Posts Tagged With: desert foods

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. 

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

Discovering “Goma de Sonora”

This twiggy legume–Coursetia glandulosa— with its spray of white and yellow pea flowers in spring may offer a rare surprise…. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share a “culinary-plus” discovery.  On a spring hike into King Canyon up from the Desert Museum, Tucson Mountain Park, I was thrilled to see a delicate flower show right along the arroyo margins. It was a veritable shower of creamy yellow pea flowers on a normally non-descript twiggy bush Coursetia glandulosa.

Tiny glands on the flower sepals of Rosary Babybonnet flowers gives it its scientific species name glandulosa. (JRMondt photo)

The cute-sy “baby bonnet” flowers drew me in for a closer look and another surprise awaited me on its hidden stems. What in the world was that gross-looking orange/amber waxy stuff like a growth on the twigs?  I had to find out.

Colorful crusty exudate of the Lac Scale insect that specializes on Coursetia glandulosa (MABurgess photo)

My inquiries met with lots of “I donno’s” until I asked the go-to person at the Desert Museum, educator and plantsman Jesus Garcia, who exclaimed, “You found Goma de Sonora!

Close-up view of “goma de Sonora” (Patty West photo)

An interesting story emerged. He said how traditional people of Sonora used to harvest it as actual food–a healthful nutrient!  This gum-substance is exuded by a piercing-sucking insect (Tachardiella fulgens in the Order Hemiptera) as a protective shield from predators and the elements as it draws nutrients from its host plant.   I learned from ethnobotanists Drs.Robert Bye and Adelmire Linares of Universidad Autonoma de Mexico that Native people including the Raramuri (Tarahumara) of the Sierra Madre used it not only as food but also as a remedy for poisoning.  It is even reported as a dye material. Traditionally, the Tohono O’odham also used this translucent, orange-brown gum as an adhesive mixed with adobe to tightly seal their jars of bahidaj sitol (saguaro fruit syrup).  Talk about multi-use!

I chipped off a tiny pea-size piece and tried tasting it—an unusual flavor and a crunch, with a hint of the sugary sap that the insect sucks through its piercing mouthparts.  Amazing to learn that it is now being used in innovative gastronomy as flavoring for salsas and aguachiles.  (See Wikipedia for a good aguachile recipe.)   [By the way, this goma de Sonora is not to be confused with another Goma or Gomaae, a Japanese roasted sesame sauce.]

Look closely to find goma de Sonora. (MABurgess photo)

I’ve only found it twice in all my desert walking and am wondering if goma de Sonora has become rarer in recent times.  Is climate change limiting the specialized insect-instigator?  If you find it, best to only taste it– or better still–just appreciate its past uses, as it is so rare.  Goma de Sonora was reportedly once harvested throughout the whole range of Coursetia from the dry tropics of northwest Mexico into the Sonoran Desert of SW United States.  Let’s enjoy this curiosity of Nature and its ethnobotanical history without damaging it.  Bring your magnifier on your next hike to check out this crusty little wonder if you are blessed with an actual sighting.

Goma de Sonora encrusted on branches of Coursetia glandulosa (MABurgess photo)

Production of goma de Sonora is a good example of commensalism–in this case the insect not harming the plant.  It is an external process.  Many desert plant species produce their own gums internally, a significant component of their survival strategies for preventing water loss—as in “gum-Arabic” and “gum-acacia”.  Nutrients found in desert plant gums are a super-important part of traditional Desert People’s healthy diet, so stay tuned for another blog….

Tia Marta wishing you happy explorations for Coursetia‘s treasure–goma de Sonora!

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

Spicy Joys of Zhoug!

So, what in the world is Zhoug?? Tia Marta here to share a fun new taste experience. An exploratory-cook neighbor introduced us to this wonderfully flavor-filled sauce that hails originally from Yemen, Israel, the Middle East. It’s a bright green, savory thrill that can embolden–and bedeck–many totally different dishes. Zhoug tastes a little like a Chimichuri sauce from Argentina…

With Spring exploding in the desert, NOW is the time to harvest greens from your winter garden–quick–before they bolt–to make into spicy Zhoug sauce!

Most of the Zhoug sauce ingredients can be grown locally in the Sonoran Desert, some in winter, a few in summer. Many are available right now–fresh for the picking. Cilantro is my green of choice, because, “when it rains it pours.” There are lots of other greens options. Some peoples’ palates are not attuned to cilantro, so almost any leafy green fortunately can be used for Zhoug! Try fresh Italian parsley, crinkly parsley, or mint leaves–or try acelgas leaves from the Mission Garden.

Many ingredients for Zhoug saurce can be grown easily in your own backyard garden plot….
Harvest picante chiltepines from your own garden--or find them at NSS or the Mexican food section at the grocery.

Wild chiltepin peppers make the best Zhoug spice of all!

Recipe for Zhoug! sauce:

Ingredients: 2+ packed cups of slightly chopped cilantro or other leafy greens (2 bundles of cilantro) (with chopped stems ok)

4 medium cloves garlic (chopped) (try heirloom garlic from NativeSeedsSEARCH or MissionGarden)

1/2-3/4 tsp chiltepin peppers, ground (e.g.saved from summer-fall garden Tucson)

1 medium jalapeno, seeds removed (summer-fall garden Tucson)

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp cardamom, ground

3/4-1 tsp cumin seed, ground. (winter garden Tucson)

3/4 cup olive oil

2 Tbsp lemon juice (from your own or your neighbor’s tree, or from Iskashitaa Refugee Network)

For processing Zhoug sauce, put all your fresh “dry” ingredients in, then add the final olive oil and lemon juice just before blending (or poured in as you blend).

Directions: In a food processor, starting with your fresh greens, garlic, herbs & spices, then adding your wet ingredients, blend all to your desired consistency. I like to see little flecks of leaves still in the sauce as in the photo.

Glorious green Zhoug sauce can be used as a dip with chips, melba toast, sourdough slices… Invent your own spicy canape!

There is almost no end of ideas for Zhoug sauce! Zhoug will enliven tacos, beans, lentils, pita sandwiches, eggs, roasted veggies, hummus, grilled meats…..Wow. Try adding 1-2 Tbsp of Zhoug to 1 cup plain yogurt….

Our favorite is fish with Zhoug. We swooned over mahi mahi shown here with our Meyer lemon slices and Zhoug!

So get creative with our harvest of winter garden greens, and have fun creating new Zhoug dishes with that perfect chiltepin kick. Salud! from Tia Marta

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

Hu:ñ Pasti:l — Pastel de Elote — muy saboroso as in yummy!

HU:Ñ PASTI:L aka PASTEL DE ELOTE — A most delectable treat inspired by corn-harvesting time (MABurgess photo)

So in case you are wondering…. Hu:ñ (pronounced HOOONya) is corn and Pasti:l (pronounced pasTEEEEra) is pie in O’odham language. The Spanish Pastel de Elote (passTELL day ay-LOW-tay) essentially means pie made of fresh corn. In English it goes by a more pedestrian name — sweet corn casserole–but it is just as delish.

It’s like a slightly sweet tamale pie or casserole–full of protein—easy to make! Tia Marta here to share a fun fast recipe using our local Native summer corn in its fresh and dried forms….

Heirloom O’odham 60-day corn ripe in the husk ready to harvest at San Xavier Coop Farm

This ancient and honorable 60-days-to-ripen corn was genetically selected long ago by the Desert People, and almost lost in the mid-20th Century due to agricultural “faddism.”  Thanks to a few traditional gardening families and to NativeSeedsSEARCH gardeners and seed-bankers, a handful of kernels were saved and multiplied through that bottleneck of time, so that now seeds are available for many farms to grow this amazing corn.  San Xavier Farm alone now has ACRES producing perhaps TONS of ears to feed a growing population–and a community also growing in appreciation of this amazingly nutritious and desert-adapted grain.  Imagine a protein-packed grain that can handle the heat of the Sonoran Desert summer and can ripen in 60 days!  In food production terms, that’s like zero to sixty in less than 10 seconds!

Mission Garden’s Garden Supervisor Emily Rockey cradles an armload of Tohono O’odham 60-day corn at San Xavier Coop Farm harvested for the community. (MABurgess photo)

A group of us volunteers from Mission Garden recently went to help hand-harvest traditional Tohono O’odham 60-day corn at a community picking in the productive fields of San Xavier Coop Farm. Harvesting this sacred corn together inspired me to prepare a dish to share with dear friends.

The recipe calls for fresh corn cut off the cob, but you can easily substitute canned corn.  Since our household is trying to “go local” as much as possible, I used flour milled from BKWFarms’ organic white Sonora wheat, eggs from the happy chickens at Mission Garden, and local naturally-grown corn and cornmeal. I used a sunny day and a solar oven!

Muff’s Hu:ñ Pasti:l or Pastel de Elote Recipe:

Preheat solar oven or conventional oven to 350F degrees–(solar may be less).

Grease and lightly flour one large (or 2 smaller) baking dish(es) or iron skillet.

Cream together: 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter. and ½ cup agave syrup “nectar” or sugar

Beat in 4 eggs.

Add and mix thoroughly into the moist mixture:

1 cup homemade salsa, OR 1 can Herdez Salsa Casera, OR 1 cup diced green chiles

1 pint fresh corn kernels cut off the cob (ca.3 ears), OR 1 16oz. canned corn (I use organic non-GMO)

1 cup shredded longhorn/cheddar cheese

Sift together, then stir into the corn/cheese mixture:

1 cup white Sonora wheat flour (or other whole grain flour)

1 cup cornmeal (non-GMO)

 4 tsp. baking powder

¼-1/2 tsp. sea salt

Pour mixture into greased and floured baking dish(es).

Reduce heat to 300F and Bake 50+ minutes in conventional or solar oven, or until “pie” tests done with toothpick. (Solar may take longer.)

This recipe serves 8 graciously, piping hot or chilled, for dinner, lunch or snack. Hu:ñ Pasti:l (Pastel de Elote) can be refrigerated for a week-plus, then sliced and re-zapped in microwave for quick easy servings.  Or, it can be sealed and frozen for longer storage.

You can find fabulous local cornmeals roasted or made as pinole (that work great in this recipe) at Ramona Farms online and NativeSeedsSEARCH online store.

White Sonora Wheat flour is available at NativeSeedsSEARCH, San Xavier Coop Farm, BKWFarms, and Barrio Bread. You can come soon to see O’odham 60-day corn in the field at Tucson’s Mission Garden, soon to be harvested. While there you can pick up fresh eggs from their heirloom chickens.

[Also check out a totally different dish of sweet mole cornbread–entirely different personality–made with many of these same maize ingredients by Savor-blog-Sister Amy in an earlier post.]

Enjoy these flavors and nutrition, and rejoice in a local monsoon desert crop!

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

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.

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

Curry puffs with cholla and palo verde

Hello! Amy here playing with the cholla buds I just harvested! NOW is the time to harvest and our own Tia Marta is teaching a workshop THURSDAY, April 22 on Earth Day! Register here.

The unopened flower buds of the cholla cactus are a real favorite, and one annual harvest I collect every year no matter how busy life gets. It is a very narrow harvesting window, usually in April, depending on the year and elevation. Simply bush off the spines with a bouquet of creosote or bursage, pluck with tongs and boil in water for 5 minutes. They taste tart with a slightest hint of internal texture like nopalitos. But that doesn’t convey how delicious they are.

Plentiful in the desert, harvesting does not hinder its reproduction, which is usually from “cuttings”. But this is the first year my backyard had enough to harvest! Grown with no irrigation at all, it is totally sustainable, low maintenance agriculture. Plus beautiful in the yard!

There are countless ways to enjoy cholla buds, but yesterday I snuck them in Chinese curry pastries, a treat I remember from childhood, from the tiny Chinese bakery that was near my house.

I started with ground beef, onion and garlic. Of course, mixed veggies could be used instead.

Then I added beautiful Tucson CSA carrots and Chinese curry powder. I’m sure any curry powder would work perfectly.

I had some young foothills palo verde seeds from last spring in the freezer. I blanched the harvest and stashed for another day. Learn more about them here.

The delicious, sweet immature seeds taste like young green peas…and also take as much work to shell as green peas.

The filling complete, I folded a spoonful into premade puff pastry.

Gilding with beaten egg is essential to make them look like how I remember them at Lai Wah bakery.

After a few minutes in the oven, it smelled unbelievable.

I can hardly wait to make them for my sister and brother.

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Curry Toppings with a SW Flair

Ideas for curry are in the air…On an adventurous (pre-Covid19) tour of Morocco last February 2020, as fellow travelers, we befriended a remarkable character, Kip Bergstrom, an enthusiastic foodie who seeks out the absolute “right source” for his gourmet dishes.  Diving headlong into Moroccan lamb, he found a local, caring sheep farm (for him Connecticut) and has become online chef for www.wearwoolnewlondon.com

Curry dishes call for crystallized ginger so my inventive Southwest solution is candied local fruit rinds as “side boys” or toppings!

Tia Marta here to share how Kip’s “LambStand” has inspired me to go local with lamb curry in the Southwest.  Being a mindful omnivore, I found Sky Island Brand from the 47-Ranch near Tombstone, AZ, providing lamb at Bisbee and Sierra Vista Farmers’ Markets from their arid-adapted, heritage churro sheep.

My family tradition at Easter has always been to serve lamb roast–then lamb curry soon after, so I’m getting ready.  Mom’s favorite touch to complement complex curry flavors was to dress the table with a festive array of toppings all around the main dish–what she called “curry boys” or “side boys.”  (Not sure the derivation of this term—like servants long ago around the table offering toppings?)  Regardless, these complementary dishes are a visual and gastronomic joy, so I’ve taken it as a fun challenge to create local Southwest curry toppings from local gardens and desert harvests.  These flavor combos promise to surprise and delight you in any curry dish–lamb or vegetarian….

In place of regular store-bought toppings called for in typical curry recipes, here are my creative suggestions:

Fresh from the garden, here are ingredients to make Muff’s Chirichurri Mint Sauce.

In place of regular mint sauce, I make a Southwest version of chimichurri sauce:

Muff’s Chimichurri Mint Sauce Recipe:

Ingredients: handful (1/2 Cup) fresh mint leaves from the garden

2 Tbsp chopped I’itoi’s onions (tops and all) from our mini-oasis veggie patch (also available from Mission Garden as starts (or shallots chopped)

3-4 small cloves heirloom garlic (or 2 lg garlic cloves) chopped

2-3 little chiltepin peppers whole (when I can get there before the birds–use sparingly) OR 1/2 tsp chile pepper flakes

1/2-2/3 Cup red wine vinegar,

1 Tbsp olive oil

Optional–up to 1/4 Cup fresh cilantro chopped

Chimichurri Mint Sauce Directions: Blender, chill and serve fresh in a small cruet.

In place of the traditional peanut “side” I like our local bellotas (Emory oak acorn nutmeats) or pinyon pinenuts.

In place of shaved coconut, I purchased jujube fruit from Tucson’s Mission Garden–grown in the Chinese garden section there.

In place of raisins and coconut toppings, try dried jujubes, desert hackberries, or crunchy dried chun (saguaro fruit)!

Chutney is a must as a curry topping!   Using a variation on Mom’s recipe, I make a local peach-mango and barrel cactus fruit chutney that should win prizes.  You can find a fabulous cactus-with-chia chutneys or barrel cactus seed mustard at BeanTreeFarm ordering online for easy pick-up.  

Barrel cactus fruit chutney, garden rosemary-garlic jelly, and Bean-Tree Farm’s barrel cactus mustard make great toppings!

Velvet and screwbean mesquite pods were used in making Tia Marta’s Mesquite/Membrillo Conserve–a great curry garnish!

Another goodie to use as a topping is my mesquite/membrillo conserve  that I made using quince fruit (membrillo) from Mission Garden plus a concentrated sweet syrup made by boiling down whole mesquite pods(See last October’s Savor-post.)

With fresh eggs from the Mission Garden “farm” I first boiled then pickled them for another curry complement.

In place of candied ginger, I made candied Meyer lemon-peel and grapefruit-peel from our little huerta trees and the fragrant sweet-lime peel from Mission Garden’s unusual citrus.  Click for the recipe in the SavortheSouthwest.Blog archive.

I’m topping off our SW curry meal with Rod’s amazing backyard olives (a future post?), an extra chiltepin hit, then partnering it all with a wee dram of bootleg bacanora mescal.

Your taste buds will be delighted and amazed to discover how all these different flavors blend and complement each other to enhance any curry dish!   

 

 

In a festive array around the curried lamb centerpiece, the Southwest’s low-desert bounty provides a garland of delectable complementary flavors!

I’m sending thanks to our desert gardens within and beyond the garden wall, for the plenty that our Sonoran Desert provides.    Here’s hoping these ideas might inspire you to try your own to dress up a curry dinner– lamb or vegetarian—in whatever habitat you live!

Categories: fruit, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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