Posts Tagged With: Carolyn Niethammer

Chad’s Sky Island Spice Company

Chad Borseth sells his wild-crafted products from his website and at farmers’ markets.

Chad Borseth grew up in rural Southern Arizona, roaming the hills, learning about the plants, picking up clues to what was edible, such as mesquite and Emory acorns. This past January, he started Sky Island Spice Company to introduce others to some of the flavors unique to the Sonoran Desert.  It’s Carolyn here today to introduce you to another of the small entrepreneurs who are sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm for local desert products.

One of Chad’s products is solar-evaporated Sonoran Sea Salt. “It’s got a unique blend of minerals,” he says, “and lower sodium. But it’s high in magnesium and potassium. It also has a different mouthfeel.”  People who like to rim their margarita glasses with salt, will go for his  prickly pear and lime salt.

The solar-evaporated salt from the Sea of Cortez is infused with prickly pear juice and lime juice.

Because of the nature of wild supplies (that would be Mother Nature), Chad’s stock varies with the season. Through the year he will have granola made with acorns and mesquite, hot cocoa mix made with cacao and powdered mushrooms, and something he calls “nopaliditos,” salt-cured nopal or prickly pear pads. They are reminiscent of the saladitos beloved of Tucson kids. He adds flavor to our native chiltepines by smoking them over mesquite. Chad doesn’t confine himself to the desert; summer finds him in the pine forests looking for mushrooms and plants that grow in the higher altitudes. (No worries about the mushrooms–they are for his own use. The mushrooms in his products come from reliable commercial sources.)

Fiery hot chiltepines picking up flavor over mesquite coals.

Those with adventurous palates who are willing to be surprised (pleasantly), can sign up for the Sky Island Spice Company subscription box. At this point, Chad is limiting the subscriptions to just fifteen customers. Every month they will receive a box of three special items not in the regular stock. That might include such items as cookies or wildflower tea. The July box included syrup made from manzanita blossoms.

You can find Chad’s products on the web at Sky Island Spice Company or on Facebook.

Here’s an easy recipe to use Chad’s smoked chiltepins. It is from my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. The combination of chile and chocolate is a favorite of mine and adding the smokiness of both the smoked chiltepins and the chipotle chiles adds a sophisticated taste. Of course, you can add the chiles to your own homemade ice cream, but if time is short, a good quality commercial ice cream works fine.

Easy Chocolate-Chile Ice Cream

1/2 gallon commercial chocolate ice cream

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon dried and crushed chiltepins, seeds removed

1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle chiles

Transfer the ice cream from the carton in large clumps and transfer to a flat baking pan to soften evenly. (If you try to soften it in the carton, the outside will get too soft while the inside stays hard.)

Meanwhile, crush the chiltepins in a small mortar, removing the seeds. Sprinkle the crushed chiltepins and the ground chipotle chiles over the ice cream and stir to combine. Repack into the carton or transfer into a bowl and refreeze.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about the foods and people of the Southwest. She has just completed a book on why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. It will be published by the University of Arizona Press in the fall of 2020. Find her books on her website.

Categories: Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Raspados-A Sonoran Summer Treat

                  Summer fruit perfect for a raspado.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Sonoran Desert New Year Greetings!

Saguaro fruit is ripe and ready to harvest by many desert creatures. The traditional Tohono O’odham Bahidaj–the saguaro harvest and the rain ceremonies that are an integral part–herald our true New Year in Baja Arizona! (MABurgess photo)

It has been a scorching few days since San Juan’s Day in the Sonoran Desert.  But even in the heat and blistering sun there is such productivity, such life in hopes of rain.  Tia Marta here relishing our beautiful Bahidaj-time–saguaro harvest time–with coyotes, white-wing doves, ant people and a zillion other desert creatures!  So many depend on the delectable, nutritious fruits of our admired Giant Saguaro Cactus.  The Tohono O’odham– original Desert People of the Arizona-Sonora borderlands–traditionally depended upon the Giant Saguaro, hasañ, for more than food.  The Hasañ Bahidaj helps bring the rain!  A spiritual leader recently shared with us that one community still carries on their tradition of using saguaro “wine” in the ceremony to pray for monsoon rains to bless us.  Our thanks go out to those keepers of tradition–May our prayers join with yours!

Saguaro fruits as yet unopened and still green may not be ready to collect. Wait a few more days until they develop the “blush.” (MABurgess photo)

Ripe saguaro fruits perfect for collecting are still closed with a luscious rosy color or “blush” to them! (MABurgess photo)

He told us the new year begins when the rains come and “wash away our old footprints.”

So…Happy New Year greetings to all of you fellow desert residents….when the rains come!….

Meanwhile until then, may we enjoy the bounty of Bahidaj fruit that is provided!  Head out in the coolth of early morning with a long kuipaD (collecting pole) and bucket.  Know your fruit and be choosy so not to waste any of its goodness.  Here are some vivid photographic hints.

Saguaro fruit open showing the glorious inner fruit and rind.  At this stage fruit can still be harvestable for making syrup. (MABurgess photo)

Use your thumb to scoop out the mass of sweet pulp and seeds.  (MABurgess photo)

The Desert Museum often would get calls from newcomers asking about the “red flowers” on the giant cactus at this time of year.  If they looked closer they would see that it is the husk being the siren of color inviting birds who might assist spreading seed.

At your fingertips in this SavortheSouthwest blog, you can find clear instructions how to prepare saguaro syrup, how to dry Chuñ in a solar oven, and other delicious recipe ideas in our previous posts about Saguaro Season.  Blog sister Carolyn Niethammer’s book Cooking the Wild Southwest is also a great source.   Go for it, enjoy the sweet taste of summer and keep up this long and important tradition of Bahidaj–and add your prayers of thanksgiving.

 

Count yourself lucky if you find totally dried fruit still in the husk! This is Chuñ, the dried sweet fruit, storable or immediately edible, and better than any energy bar. (MABurgess photo)

Bahidaj Chuñ–dry saguaro fruit–is like candy, one of the finest of desert treats! (MABurgess photo)

With this post I would like to celebrate and acknowledge the life of an amazing traditional harvester, Stella Tucker, who passed in January of this year.  Her lovely daughter Tenisha now is “carrying the baton” or shall we say “carrying the kuipaD” for the family and their community traditions at the Bahidaj camp.  Tenisha is great grand niece of my dear friend and mentor Juanita Ahil, prima desert harvester, who taught us all so much about wild desert foods.

Juanita, and Stella after her, always instructed young harvesters to place the empty husks on the ground near the generous saguaro, facing up to the sky, asking for rain…. I hope they are watching. (MABurgess photo)

You can read more about Stella Tucker in the Edible Baja Arizona magazine archive www.ediblebajaarizona.com July/August 2017 issue.  There is a beautiful tribute to Stella by Kimi Eisele in the AZ Daily Star.

Our own noted Tucson photographer Peter Kresan, was a good friend of Juanita Ahil and documented her harvesting saguaro fruit in beautiful images which he has donated to the Himdag Ki Tohono O’odham Cultural Center in Topawa, AZ.

When harvesting may we always be conscious of the creatures who depend on them for survival and limit our “take”!  It is comforting to know that many of the fruits atop saguaros are well beyond human reach, up there for our feathered and many-legged neighbors.  Be sure always to get permission from any landowner before you harvest.  The Arizona Native Plant Law protects all parts of cacti and succulents except fruit.  Many public lands provide permission for harvesting for personal use–not for commercial purposes–but it is up to the gatherer to know what land you are on and to obtain the right permits.  National Parks and Monuments are off-limits to harvesting by the public; we had to jump through countless government hoops to obtain permits for Juanita’s family to harvest on her own traditional grounds after it became Saguaro National Monument!

My little pot of luscious fruit is cooking at this very moment in my solar oven.  I look forward to hearing from you through my website and send a New Year’s wish from Flor de Mayo–May your harvest be bountiful and may it help bring on good monsoon moisture to the desert!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Trip to the Mano y Metate Kitchen

Amy’s mole mixes on the shelf at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store in reusable tins. .

It’s Carolyn here today giving you a behind-the-scenes look at one of my sister Savor the Southwest bloggers. For my forthcoming book on Tucson as a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, I interviewed a number of small food manufacturers, and Amy Schwemm was one of them. So I’m going to share with you my story on how Amy got into the spice business:

Amy Valdez Schwemm opens the double doors of her industrial refrigerator and displays a collection of herbs and spices that would make Marco Polo and any Arab spice trader swoon. Plastic tubs and glass jars hold nine kinds of chiles, three kinds of nuts, sesame and pumpkin seeds, raisins, prunes, tortilla meal, cinnamon sticks, herbs, cacao nibs, imported chocolate from Oaxaca, and a secret ingredient—dried bananas.

These are the ingredients she uses to make the six dried mole mixes she sells through her company Mano y Metate. She has a stringent non-GMO policy for every one of them.

Amy owns a three-room professional kitchen with five large refrigerators, a huge black stove, and an array of health department-endorsed sinks. But she works her spice magic out of a room about 15 feet square. Just herself, a small scale, and that well-stocked fridge. The rest of the facility she rents on an hourly basis to other small food business—a caterer, two women who make kimchi, a baker of cheesecakes, and a couple of food trucks.

Amy uses a large industrial Cusinart to grind spices. It is really loud so she wears ear protection.

Schwemm began her food career working for Native Seeds/SEARCH which at the time sold a mole mix. She recalls that no one knew how to use it, but she remembered her grandmother making moles for the family. It was several years later with people asking for mole mixes that Schwemm decided this was something she could do. She took business and accounting classes and rented kitchen space from a small bakery. Meanwhile, Schwemm was helping to clean out her great aunt’s household accumulation and found a small mano for a molcajete, worn smooth from years of spice grinding. Another family member passed along the molcajete that went with it. Seeing Schwemm’s interest, the great aunt confessed she had given away her mother’s metate, but asked for it back. Thus the name of the news business was born: Mano y Metate.

Then began the task of trying to replicate the exact flavor of the authentic mole her great-grandmother had made according to her mother’s memory. Schwemm made numerous passes until finally her mother agreed that she had hit on the perfect combination. That blend of four kinds of dark chile, raisins, dried bananas, ground almonds and lots of sweetened Oaxacan chocolate became Schwemm’s Mole Dulce mix, her most popular. It is what is used at EXO coffee in their delicious Mole Dulce Latte.

Next in development was the much spicier Mole Negro with more bitter notes from unsweetened cacao nibs, four kinds of nuts, and smoky chipotle chile. An herby Mole Verde followed with jalapeno, green chile, cilantro, parsley and epazote.

Amy measures one of her secret ingredients: dried bananas. I guess it’s not a secret any more.

As the business developed, Schwemm kept experimenting, adding Pipian Rojo, a mixture of Santa Cruz mild child, pumpkin seeds, almonds and herbs, followed by Pipian Picante, a spicer version of Rojo. The most recent addition is Adobo with chiles, garlic and lots of herbs which works great as a dry rub before a steak goes on the grill.

All the mixes are packed in charming highly re-useable made-in-America two-ounce steel tins. Customers who are heavy users can save a little by buying the four-ounce packs in not-as-charming plastic bags. Mano y Metate products are available in small specialty store and independent food stores throughout Tucson and from Tubac to Seattle and from Santa Ana, California to Maine.

Over the years, Amy has given us great recipes using her spice mixes.  There is this for Tortilla Soup, another for fabulous Onion Rings, and another for a special holiday brunch with enchiladas and squash made with her fabulous mole negro mix.

Here is one of my favorites:

Mano Y Metate Mole Dulce Brownies

4 eggs (room temperature)
2 cups sugar
2 sticks softened butter (8 ounces)
1 1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons Mole Dulce powder

Mole Dulce powder for topping, 5 tablespoons or so, to taste

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a 9-inch x13-inch baking pan (or two eight-inch square pans) with parchment paper.

With an electric mixer, beat the eggs just until fluffy. Beat in sugar. Add remaining ingredients and beat. Pour batter into pan(s) and spread to level. Shake Mole Dulce powder though a wire strainer to evenly distribute over the batter as a topping. Bake for 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out with crumbs instead of batter.

Schwemm says: I like the brownies thinner, so there’s more spicy, chocolaty topping per bite. Feel free to take them out of the oven sooner or bake them in a smaller pan if you like them gooey, but the edges of the pan always seem to go first around here.

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

 

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

Fern Shoots Are Delicious Spring Treat

Young bracken fern with shoots perfect for harvest.

As long as I’ve been writing about wild foods–and that is many decades–I’ve read about eating the just-emerging shoots of ferns, a great delicacy. But since practically all of my foraging has been in the desert, I’ve never had a chance to gather this mountain treat. Then last year, we became part owners of a cabin on Mt. Lemmon, next to Tucson, at 8,000 feet. The hill behind the cabin is covered with FERNS due to a fire on the mountain about 15 years ago. As soon as I saw them last summer, I began plotting my gathering experience.

First, I had to figure out if my ferns were edible. I turned to John Slattery’s book Southwest Foraging, and he assured his readers that only one kind of fern grows in Southern Arizona, the bracken fern, and that it is edible. He did advise cooking it in two changes of water to deal with “carcinogenic substances.”

We’ve had a unusually cool spring in Southern Arizona, so cool that we didn’t get up to our cabin until late May. But spring was very slow coming that high (it had snowed earlier in May), and the ferns were just coming up. I was in luck. I only picked a handful because I wasn’t sure I’d even like them and I didn’t want to waste any.

However, a rinse, the two changes of cooking water, and a quick saute in butter and lemon juice provided a little snack with a slightly nutty taste just as delicious as promised. There will be no second chance this year, it’s a fleeting season. By the time we get to the mountain cabin again the ferns will be unfurled. But I will for sure be up there next year in May and this time I will gather more!

Cleaned young ferns ready for cooking.

 

Shoots nicely cooked with butter and lemon juice and ready for eating.

Update:  I did my original gathering and cooking in the third week of May. We returned to the cabin the first week of June and there were still ferns just emerging and the tops of others further along were still furled and tender. I had forgotten to take butter and lemon juice, so I cooked the tips in olive oil and drizzled a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar over them. Great! So depending on the year, the fern season at 8,000 feet runs for maybe a month.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about edible wild plants of the desert Southwest. You can see her books at http://www.cniethammer.com. In the fall of 2020 her book on why Tucson was named a UNESCO World City of Gastronomy will be released by the University of Arizona Press. In it she details the last 10,000 years of culinary history of the Santa Cruz Valley and why the inhabitants of the area are still eating the same things after all these years!

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Agave Fest!

Every year in late April and early May, Tucson residents and visitors celebrate the agave plant in all its glory with dinners, cocktail demos, mescal and bacanora tastings, demonstrations and fiestas. It’s Carolyn today and for the third year, I’ve taken part in the agave roasting at Mission Garden.  The agave plant is a succulent that thrives in arid conditions and when roasted becomes very sweet. It is the defining ingredient in mescal and tequila. It has also been used for thousands of years by the Native Americans as food. The Hohokam even planted agave fields stretching over 1,200  acres in the north end of the Santa Cruz basin. It was a crop that needed little tending and propagated on it’s own by sending out pups. Anthroplogist Suzanne Fish estimates that the Hohokam in the area could have harvested up to 10,000 agave plants annually.

There are many species of agave. We’re not sure how many kinds were used by the Native Americans. (MABurgess photo)

Historically, the stiff and thorny leaves were cut from the agave and the hearts are baked in an earth oven. The people just chewed the pulp from the fibers. Then there was a step up in technology when the hearts were steamed and roasted, crushed and used to make tequila, mescal and bacanora. Here is a link to a demonstration of a old-fashioned bacanora “factory” in Mexico. Of course, today the big commercial mescal and tequila makers use industrial ovens.

But during Agave Fest, we like to celebrate the oldest traditions, so Jesus Garcia demonstrates baking agave in an earth oven.

Jesus Garcia placing an agave heart in an earth oven on the grounds of Mission Garden. (CNiethammer photo)

Because we don’t all have earth ovens, I am in charge of the home-baking demonstration. I wrap the hearts securely in heavy foil and bake them for about 10 hours at 350 degrees F. (If you try this, be sure to put a foil-lined pan under the agaves because even the most securely wrapped hearts leak sugary juice.)

Agave heart split in two so it could fit in my home oven.

This is what the roasted heart looked like after 10 hours. The core on the right is where I removed some of the leaves.

The next challenge is to get enough pulp from the fibers to actually make something. The Native Americans just chewed on the baked leaves and discarded the fibers. Distillers and people who make agave syrup crush the juice from the fibers. To further soften the leaves, I tried boiling them for a while. I also put them in my food processor which did a good job of separating fiber from pulp.

You can also tease out the pulp with a knife.

(We are all constantly experimenting to try to find what works best. A woman who attended my presentation said she has cut up a small agave heart and cooked it in her large slow cooker for three days.)

So once you’ve gone to the trouble of getting pulp, what do you do with it? Here’s where the experimenting comes in. I’ve combined it with water to make a murky homemade agave syrup. You can use it to season anything you want to sweeten a little. For the Agave Fest demonstrations, I’ve made a mixed squash, nopalito, and onion saute and added some of the agave pulp. It adds a subtle sweetness and everybody loves it. I also used the pulp to mix with some ground popped amaranth and ground chia. Added a little commercial agave syrup. Formed little balls, firmed up in the fridge, then dipped in melted chocolate. Yum!

Amaranth, chia, agave balls with chocolate coating.

Of course, by the time I served the food, it was nearing 7:30 or 8 p.m. and everybody was starved so it all tasted especially good!

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Want to learn more about wild desert foods and how to prepare them? My book American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest tells how the Native Americans used the wild plants for food. Cooking the Wild Southwest gives modern recipes for 23 delicious Sonoran Desert plants. There are all available at Native Seeds/SEARCH, online or in the retail store.

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom crops, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Citrus Season is Time for Marmalade

Mix citrus for a delicious marmalade with my favorite recipe.

It’s Carolyn Niethammer here today to share my favorite recipe for citrus marmalade. It comes from an early version of The Joy of Cooking that I received as a gift in 1965. The most recent Joy of Cooking doesn’t even have an entry for jams though I hear there is a resurgence of interest in making them. I love citrus marmalade, but don’t like the overly sweet grocery-story version. I like a little bitterness, more like the English version rather than the American style.  I’ve used this recipe for at least 30 years, varying the proportion of fruit according to what I have.

Some of the oranges come from a Sweet Orange tree in my front yard that my husband as a small child planted with his dad, Dr. Leland Burkhart, a half time extension agent, half time college ag professor.  Dr. Burkhart used to travel all over the state consulting with citrus growers. Since my own grapefruit tree died, I have to snitch a few of those from my neighbors. I also gather a few sour oranges from street trees in the neighborhood because I like the tang it gives my marmalade.  If you don’t have access to free fruit, the farmer’s markets are full of all varieties right now.

Farmers’ markets in the Southwest have abundant citrus for sale now.

Although I have been using this recipe successfully for years, a couple of years ago I decided to get fancy and carefully cut away all the white pith on the inside of the fruit rinds. Then the mixture simply would not jell no matter how long I cooked it. So….I learned this is where the pectin is, what makes the marmalade thicken up. Leave the white stuff on; it disappears during the soaking and cooking.

Use whatever fruit you have; don’t worry about the proportions. You could use all lemons. Last year I foraged an abundance of kumquats and used those. You might decide to make your version of spring marmalade special by adding some thinly slice barrel cactus fruit, or a little prickly pear juice if you have some, or even some berries. This is a very adaptable recipe. I always try to stress experimentation. Here’s a place to construct your own signature jam to your special taste preference.

The recipe is very easy, but you have to start the process a few days before you plan to do the cooking. The fruit soaks and softens in a corner of your kitchen. During the days when the fruit is soaking, gather up your jars. If you have those with the sealing lids, fine. If not use any jars. Put them in your biggest pot, cover with water, and boil for a few minutes to sterilize. If you don’t have the lids with the rings that seal, be sure to refrigerate the jam until use. If you give it away, caution the receiver not to stick it on a shelf and forget it.

I use whatever jars I have for the marmalade.

Mixed Citrus Marmalade

1 grapefruit

3 oranges

3 lemons

Sugar

Scrub the fruit, cut each in quarters, and remove the seeds. Slice very thinly. Measure the amount of fruit and juice and add 3 times the amount of water. Set aside and let the fruit soak for 12 hours. Simmer for about 20 minutes. Let stand again for 12 hours.

For every cup of fruit and juice, add ¾ cup sugar. Divide into two pots if you have them or cook one half at a time. Cook these ingredients until they reach 220-222 degrees F. on a food thermometer . It will seem like it takes a long time at first and then at the end it moves rapidly. If you don’t have a food thermometer, once you think it’s looking a little thicker, turn off the heat, put a little of the jelly on a china plate and put it in the freezer for a minute. If it firms up, it is ready. If it is still liquid, cook for a little while longer. It usually firms up a bit more once it cools in the jars.

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Ready for another challenge? It was a rainy winter this year in the Southwest which means lots of edible wild desert plants. You can find recipes for 23 of the  easiest to gather and the tastiest in my book Cooking the Wild Southwest available from Native Seeds/SEARCH and from on-line stores.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, fruit, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 5 Comments

Love Chimichangas? Here’s a book for you.

Carolyn here today. I have been spending the last 18 months working on a book about why Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2015. It covers what Tucsonans have been eating over the last 10,000 years and also delves into many of the foods we love but aren’t found elsewhere. Along the way, I’ve talked to anthropologists, farmers, chefs, teachers, and people working hard to see that the less fortunate have enough food. And I’ve also kept an eye out for what my fellow writers have been producing. Over the next year, I’ll share with you some of what I’ve learned. Today, we’ll start with Rita Connelly’s new book Arizona Chimichangas.

For ten years Connelly provided the restaurant reviews for the Tucson Weekly, so she’s been in a fair number of local restaurants. She’s seen them come and go. Actually, she wrote an earlier book about beloved restaurants that have vanished.

Chimichangas have a cache about them that somehow is more than a sum of their parts. A chimichanga is a deep-fried burro, and a burro is just a flour tortilla wrapped around a filling of beans or meat. Somehow, dropping that humble burro into a sizzling pan of oil transforms it into a flaky pleasureful indulgence. It becomes even better when topped with your choice of condiments such as melted cheese, sour cream, guacamole or enchilada sauce.

Chimichanga “enchilada style” or a “wet” chimi. Photo from Arizona Chimichangas.

Tucsonans want to believe that the chimichanga was invented here in Tucson by accident, but in Connelly’s six-month odyssey of scoping out Mexican restaurants in little towns all over Southern Arizona, she found a fair number of people who swear the delicacy originated right in their restaurant. She even found people who suggest that the chimichanga is an outgrowth of the egg rolls produced by the Chinese who settled in Northern Mexico. And because good flour tortillas are key to a good chimi, Connelly takes us into a tortilla factory.

The reputation of chimichangas is worldwide. Here is a picture I took of a restaurant marquee in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, offering a Balkan version of Mexican food. Looks like they are into the sweet version of the chimichanga.

       Menu from Mexican restaurant in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina.

If you love chimichangas, if you really love chimichangas, you’ll want to read Connelly’s book on the multi-generation traditions from family restaurants all over Southern Arizona.  Use it as a guide to where to get your next chimi fix. Arizona Chimichangas is available at local bookstores.

Recipe

You really don’t need a recipe for a chimichanga. Brown some ground beef or shred some chicken or beef or pork roast. Sauté it with some chopped onion and garlic, maybe some green bell pepper, maybe a little tomato sauce. Season with salt and pepper. If you want a vegetarian version, use some nicely cooked beans or cooked veggies. Wrap up the filling in a flour tortilla, tucking in the sides as you roll to contain the filling. Heat some neutral vegetable oil  in a frying pan until it is about 375 degrees. Fry the chimis until they are golden and crispy, using tongs to turn them. Drain on several thicknesses of paper towels. Serve with guacamole and sour cream or enchilada sauce for a “wet” chimichanga.

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Carolyn Niethammer writes about the food and people of the Southwest. See all her books at www.cniethammer.comCooking the Wild Southwest covers identification information and recipes for 23 delicious, easy-to-gather, and easily recognized edible wild plants of the Sonoran Desert.  Order it from the Native Seeds/SEARCH store. 

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

Refugees Glean Citrus Abundance

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Citrus season in Southern Arizona.

It’s high citrus season in the desert Southwest. Oranges and grapefruits and lemons, oh my! Many people in Tucson have trees that produce so abundantly that they can’t use it all and even have trouble giving it all away. (Witness bags of grapefruits in break rooms all over town).  There’s an answer to finding good homes for all the citrus.

It’s Carolyn today, here to tell you about a wonderful local organization. Iskashitaa Refugee Network is a volunteer group of locals and refuges who have been settled here who go out to homes and farms where they have been invited to harvest extra produce. Barbara Eiswerth founded Iskashitaa in 2003 as a way to not only help acclimate United Nations refugees who had been resettled in Tucson, but also to find a way to rescue and make use of some of the unharvested and unused fruit that goes to waste in Tucson.  The first group Eiswerth worked with was from Somalia. The warm comradery the women developed led to the name of the group. Iskashitaa means “working cooperatively together” in a Bantu language spoken in Somalia.

Gleaning has a centuries old history. The Economist recently ran a fascinating article on gleaning in Europe and described it as harvesting “the good and usable fruit of human activity; they have not been discarded, merely overlooked, or thought not worth bothering with.” The article is worth a look.

Harvesting citrus

The Bible advises landowners to support gleaners. In Deuteronomy, a sheaf forgotten in the field was to be left “for the stranger, for the fatherless and the widow”; and “When thou beatest thine olive tree, thou shalt not go over the boughs again.”

Each year 800 to 1200 refugees from more than twenty countries are resettled in Tucson, all of them forced by conflict to start a new life in the United States. Many of them were farmers in their native land. They understand plants, and they also have heritage recipes for cooking and preserving desert foods, many of which grew in their homelands.

Refugees harvest oranges from a tree a homeowner planted 40 years ago. There is more than he can use, so he called Iskashitaa.

The volunteers harvest a cumulative 100,000 pounds of vegetables and fruits including grapefruits, oranges, pomegranates, dates, mesquite pods, even desert berries—ninety different food items—all of which would have been discarded without their attention. “And still, it’s only the tip of the iceberg” Einsworth says

“U.N. refugees are challenged to become part of the society,” Eiswerth says. “Working with our American volunteers, they get to practice their English, develop job skills, and begin to feel part of the community.” It’s not only work, it’s a support network using the universal language of food. And it doesn’t go just one way. The refugees teach the Americans new and delicious ways to cook familiar desert foods. There make citrus jams, pickled garlic, date vinegar, and powered fruit seasonings. The products are available at Iskashitaa headquarters at 1406 E. Grant Road and at food fairs.

Some of the products produced by the volunteers and refugees.

Frequently, there is more food harvested than the refugee gleaners can use themselves. In that case, the extra produce is donated to other refugee families, the Community Food Bank, schools, and soup kitchens. With one in four Tucsonans suffering from food insecurity, the food always finds a welcome home.

Eiswerth sees this as a double positive. “The work is an opportunity for refugees to give back to the people of Tucson while also providing for their families,” she says.

Date Vinegar Salad Dressing

When there is lettuce in my garden in the winter, we have salad for lunch every day. When I add apples or pears to the lettuce (instead of tomatoes), I like to use a citrus dressing. This uses Iskashitaa’s wonderful date vinegar.

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup Iskashitaa date vinegar

1/2 teaspoon mustard

juice of one orange

juice of one lemon

1 tablespoon honey (optional)

Put the olive oil in a small bowl. Whisk in the date vinegar and add the mustard to emulsify. Whisk in the juices and taste. If you want it sweeter, whisk in the honey.

 

 

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

Thank a Farmer…for Garlic!

So far this month we’ve been talking about diabetes, but November is also Thank a Farmer Month.  My own garden has been very slow to come in this year and if not for farmers, I’d been eating mesquite and dried prickly pear. It’s Carolyn today and we’re going to focus on a small local farm in Tucson that specializes in garlic.   Come with me on a field trip.

Donald and Cristina Breckenfeld at their farm stand at the Santa Cruz Farmers Market.

November is garlic planting time at the Breckenfeld Family Growers farm. That’s Donald and Crystina Breckenfeld and they grow twelve different varieties of garlic.

Why twelve? “Some are sharp and hot, some come on slow and stay with you, others come on sharp and go quickly,” Donald Breckenfeld, the farmer explains. There’s a mild French garlic with a floral flavor, two Italian varieties with a buttery taste, and one out of Sonora with a peppery under taste. The garlic will grow all winter and be harvested in May.

Two kinds of garlic including a red heritage variety on the right.

Donald Breckenfeld also grows a dozen different kinds of peppers, four different varieties of kale and three kinds of beets including yellow beets. “I want people to see that there are other kinds of vegetables with better taste,” he says. Especially popular are their no-heat jalapenos.

Crystina keeps all the planting records, makes sure the crops are rotated in the fields, and starts all the tomato and chile plants from seed.

Customers at their stand at the Santa Cruz Farmer’s Market here in Tucson get an education along with their vegetables as both are willing to explain in detail the advantages of each vegetable. “It’s the teacher in both of us,” Donald says.

The Breckenfeld’s one and a quarter acre farm south of Irvington on Tucson’s southside  is in the ancestral floodplain of the Santa Cruz River, a back slough where water came in with sediment adding lots of organic carbon. The soil is rich enough that a casually discarded nectarine seed grew into a twelve-foot tree with little attention. A chiltipin seed dropped by a bird has grown six feet high and taken over the grape arbor.

As a retired University of Arizona soil scientist, Donald pays a great deal of attention to what’s going on underneath his plants. He rotates his small fields keeping one-third to one-half acre in production at a time.  He rototills the fallow plots, turning under the remains of whatever he was growing, letting it compost naturally in the ground.

Donald picks up a handful of the rich deep brown soil in a fallowed field and point out a tiny white speck about half the size of a grain of rice. “That’s the mycorrhizae,” he says.  Later he explains that the fungus helps by breaking down the organic matter in the soil, setting up a symbiotic relationship between the bioactivity and the plants’ roots.

Look closely at the tiny white strand between Donald’s fingers. That is the mycorrhizae that signals healthy soil.

“You know that sweet smell some soil has?” Donald asks. “That’s the bioactivity.”

Along with most other Tucson farmers now and in the past, Donald wishes he had more water. He supplements his 1800-gallon rain-collection tanks with city water and plans to add more tanks.

“I use a lot of techniques in order to conserve water,” he explains. “I plant the vegetables close together so they shade the ground. I’m also really careful not to over-irrigate. I try to have a twenty-four- to thirty-inch wetting profile in the soil so when the roots get down, they have something to tap into.”

A quick search of the Internet shows that garlic is considered to be effective against everything from brain tumors and high cholesterol to athlete’s foot. But every research project from institutions in China to the USA, suggest that to get medicinal benefits from garlic, you have to eat it raw as even short-term heating reduces its anti-inflammatory effect.

The smaller the pieces of garlic you use, the more pungent the flavor. The garlic press has elicited many opinions from food writers (good, bad, you’ll burn in hell if you use one) but no less an expert than Bon Appetit has said it’s a good and helpful utensil.

Using a garlic press to crush the garlic cloves. With newer presses, you don’t even need to peel the garlic.

So here is Crystina Breckenfeld’s great recipe for garlic dip using raw garlic. Because I always fiddle with recipes I couldn’t resist add some fresh thyme and oregano from my garden. For an even heavier garlic punch, you could add a few garlic chives. Jacqueline writes about those here. 

Crystina’s Garlic Dip

Best Garlic Dip Ever

16 ounces of unflavored Greek yogurt

5 to 7 garlic cloves (or to taste )

Salt and pepper to taste.

Press (do not chop) the cloves into the yogurt and mix well. Add salt and pepper. Place mixture in a covered container and refrigerate for about an hour and a half. Mixture can be for vegetables, chips, or as a topping on baked potatoes. It will last if refrigerated for about a week. You may substitute sour cream, cream cheese, or lebna.

What a great way to deliciously consume healthy raw garlic.

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Carolyn Niethammer has spent five decades writing about the food of Southern Arizona and the Greater Southwest. See her books at http://www.cniethammer.com. Buy them at the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store at 3061 North Campbell in Tucson or through their on-line store here.   She is currently at work on a book on Tucson: UNESCO City of Gastronomy and is visiting many of the small farms ringing Tucson.

 

 

Categories: Cooking | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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