Posts Tagged With: desertharvesters.org

A New Addiction– Nopalito Tortilla Chips

Young pad of our native Engelmann’s prickly pear. Note the little leaves protruding from each aureole. (MABurgess photo)

Luscious and healthy hors d’oeuvres–nopalito tortilla chips! They are sturdier than other chips and much better for dipping. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s an off-the-wall-fun idea that will enhance a party or pot luck to bring a zillion laughs and mmmm’s, not to mention great new taste.   It’s tortilla chips made with something you can pick from the “back forty” in the desert for free, i.e. fresh prickly pear cactus pads—nopalitos. Talk about justifying your addiction to tortilla chips by enhancing your vitamin intake AND balancing your blood sugar!

This idea came originally via my cousins in California who frequent farmers markets, where they found “Nopaltillas,” a trademarked chip produced by Nopaltilla LLC. [Google “cactus chips” for a full description.]

Sez I, “For having some fun in the des, burning off a few calories, why not make them ourselves?”  Tia Marta here to share with you my experiences making Cactus Corn Chips –Nopalito Tortilla Chips.

Young pad of orange flowered O.linheimeri ready for harvesting to make nopal tortilla chips (MABurgess photo)

Notice the leaves on these cladophyll. This is the right stage for harvesting nopales.

Chips are great any time, but now in May (beginning in April) is perfect for this seasonal “specialty.”  Through spring in the Sonoran Desert, our first exercise is to recognize new growth on a prickly pear cactus.  The so called “pads” on a prickly pear are really inflated green stems–not leaves.  These vertical, flat, succulent oval pads (called nowh by the Tohono O’odham and cladodes by botanists) grow out from the edges of mature, spiny pads.  You can recognize the young pads by their thinner shape, their brighter green color, AND the KEY INDICATOR, tiny dunce-cap-shaped prongs at each aereole (spots on the pads where spines emerge.)  These little dunce caps are the only true LEAVES on a cactus!   They are temporary, shed when major heat arrives.   Only harvest pads if you see those little green dunce-caps!!  Be ye warned:  not all pads will do as food. The presence of the tiny leaves shows there is, as yet, no woody tissue inside.  Unless you have the digestive system of a termite to break down cellulose, don’t try to eat mature prickly pear pads.

Wild-harvesting the youthful pads will require tongs, a pocketknife, and 360 degree awareness to avoid touching tiny hair-like spines called glochids that are really bothersome in skin or clothing.  Go to www.desertharvesters.org for good instruction.   Far easier to find young pads in town on the semi-spineless nopal in many older yards around Baja Arizona,  the cultivated Indian-fig cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica, first propagated by Nahuatl people of central Mexico.   Better still, I suggest that you grow your own.  What I grow in my garden in harvestable profusion is an orange-flowered species Opuntia lindheimeri, very productive with nopalitos and tunas.  Whichever nopales you harvest, you’ll need to singe off the spines and leaves over a flame or gas stove before you dice them to prep for making our nopalito chips.

Freshly diced nopalitos ready to puree. Labor-saving short cut: these are available from Food City!

The “cheater option”  is to purchase fresh-diced nopalitos or fresh nopal pads in the produce section of Food City.  These are in fact from the same Indian-fig cactus available by reaching over any fence in old neighborhoods.

 

Chopping diced nopalitos in Cuisinart

Pureed fresh nopalitos prepped for mixing with masa to make nopal tortilla chips–pretty weird –such a rich healthy green!

Now for the quick and easy recipe:

Nopalito Tortilla Chips 

You will need a Cuisinart or mixer, mixing bowl and fork, flat surface and rolling pin OR a tortilla press, gallon ziplock bag, tea-towel, hot griddle, and oven.

Ingredients:

2 cups corn Maseca (instant masa corn flour mix from Mexican foods section of grocery)

1 1/2 cups diced fresh nopalitos

3-10 tbsp warm water

1/4 tsp sea salt (and powdered salt–optional–for surface)

Directions with photos:

Puree your diced nopalitos.

Add pureed nopalito liquid into the masa flour and mix

In a bowl with the 2 cups masa flour and sea salt, pour pureed nopalito liquid gradually into the masa flour and stir until dough becomes workable with hands and not sticking to the sides of the bowl.  If mixture is too dry, add water one tablespoon at a time, mixing after each until you can make a dough ball with your hands.

Rolled balls of nopalitos masa dough golf-ball size left to set awhile

Roll chunks of dough into golfball-size balls and set aside covered with tea-towel for up to an hour to set.  Cut the sides of a gallon plastic bag.

If you don’t have a tortilla press you can flatten your dough ball between 2 layers of a cut ziplock with a rolling pin

Place ball of dough within two sides of the plastic to flatten with rolling pin or in a tortilla press.

Nopalito tortilla on a hot griddle–You can even grill it on a glass-top stove like this or in an iron skillet over an open fire.

On a medium-hot griddle cook the flat tortilla dough on both sides until edges are tinged golden brown.  Tortillas should still be flexible.

Cutting a stack of warm tortillas into corn chip size

Cut tortillas to chip size.  Brush sparingly with corn oil, avocado oil, or olive oil.  Place in a hot oven (400 degrees) for 6-8 minutes watching carefully to remove before browning.  Dust with powdered salt if desired.  Serve hot or cold.

Nopalito tortilla chips brushed lightly with oil and then baked in a medium-hot oven

You will find that nopalito tortilla chips have a wonderful tangy flavor, and also a sturdiness that will not crack with heavy bean dips or guacamole.

And what nutrition!  Nixtamalized corn in the masa has preserved the amino acids in the corn.  And nopalitos are full of complex carbs that give sustained energy and available calcium for bones, teeth, and nerves.  What more could one ask from a snack food?

Tia Marta encouraging you to make and enjoy these easy and not-so-sinful treats from the desert!

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mesquite–Ancient Food for the Future

Yes, we gotta admit it—Tucson and ALL OF BAJA ARIZONA is a FOOD-COLONY!  To feed ourselves here, we currently import over 96% of our foods from out of state or out of country. If there were to be a transportation stoppage or disaster (perish the thought), we have less than 4 days’ food supply in local groceries. (info from Fry’s managers and Pima Co Emergency Mgmt.) This is a scary and sobering reality, and we need to remedy it for the good of all.
When it comes to food security in the Desert Southwest, if we are smart we’d best turn to those whose ancestors not only survived but thrived here, before European food fads invaded, and long before bio-technology pretended to save us–Let us listen to Native People!  If we look to traditional O’odham cuisine, and to that of all low-desert Traditional People in the Southwest, we learn that one of their most important and consistent staple foods was MESQUITE. Meal ground from the whole, ripe, dry pods was prepared in diverse ways by every tribal group, and stored safely against lean times, providing them amazingly tasty nutrition.

Now….its up to “newer arrivals” to the desert to expand our cultural tastes–and enjoy lessons from local tradition….

Harvesting ripe velvet mesquite pods--an old Chuk-shon tradition (RodMondt photo)

Harvesting ripe velvet mesquite pods–an old Chuk-shon tradition (RodMondt photo)

Everyone enjoys mesquite’s shade, its smokey flavoring and fuelwood in BBQs. But what about mesquite as food and food-security? Sweet and yummy are first.  Culinary versatility is up there.  Nutrition is paramount.  Recent nutritional analyses show what Native People have ALWAYS known intuitively, that mesquite’s sweetness is healthy (complex) sugars, and that it gives sustained energy (from slow-release complex carbs.)

A major plus for arid-lands food-security is that mesquite trees grow plentifully in the desert WITHOUT ANY HELP from humans. Having evolved with large Pleistocene herbivores, mesquite’s survival strategy is to over-produce quantities of tasty pods to entice mammoths or (extinct) ungulates to eat them and spread their seeds, scarified and delivered in ready-made fertilizer packages. In more recent centuries, cattle have provided a similar service to spread mesquite.  Hungry bi-peds can benefit too from mesquite’s plentiful productivity. With global climate change and the promise of expanding deserts, mesquite offers us a healthy staple food and a fitting dry-lands crop for our stressed Planet.

Velvet mesquite pods (Prosopis velutina) in green phase (maburgess photo)

Velvet mesquite pods (Prosopis velutina) in green phase (maburgess photo)

[Mesquite pods are ripening as I write–so heads-up!]

A most timely gathering of mesquite experts—both traditional and innovative—is about to happen at  a MESQUITE CONFERENCE open to the public and not to be missed………Attention–Novice mesquite-harvesters, cooks and culinary artists, bakers and chefs, nutritionists and clinicians, ranchers, farmers, gardeners, athletes and fitness fans, survivalists, nature buffs, climate-change planners…. this conference is for you.

MESQUITE: NEW AGRICULTURAL TRADITIONS FOR AN ANCIENT FOOD  will be held in Benson, Arizona, all day Friday, June 13, 2014, at the Cochise College Campus, 8:30am-4pm.
There will be talks by leading Mesquiteros, including traditional Tohono O’odham harvester Clifford Pablo, new crops innovator Dr. Richard Felger, the one and only mesquite agronomist Mark Moody, wild-harvester Amy Valdes Schwemm, creative desert rancher Dennis Moroney, animal feed expert Dr. Howard Frederick, desert foods ethnobotanist Martha Ames Burgess, and Cooperative Extension outreach educator Mark Apel.

In addition, generously sharing their knowledge, techniques and recipes will be demonstrators, including desert foods writer Carolyn Niethammer, wild-food teacher Barbara Rose, solar cooking expert Valerie McCaffrey, mesquite millers from San Xavier Farm Coop and Tohono O’odham Community College, and children’s book author Laurie Melrood. This is the place to contact producers of mesquite meal for your home cooking, for nouvelle local-source eateries, and breweries. Get your tastebuds ready for samples of delectable new culinary mesquite delights!

Sponsored by Baja Arizona Sustainable Agriculture and University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, with extra support from USDA Western SARE, we have been able to keep the registration fees to a minimum– accessible to anyone. $30 covers the whole day conference including luncheon ($20 for students or members of BASA). Space is limited so register soon. Registration is online via the BASA website http://www.bajaaz.org. For further info call 520-331-9821.
Once registered, please group your travel plans in carpools. For carpooling ideas check out the Native Seeds/SEARCH or BASA facebook sites. Let’s not let anyone miss this conference who needs to be there!

 

Select sweet velvet mesquite pods dry and ready to grind (maburgess photo)

Select sweet velvet mesquite pods dry and ready to grind (maburgess photo)

 

Delicious honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) with ripening pods.

Delicious honey mesquite (Prosopis glandulosa) with ripening pods.

ADDITIONAL MESQUITE HAPPENINGS–Plan to Harvest, Plant, and Celebrate Native Bean-Tree Abundance Before the Rains…

DESERT HARVESTERS is organizing events to help people dramatically enhance the quality of their mesquite pod harvests, what to make with them, and how to better sync with the Sonoran Desert’s seasonal cycles in a way that enhances our shared biome.
We are teaming up with local culinary businesses to increase offerings of native foods in their cuisine, and to encourage landscaping with native food plants in water-harvest earthworks beside their buildings.

Mark your calendar for Thursday June 19, 2014!

Guided Mesquite Harvests and Plantings
Hosted at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market
100 S. Avenida del Convento, Tucson, AZ

5pm harvest on foot, 6pm harvest by bicycle
Led by Desert Harvesters including Amy Valdés Schwemm and Brad Lancaster
$5 to $10 per person (sliding scale)

These hands-on harvest tours show you how to:
• Identify and sample the best-tasting mesquite trees
Every tree is different, but some varieties are consistently much better than others. Taste the differences. (We will also likely harvest from desert ironwood and palo verde.)
• How to harvest safely, ethically, and responsibly
Harvesting pre-rains is best practice to avoid invisible toxic mold. Harvesting from the tree avoids fecal or fungal ground contamination. Check out http://www.ediblebajaarizona.com/calling-all-mesquiteros/ for more on why pre-rain harvests are the traditional practice, and so important.
• Use cool tricks such as the harvest cane.
• How and when to plant the best bean trees
Participants are encouraged to bring sun protection, reusable water bottle, and carry-bags for harvested pods.

Iskashitaa, an organization that helps resettled refugees integrate into the Tucson community, will be offering their beautiful hand-made harvest bags and fresh-squeezed juice from fruit they’ve gleaned. Also there will be AravaipaHeirlooms’ prickly pear pops and chiltepine-infused cold brews from Exo Roast Co.

Bean-Tree Processing Demonstrations
Before and/or after the Guided Harvests and Plantings
4pm to 7pm–FREE
Taught by Barbara Rose, desert foods farmer/fermenter/cook extraordinaire of Bean Tree Farm (see their website for more awesome workshops), will show you how to turn milled or whole desert ironwood seeds, palo verde seeds, and mesquite pods into tasty dishes. Native foods such as mesquite flour, cactus fruit pops, drinks, syrup, and cholla buds will be available for sale, along with seeds and seedlings of the best-tasting native bean-trees and chiltepines.

AND THEN DON’T MISS Sunday, June 22, 2014!

Pre-Monsoon Mesquite Milling
Sunday, June 22, (alert–in the event of rain, it will be moved to Sunday, June 29)
6am to 10am
Bring Your Own Pods!
Pods for milling must be clean, dry, and free of mold/fungus, stones, leaves, bugs and other debris. Cost: $3/gallon of whole pods, with a minimum of $10.

Also at the milling event:
• A native wild foods demonstration – highlighting what’s in the wild-harvest season now
• Exo’s mesquite-, mole-, and chiltepin-infused coffees
• Mesquite baked goods and cactus fruit popsicles
• Seeds and seedlings of select native bean trees and chiltepines — so you can plant yours in time for the rains.

Our thanks to hosts Exo Roast Co. and Tap & Bottle,
403 N. 6th Ave.,Tucson, AZ
Harvesters’ Happy Hour at Tap & Bottle
Come join fellow harvesters in fermented merriment. Tap & Bottle will have local brews on-hand, some infused with local native ingredients. And they will donate a percentage of all the sales to Desert Harvesters. Learn more online at: http://www.DesertHarvesters.org

 

Mesquite can help us into a food-secure future– fittingly, sustainably, healthily, and sweetly– as we face heating and drying of our desert home.  What a gift mesquite is, as we begin to declare our independence from being a FOOD-COLONY!

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