitos in small dice.

Apple, Carrot and Nopalito Salad:  This is a Southwest twist on an American classic. Use your own recipe or follow the directions here. 

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Want more recipes for prickly pear and other wild foods? You’ll find delicious ways to bring these healthy plants to your table in my cookbooks Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Wild Plants and The Prickly Pear Cookbook. The links take you on-line, but consider ordering from your local bookstore. They will love you for it. 

Barrel Cactus Fruit and Lemon Combine for Tangy Winter Treat

Barrel cactus fruit and lemons are tasty winter companions.

When I look back at the many blog posts we Savor Sisters have written over the years, frequently there are recipes including barrel cactus at this time of year. In a season where most other plants are resting and waiting out the cold desert nights, barrel cactus are providing glowing yellow fruit in abundance. January is also the season for citrus in the Southwest and there is no shortage of delicious baking recipes using lemon.

It’s Carolyn today and I’m going to modify a lemon recipe I’ve made a couple of times during the pandemic, a time many of us were amusing ourselves with baked goods. The original recipe starts with lemon, but I’m adding poached lemon-y barrel cactus fruit along with the crunchy seeds to make more of a good thing. However, you can making this recipe the super-easy way by just using the barrel cactus seeds and skipping the poached fruit topping. Suit yourself. In any case, you’ll end up with something delicious.  The recipe includes turmeric, a spice that has healthful properties. I’m not sure I can taste it, but it adds a bright yellow color that psychologically enhances the lemon flavors as we taste with our eyes as well as our mouth.

Preparing the Barrel Cactus Seeds and Slices

It is easiest to get the seeds by gathering your cactus fruit in advance. Halve the fruit and put it out in the sun. Once the fruit is dry, the seeds release more easily.  Now for the fruit topping. (You can skip this if you wish.) Choose four of the best barrel cactus fruit halves. Scoop out the seeds as well as you can and add to the others that are drying. Using your sharpest knife, slice the fruit as thinly as possible. Try to get about 36 slices. Put the slices in a small frying pan, cover with water, and simmer for a couple of minutes. Drain, return to the pan, add two tablespoons of water and two tablespoons of sugar. Simmer for about a minute, remove slices and dry on a sheet of waxed paper. 

Slice the fruit thinly and rinse off the seeds, catching them in a sieve. Don’t clog your drain!

Some time during the 2000s, I began to learn about lining baking pans with parchment paper to help release cakes and breads. It takes extra time but does help with sticking. 

Consider lining your baking pan with parchment paper. When positioning your candied cactus fruit, lay the pieces crosswise to help in slicing.

Lemon Barrel Cactus Cake

Nonstick cooking spray or oil for greasing pan

1½ cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

2-3 tablespoons barrel cactus seeds

¾ teaspoon ground turmeric

2 lemons

1 cup granulated sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling

¾ cup  Greek yogurt

2 large eggs, beaten

½ cup (1 stick), melted

36 (or so) candied barrel cactus slices

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 4-by-9-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter, and line it with parchment, leaving some overhang on both of the longer sides so you’re able to easily lift the cake out after baking.
  2. Whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and turmeric in a large bowl.
  3. Grate 2 tablespoons zest from 2 lemons into a medium bowl. Halve the zested lemons and squeeze 2 tablespoons juice into a small bowl.  You’ll have extra juice, so save the remainder for another use.
  4. Add 1 cup sugar to the lemon zest in the medium bowl; rub together with your fingertips until the sugar is fragrant and tinted yellow. Whisk in the Greek yogurt, beaten eggs and the 2 tablespoons lemon juice until well blended.
  5. Using a spatula, add the wet mixture to the flour mixture, stirring just to blend. Fold in the melted butter. Stir in the barrel cactus seeds. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Arrange barrel cactus slices on top if using and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.
  6. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown, the edges pull away from the sides of the pan, and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. (If the loaf is getting too dark, lay a piece of foil on top to prevent burning.) Let cool before slicing.

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Want more recipes using wild foods of the Southwest? You’d find ideas for collecting and using 23 easily recognized and gathered desert foods in Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Foods. If you are interested in prickly pear, The Prickly Pear Cookbook will teach you how to gather pads and fruits and turn them into tasty treats. Just click on the titles for more information. You can learn more about me on my website.

Mesquite Popcorn: Two Old Foods Combine for a New Snack

Native people in the Southwest have been growing popcorn and collecting mesquite pods for more than 4,000 years.  Not sure if they ate them together, but we can!

I have a simple, delicious recipe for you today, but first an announcement. It’s Carolyn this week thinking back to 2011 when I began my first food blog shortly after my book “Cooking the Wild Southwest” was published. I wrote the blog myself for a few years under the title “Carolyn’s Southwest Kitchen,” then thought it would be more fun for me and the readers if other authors joined in.  Writers have come and gone but today Tia Marta and Amy Schwemm and I are the regulars. Together we and our former colleagues have published 338 columns on wild greens, other edible wild plants, traditional chile recipes, delicious mole dishes and all manner of delicious Southwestern foods. Those columns will remain in the blogosphere and you can still search them. Recently, we’ve sent you a post every ten days, but knowing that everyone is so busy, we’re dropping back to one post a month. You will hear from each of us four times during the year in regular rotation.

Sprinkling mesquite meal on popped corn is so simple and so delicious I can’t believe I never thought of it before. It came about because I was giving a cooking demonstration to a small group and I knew they would get hungry as they watched me cook their dinner. The demo was in conjunction with my new book A Desert Feast.” It is my answer to why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy.  The answer is complex but one reason is that we are still eating some of the same foods people here have eaten for thousands of years. Throughout the dinner, I wanted to include a range of foods that had been eaten in the over the last 4,000 years in Southern Arizona and popcorn seemed like a good idea for a snack to keep my audience’s hunger at bay for the 45 minutes I’d need to put their complete meal together.  If I could season it with mesquite meal, that would help me tick off one of the earliest foods. It was a hit!  You’ll love it too.

Sprinkle mesquite meal on plain or buttered popcorn for a naturally sweet treat.

Mesquite Popcorn

6 cups popped corn

2-4 tablespoons melted butter (optional)

6 tablespoons fine mesquite meal

Put the popped corn in a bowl large enough to allow mixing. Drizzle on the melted butter if using. Sprinkle on the mesquite meal, tossing until well combined.

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Want more recipes for mesquite and delicious wild foods of the desert? Find them in my book “Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.” And if you want to know why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, I tell the whole 4,000-year story in my newest book “A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary History.” Buy them from your local bookstore or order on-line.

Sonoran Fall Cobbler with Prickly Pear, Apples and Plums and a Mesquite Crust

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Apples and plums combine with prickly pear syrup and a mesquite oatmeal topping for the perfect fall dessert.

Traditional fall fruits like apple and plums are natural go-togethers with prickly pears and mesquite. It’s Carolyn this week bringing you this recipe that is a good way to introduce people to new flavors because it is a recognizable old standard with a new twist. And it doesn’t take a large amount of either the prickly pear syrup or the mesquite to make a statement. I took this to a last of summer potluck recently and it was the first dessert consumed as people bypassed the whipped cream cake and even the chocolate brownies to give it a try. “You didn’t make enough,” is what I heard. 

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Late summer country picnic perfect for Sonoran Fruit Cobbler.

To make the cobbler, you can use any kind of apples, but include at least one tart one, like Granny Smith, to give it a bit of brightness.

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Mix the chopped apple and plums with a little bit of prickly pear syrup.

The mesquite oatmeal topping crisps up because of the butter that you rub into it.

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Sprinkle the top with a mixture of oatmeal, mesquite meal, and butter.

Sonoran Fall Cobbler

4 apples, chopped, no need to peel

4 large plums or pluots, chopped

1/4 cup prickly pear syrup

1/2 teaspoon corn starch

Topping:

1 cup dry oatmeal

1/4 cup mesquite meal

2-4 tablespoons brown sugar

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine the chopped apples and peaches in casserole or pie plate or 8×8-inch pan. Stir the cornstarch into the prickly pear syrup and stir into the fruit mixture. In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients for the topping. Chop the butter into little pieces and with your fingers, rub it into the dry ingredients. Spread over the chopped fruit. Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes until fruit is tender and topping is nicely browned.

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Sonoran Fruit Cobbler is delicious as is or add cream, whipped cream, or ice cream.

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Want more recipes for mesquite and delicious wild foods of the desert? Find them in my book “Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants.” And if you want to know why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, I tell the whole 4,000-year story in my newest book “A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary History.” Buy them from your local bookstore or order on-line.

Syrian Salad for Fig Season

Asaf Hasan, a Palestinian from Kuwait and Jordan, and Raina Kanawati from Syria brought this delicious Syrian fig salad to share with Mission Garden volunteers. (Photo by Dena Cowan)

Fig trees, originally from the Middle East, have found a happy home in the Southwest, a similar climate. Mission Garden in Tucson  features historical gardens and  heritage fruit trees that produce an abundance of figs in late July and August. Asaf Hasan and Raina Kanawati brought a delicious Syrian fig salad to share with volunteers as they led us in making stuffed grape leaves. It is traditionally eaten with the fingers and since we had all washed our hands to make the grape leaves, we dug in happily.

The salad requires no cooking, just assembly, so it’s good to prepare on these hot summer days. Choose sweet white onions or red onions if those are not available.

Figs are ripe in deep summer. Originally from the Mediterranean, they grow well in the hot American desert.

 

When you slice the onion, do so pole to pole rather than through the equator.

Syrian Fig Salad

8 fresh figs, quartered

1 sweet onion, sliced thinly pole to pole

1 lemon, sliced as thinly as possible

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley leaves

1/2 cup finely chopped mint leaves

1/4 cup lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt

Choose a bowl that holds at least a quart. Combine figs, onion, and lemon and toss until well mixed. Stir in the parsley and mint leaves. In a cup, combine the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt. Pour over the fruit mixture. Refrigerate for an hour to meld flavors. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Completed Syrian Fig Salad is a fresh addition to a summer meal. 

My latest book, A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage, discusses how Old World crops such as Mediterranean fruit trees were brought to Tucson by the Catholic missionaries in the early 1700s. I also discuss how local historians worked to recreate the Mission Gardens originally located at the Mission San Agustin.  Order the book from Amazon or  Native Seeds/SEARCH. The book is the the winner of three awards and was named Top Pick in the 2011 Southwest Books of the Year. 

When Drought Led to Famine, What Did People Eat?

Here in the Southwest, we’re heading into our second year of severe drought after a few years of normal drought. Because we humans live in the Twenty-First Century, we can live on food grown and imported from rainier regions or grown with water pumped from deep in the earth. But what about the indigenous people who lived here centuries ago, how did they cope with drought? What did they eat when the rains didn’t come or were spotty?

It’s Carolyn here today, and I began to look for some answers in the new book Famine Foods: Plants We Eat to Survive (University of Arizona Press, 2021) by Paul E. Minnis, an archaeologist/ethnobotanist. Dr. Minnis writes: “Food shortages of various kinds and severities have been a part of humanity for as long as humans have existed.” Later, he writes, “Out of these experiences, humans have developed a range of responses to deal with these problems including the use of famine foods.”

Although Minnis looks at how people respond to food shortages world-wide, I was particularly interested in what he had to say about the Southwest. Because famines only occurred every so often, there was the chance that plants that weren’t eaten regularly, but could be eaten might be forgotten. The Zuni of New Mexico embedded ethnobotanical knowledge by making plants integral parts of ritual paraphernalia so people had to remember where to gather them and they also included knowledge of plants in ritual liturgy. So even if someone had not actually eaten a plant, they had heard of it.

People facing food shortages also changed their minds about what they considered proper food. During the Second Century in Greece, peasants facing food shortages would eat acorns they had stored to feed their pigs. However on the California Coast, centuries later, Native Americans subsisted to a great part on acorns and considered them a fine and preferred source of food.

Here are some wild foods that sustained desert dwellers in Southern Arizona for millenia even in droughtrs: saguaro, mesquite, barrel cactus, and both prickly pear pads and fruits (pictured above). My colleagues and I have written about all of these numerous times over the years, not as famine foods, but as ways to bring the desert into your life.

This years saguaros are blooming further down on the arms. Botanists believe this may be related to the drought. More fruit means more opportunity for baby saguaros. (Photo by Doug Kreutz)

Another way Native Americans faced food shortages is what Minnis calls “social banking.” In 1939, the town chief of Acoma, a New Mexico Pueblo said, “The people of Zuni are coming. They have no crops. They are coming to work for us. Some day we might have to go to them when our crops are small.” The Tohono O’odham when facing food shortages would sometimes go visit their cousins the Akimel O’odham who had an easier time growing crops with the Gila River water. Because there were no draft animals, it was easier to move the people to the food rather than try to transport large quantities of food.

To learn more about how people all over the world have survived food shortages and famine, get a copy of Famine Foods and learn about human resilience.

Want to know more about history of food in the Southwest? My new award-winning book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage covers more than 4,000 years of food history, from the hunter-gatherers, to the Early Agriculturalists to today’s farmers.

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.”

Grapefruit and Poppy Seeds: Cooking from Neighborhood Abundance

Spring finds Southern Arizona desert communities deep in citrus of all kinds. Our grapefruit tree died but I never lack for grapefruit because there are so many productive trees in Tucson owned by people who either don’t like grapefruit or have way more than they can use. This recipe also uses poppy seeds that I grow in my garden. I planted some years ago and do harvest the seeds carefully, but once again, there are so many seeds some drop to the ground and carefully wait out the summer heat to reappear the next winter.

Grapefruits are abundant now in desert communities.

The desert Southwest is awash in citrus every spring. This includes oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and little fruits such as calamondins. Many folks who have a grapefruit tree in their yard find they have way too many, either because they don’t like them or the trees have produced way more than they care to eat. Iskashitaa, a nonprofit that organizes refugees and local citizens into harvest groups, gathers the unwanted fruit and distributes it to those in need or those willing to pay for it. This year has seen a really bountiful harvest. 

Zeru, from Eritrea, an Iskashitaa volunteer, is thrilled with this one-day harvest of grapefruit and lemons.

Our grapefruit tree died and our replacement tree hasn’t gotten organized yet to produce fruit, but the two grapefruit lovers in our household have been blessed by gifts from our neighbor and the Iskashitaa bounty.

This recipe for Grapefruit Poppy Seed Bread gets a little crunch from tiny poppy seeds. I grow my own in my garden. I don’t even have to sow them anymore. Plenty of seeds spill when we’re harvesting them and by January they are coming up in the lettuce garden. They destroy the tidy look of the lettuce in rows, but I can’t bear to pull them out, so by now the garden is messy with poppies, nasturtiums, and lettuce somewhere down under everything. 

Oriental poppies produce thousands of tiny seeds and self-sow easily. Those round objects are the seed pods and when they dry, it is easy to shake out the seeds. Always some fall to the ground and nestle there until they decide to grow the following winter.

This Grapefruit Poppy Seed Bread has a sweet fruity flavor but it’s hard to detect that it is actually grapefruit. So if you aren’t that keen on grapefruit, this might be a good way to use up some fruit.

Some tips before we get to the recipe. I always line my pans with parchment baking paper or foil to help get the loaves out in one piece. This particular bread seems very tender when it first comes out so the lining is important. 

Here’s a picture of poking the bread with a skewer to let the syrup penetrate the bread easier.

Use a skewer, a toothpick, or even a fork to make holes to allow the glaze to penetrate.

And the beautiful finished bread. This is what you are aiming for. 

Finished grapefruit bread with drizzled glaze

Grapefruit Poppy Seed Bread

1 cup butter, softened

1-2/3 cups sugar, divided

3 large eggs, room temperature

3/4 cup yogurt

3 tablespoons poppy seeds

¼ cup grated grapefruit zest

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup grapefruit juice

Glaze:

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

2 tablespoons grapefruit juice

1 tablespoon grapefruit zest

Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter and 1-1/3 cups sugar until light and fluffy, 5-7 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in yogurt, poppy seeds, grapefruit zest and vanilla. In another bowl, whisk flour, baking soda and salt; gradually beat into creamed mixture.

Transfer to a greased 9×5-in. loaf pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 55-65 minutes. Meanwhile, in a small bowl microsafe bowl, mix grapefruit juice, 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest, and remaining sugar. Microwave for 1 minute to make a simple syrup. Set aside.

Remove bread from oven. Immediately poke holes in bread with a fork; slowly pour juice mixture over bread. Cool in pan 10 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. The bread is very tender at this point. The cooling in the pan is a necessary step.

In a small bowl, mix glaze ingredients. Carefully remove bread from pan and set on a wire rack and continue to cool; drizzle glaze over bread.

A few pieces of grapefruit bread make a lovely breakfast or a treat when hunger gnaws in the afternoon.

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I’m thrilled to announce that my new book A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage has won two awards. It was named a Top Pick in the Southwest Books of the Year list and also won a PubWest award for design. The latter was particularly satisfying because it honored Leigh McDonald and Sara Thaxton who did the extremely complex layout that makes the book so visually stunning. It was as if they entered my brain and executed exactly what I had been hoping for.  Order your copy from your local book store, from Native Seeds/SEARCH, or on-line.