Posts Tagged With: nopalitos

Call It Prickly Pear, Call it Nopal. It’s time for harvest.

Every year, for thousands of years, people living in the Sonoran Desert could count on prickly pear producing succulent delicious new pads this time of year. The native varieties of Opuntia have lots of thorns and it must have been a chore to clean them when all you had was a sharp-edged stone for a tool. Carolyn here today, recalling that one of the reasons that Tucson was named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy is that modern Sonoran Desert dwellers eat some of the same foods people ate here when they were just small family groups drifting through the area, long before there were even villages. That’s quite a testament to the staying power of these local foods.

You need to pick prickly pear pads in the spring when they are only a few weeks old. As they mature they develop a woody interior structure. You can buy fresh pads year ’round in Mexican grocery stores. They are grown by farmers who know how to manipulate their plants through trimming and fertilizing to produce throughout the season.

 

A fresh prickly pear pad, tender and succulent. Very obvious that it is new growth.

Interior structure of a prickly pear pad where the green flesh has rotted away.

Today, most of us who like to pick and eat prickly pear use the Ficus indica variety that grows taller and without big thorns on the young pads. It is native to areas further south, but it can survive here in gardens. Although the big thorns are absent, there are, however, tiny stickers called glochids, and they can be dangerous so you should wear rubber gloves when working with the pads. The glochids look like small hairs but they do have barbs on the end. You don’t want them in your finger or your tongue! I tend to just scrape the sides of the pad with a serrated steak knife, then cut off the edge as in these pictures. The edge has so many thorns it is not worthwhile to try to clean it so just trim it off.

Use a serrated steak knife to clean the thorns and glochids from the prickly pear pad.

My friend Chad Borseth takes a more nuanced approach to cleaning the pads, cutting out just the glochids. He sells lots of edible wild plant products on his website Sky Island Spice Co. and has made this video of cleaning the pads. If you want a better idea of just how to go about it, take a look at the video.

The nopalitos are done when they turn olive green.

Once you have the cleaned pads, you’ll need to cut them up into strips or small squares and cook them. Now you have turned your nopal into nopalitos. You can do this in oil in a frying pan, or follow the Rick Bayless method and oil them, place on a cookie sheet and bake until olive green. The cooking shrivels them and dries up the gummy sap that is so healthful but that some people find objectionable.

You can put the cooked nopalitos into a taco, combined with meat or alone. Or, if you are introducing them to people who might be wary, include them as a new ingredient in some familiar food.  In a previous post we gave a recipe for nopalitos in pineapple salsa which is a great side dish. It comes from The Prickly Pear Cookbook. 

Another super easy familiar dish is this apple and carrot salad, with, of course, nopalitos. It is adapted from Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, a compilation of information on how to gather and cook 23 delicious and easily gathered desert plants.

Apple, carrot, and nopalito salad is a delicious way to introduce people to their first taste of cactus.

Apple, Carrot and Nopalito Salad

1 small cleaned prickly pear pad

1 cup shredded carrot

½ shredded apple

Dressing

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 tablespoons milk

½ teaspoon sugar, honey, or agave syrup

Sprinkle of salt

Cut the prickly pear pad into very small pieces and bake on a greased cookie sheet in a 200-degree oven until dried and slightly chewy. This should take 15-30 minutes depending on how juicy the nopalitos are. Or put them in a frying pan with just enough oil to coat the pan and cook until olive green. The pieces will shrivel.

Meanwhile make the dressing by combining the mayonnaise and milk in a small bowl. Season with the sweetner and salt. Set aside.

When the nopalitos are chewy, add the carrot, apple, and nopalitos to the dressing. Stir and serve. It looks nice on a lettuce leaf.

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If you are interested in edible wild plants of the Southwest and Southwest food, check out my books Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants, The New Southwest Cookbook, a complilation of recipes from the Southwest’s top chefs, and The Prickly Pear Cookbook, with great recipes for both pads and fruits. There is more information about them at www.cniethammer.com.

Buy copies on line or order from your favorite local bookstore. They will love you for it.

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

Mexican Cornbread: Familiar, Comforting and Delicious

Mexican Cornbread goes with every meal. Great for breakfast, aside a salad for lunch, and the perfect accompaniment to a hearty soup for dinner.

In this food blog, we often challenge you with recipes using wild plants, unusual flavors, and special ingredients that will help you make great food with Southwest flavors.  But maybe this is time time for something familiar and comforting. Mexican Cornbread used to be in regular rotation on our dinner menu, but I’d forgotten about it.

It’s Carolyn today and this has been a head-spinning month for anyone in the food world. Which I guess includes anyone who eats, but especially those involved in getting you that food. First, I want to celebrate the incredible response of the Tucson restaurant community in the first American UNESCO City of Gastronomy. Many sit-down restaurants managed to pivot in a day to take-out establishments after our mayor declared they could no longer seat patrons. When hundreds of restaurant workers lost their jobs, some of their colleagues with funding from generous donors, stepped up to provide meals for their out-of-work buddies.

My friend Lorien who has a small in-town farm is staying away from the farmer’s market and instead is serving customers from the alleyway behind her garden. (Those are her chicken’s beautiful eggs in the photo below). This is just one example of how Tucson’s food community is adapting to the pandemic. My forthcoming book “A Desert Feast: Celebrating Tucson’s Culinary Heritage” is entering the design stage, but my editors allowed me the opportunity to quickly add an Epilogue discussing the heroic measures that help keep the food flowing in our city.

Lorien’s neighbor gets some eggs from the alley behind her Dreamflower Garden.

So, on to the recipe. There is a standard method for putting all the ingredients together, but I’d bet if you just dumped everything in the bowl at once and stirred, it probably would be fine.

Most of the ingredients for Mexican Cornbread are pantry staples.

Ready for the oven.

 

This recipe is remarkably forgiving. Since I store my cornmeal at the back of the fridge and hadn’t seen it recently, I was surprised to find that I didn’t have quite enough yellow cornmeal. I certainly wasn’t going to run to the store for one item, so I  filled in with blue cornmeal of which I had an abundance. I prefer to use whole wheat flour, but you might want to use white flour. You probably don’t have buttermilk. Instead add a tablespoon of vinegar to regular milk. It will help the baking soda to do its work.  Here in the Southwest, we are used to eating spicy food, so we’d use at least some pepperjack cheese and add some jalapeños. But the cornbread is delicious in the milder version as well.

If you live in an area where prickly pear cactus are growing new pads and you are itching to use them, feel free to add some nopalitos to this recipe. Here, in a previous post, are full instructions on how to prepare them.  Nopalitos will add additional nutrition to your cornbread.

Mexican Cornbread

1 cup cornmeal

1 cup flour

1/2 cup melted butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

3/4 cup buttermilk or milk

1 cup cream-style canned corn

1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles (chopped)

1/4 cup minced jalapeño peppers (optional)

1 ½  cups shredded longhorn, pepperjack or cheddar cheese

Instructions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Grease a 9-inch square baking pan.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, melted butter, sugar, salt, baking powder and baking soda.

In another bowl, whisk the eggs with the buttermilk. Add melted butter. Add the wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix just until blended. Stir in the cream-style corn and chopped chiles. Add jalapeños if using. Stir to blend.

Pour half the mixture into the prepared baking pan. Sprinkle half of the shredded cheese over the batter.

Spoon remaining batter over the cheese layer and then top with the remaining cheese.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until lightly browned around the edges.

Just out of the oven.

Unless you have a large family or are really hungry, you’ll have some cornbread left. This is a good thing. It makes a lunch salad a satisfying meal, it is great beside a supper soup, and any leftovers can be fried in a little butter for breakfast. Add an over easy egg.  Oh my!

Try frying Mexican Cornbread for breakfast.

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Carolyn Niethammer has written about the food of the Southwest for more decades that she is willing to admit to. She is excited that The New Southwest Cookbook has been recently re-released. The New Southwest Cookbook can help you up your game with easy but innovative recipes. The dishes originated with top chefs using familiar Southwest ingredients in delicious new ways. These chefs were well-trained and knew how to layer flavors to come up with either new spins on the old favorites or entirely unique ways of blending the iconic chiles, corn, beans, and citrus.  The New Southwest Cookbook can be ordered from your favorite bookstore or ordered from Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or the publisher.

Categories: Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Delectable Cholla bud and Nopalito Recipe Ideas

 

Blooming staghorn cholla and foothills palo verde bathe the Sonoran Desert in color. Surprisingly, this 2019 spring season has been so cool and moist that we are still harvesting cholla buds and fresh nopales in May. (MABurgess photo)

“Act now while this offer lasts!”–so says Mother Nature in the Sonoran Desert.  She only offers her bounty in certain pulses or moments, and we must harvest while her “window of opportunity” is open. Tia Marta here to share some delectable ideas for serving your own desert harvest from our glorious bloomin’ cholla and prickly pears.

The YOUNGEST pads of new growth on prickly pear are the ones with tiny leaves at the areoles (where spines will later grow). (MABurgess photo)

After singe-ing off the tiny leaves and spiny glochids using tongs over a flame (either campfire or gas stove), slice and saute young prickly pear pads in olive oil. Now they are ready to use in lots of great recipes…(MABurgess photo)

Young prickly pear pads (many species in Baja Arizona) have no woody tissue yet developed inside. In their youthful stage (see photo) they are not only edible but also super-nutritious! The photo is our native Engelmann’s prickly pear (Opuntia engelmannii) with flower buds forming. Traditional Tohono O’odham call the edible young pads nawi.

After spines and areoles are singed off you can chop and scramble nopalitos with eggs, bake them into a quiche, pickle them, OR simmer them in a delicious mole sauce….The fastest and easiest way to prep a gourmet nopalito meal is to use Mano y Metate’s Mole Mixes.  Savor blog writer Amy Valdes Schwemm has created several different sabores of mole–many without chocolate.  My sweetie loves Amy’s Mole Adobe as its savory spice binder is pumpkin seeds with no tree nuts.

Nopalitos in Mano y Metate Mole Adobo sauce–here served with a mesquite tortilla (from Tortilleria Arevalo available at farmers’ markets in Tucson.) Nopalitos en Mole over brown rice is delicious too.

Get out your tongs and whisk brooms to harvest the last of the cholla buds this season!

A staghorn cholla cactus flower bud (Cylindropuntia versicolor) still with spines in need of cleaning. Buds with petals not yet open are the ones to pick–carefully.(MABurgess)

A harvest of staghorn cholla buds in screen box to remove spines from areoles (MABurgess photo)

Tohono O’odham harvesters know this cholla species as ciolim–pronounce it chee’o-lim.

Once de-spined, cholla buds must be boiled or roasted to denature its protective oxalic acid. Then, tah-dah!, cholla buds lend themselves to wonderful recipes similar to nopalitos in omelettes, quiches, stir-fries… They are flavorfully exotic, tangy, definitely nutritious containing gobs of available calcium and energy-sustaining complex carbs!

Pickled cholla buds (MABurgess photo)

I love to pickle my fresh cholla buds to enjoy later as garnish for wintertime dishes. For the salad recipe below, I’d canned them with pickling spices, but an easier alternative is to marinate them short-term for 24-48 hours in your favorite dressing for a quick fix.

 

Muff’s Easy Marinated Cholla Bud and Sonoran Wheat-berry Salad Recipe:

First–prep ahead–heirloom White Sonoran Wheat-berries:   boil 1 cup dry wheat-berries in 4 cups drinking water for 1 hour 15 minutes, or until water is fully absorbed and grains are puffed up, then chill.

Also prep ahead— marinate fresh boiled cholla buds in pickle juice, or your favorite marinade or salad dressing for 24-48 hours in refrigerator.

Then–Chop any combination of your favorite fresh veggies–sweet peppers, tomatoes, summer squash, celery, carrots, artichoke hearts, etc….

Toss veggies with cooked chilled wheat-berries and marinated cholla buds.  Add spices and pinyones if desired.  Dress with remaining cholla marinade.  Allow to chill before serving, neat or on a bed of fresh salad greens.

 

The yummiest cholla bud and wheat-berry marinated salad ever! (MABurgess photo)

Let’s honor, tend, and enjoy these desert foods that have fed generations of desert people for hundreds–thousands–of years, keeping them healthy and strong!  Thanks to traditional harvesters, newcomers can more deeply appreciate and take good care of this beautiful desert.

An energy-saving idea:   You can save energy and keep the heat out of the kitchen this summer by cooking your cholla buds or your wheat-berries in a solar oven!  Check out a light-weight streamlined model solar oven at www.flordemayoarts.com.

[White Sonora Wheat-berries are available at NativeSeedsSEARCH store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue, Tucson.  Not to fret if cholla and prickly pear harvests are done for this spring in your neighborhood!  During the rest of the year, you can find dried cholla buds at NativeSeedsSEARCH, at San Xavier Coop, OldTown Artisans, and at Flor de Mayo and fresh nopales in the Mexican foods section at groceries like Food City.]

Categories: Cooking, Edible Flowers, Edible Landscape Plant, heirloom grains, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ornamental Medicinals–for Showy Color and Healing Gifts

Yellow trumpet flower–tronador (Tecoma stans)–is super-showy in a desert landscape. It will bloom multiple times through warm and hot seasons triggered by rainfall or watering. Its foliage and flowers have been used as a tea for treating blood sugar issues of insulin-resistant diabetes. (MABurgess photo)

Attention:  native-plant-lovers, desert gardeners, Southwest culture buffs, curanderas, survivalists, artists and the just plain curious!  Set your iPhone Calendar ready to mark right now for a long-awaited event:   the Grand Opening of the Michael Moore Memorial Medicinal Plant Garden, this coming Saturday, September 22, 2018, 8am-10am at Tucson’s Mission Garden.

Tia Marta here to give you a little “taste” of how you can incorporate what you learn about our native medicinal plants into your own landscaping–to add not only sensational seasonal beauty around you, but also to put their gifts of traditional medicine right at hand, in your own yard!

[A little knowledge can be dangerous, so DO use reputable reference books such as those by Michael Moore, Charles Kane, John Slattery, and DesertHarvesters.org  if you intend to use your desert landscape plants for medicine.]

This showy orange-flowered prickly pear, collected by Dr Mark Dimmitt in the Chihuahuan Desert (Opuntia lindheimeri), is now a favorite in desert gardens all over Baja Arizona. Plentiful young pads of all prickly pears (flat new stems called nopales in Spanish, nowh in Tohono O’odham)–are an important traditional source of blood-sugar-balancing mucilage plus available calcium for bones or lactation, when prepared properly. (MABurgess photo)

Prickly pear fruits (i:bhai in Tohono O’odham, tunas in Spanish, Opuntia engelmannii) add landscaping color and a feast for wildlife. They ALSO are important traditional medicine with their complex carbs used for sustained energy, blood-sugar balance and high available calcium for preventing and treating osteoporosis. (MABurgess photo)

Sweet catkin-like flowers of mesquite covers this handsome “Giving Tree” in spring, to mature into healthy sweet pods by late May and June. Its beauty is far more than bark-deep. Almost every part of mesquite can be used medicinally–leaf, sap, flower, bark, branchlets and bean pod! (JRMondt photo)

Native Mexican elderberry–sauco in Spanish (Sambucus mexicana)–makes an effective screen as a shrubby, dense tree. It bears cream colored flower nosegays that become clusters of dark berries (tasty but toxic unless cooked). Its flowers and foliage have been used also for curbing fever and as a diuretic. (MABurgess photo)

Two important books are burning on the presses  by our own Baja Arizona ethnobotany writer-philosopher Gary Paul Nabhan ,  entitled:

Mesquite, an Arboreal Love Affair and      Food from the Radical Center (Island Press)

available at upcoming events in Tucson.  Plus another new one– Eat Mesquite and More by Brad Lancaster’s DesertHarvesters.org, will be celebrated at the UA Desert Lab on Sept.19.  Mission Garden will also feature Nabhan’s latest Sept 29 sponsored by BorderlandsRestoration.

As the nights get cool, toss a handful of desert chia seed in your garden and scratch it into the soil for a sky-blue (and useful) addition to your wildflower mix. Medicinally, desert chia seed–da:pk in Tohono O’odham (Salvia columbariae)–has proven to be a cholesterol remover in addition to its traditional use for sustained energy and blood-sugar balancing.  Chia’s foliage has been used as a topical disinfectant and throat gargle tea. (MABurgess photo)

For a mound of glorious color in a rock garden, landscaped hillside or spring accent, our desert Goodding’s Verbena is perfect. And what a handy source at your fingertips for brewing up a soothing sedative tea that is even safe for children! (MABurgess photo)

You may find many of these showy medicinals like Verbena gooddinggii,  desert willow, Tecoma stans, native velvet mesquite, honey-mesquite and screwbean, or elderberry at upcoming fall plant sales at Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum Sept 29-30, Tohono Chul Park Oct.13-14, and at Desert Survivors Sept.25-29, 2018.

Beautiful flowers of desert willow (Chilopsis linearis)–known as ahhn in Tohono O’odham, in Spanish as mimbre–are an important addition to desert landscaping. Not only can it be brewed for a gentle, refreshing tea, but its anti-fungal properties can be a rescue when needed. (MABurgess photo)

I hope these photos have been an inspiration for you to delve deeper and to plant a medicinal!  Members of Tucson Herbalist Collective (better known as THC), including Tia Marta here, will be on hand at the Michael Moore Memorial Herbal Medicine Garden Opening, Tucson’s Mission Garden Sept 22, to introduce you to many gifts of our desert medicinals, share samples of herbal teas, tastes, and answer questions.  Please pass the word about these neat events by sharing this blog with potential followers.  See you there!

Categories: Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, herbs, medicinal plant, Sonoran Native | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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

Ornamental Medicinals for Desert Landscaping

Goodding’s verbena makes an attractive mound of orchid and lavender flowers spring into summer.  What’s more it can make a gentle, delectable and calming tea.  Need mellowing out?  Try Verbena gooddinggii!  (MABurgess photo)

With the excitement of our Tucson Festival of Books and many upcoming plant sales, I was motivated to use some of our Baja Arizona herbalist authors as inspiration for desert landscaping.  Tia Marta here encouraging you to check out Michael Moore’s, John Slattery’s, and Charles Kane’s books on medicinal plant uses for great ideas and good instruction.  My personal challenge has been to create seasonal color in the garden with plants that I know I might use also as herbal remedies.

Find Michael Moore’s must-have handbook Medicinal Plants of the Desert and Canyon West at the Tucson Festival of Books.

Larrea tridentata–known as She:gi by the Tohono O’odham is “our desert drugstore.” Should you find it on your land, protect it, cherish it, and use it.(MABurgess photo)

Watch for announcements of plant sales at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tohono Chul Park, NativeSeeds/SEARCH, and Desert Survivors to find beautiful ornamentals which also give healing or soothing, stimulation or protection.

 

 

 

 

Desert chia–“da:pk” in Tohono O’odham–Salvia columbariae–should be planted as seed in the fall for a spring harvest of seed that helps balance blood sugar and has high omega-3 fatty acid. (MABurgess photo)

Also to be planted as seed in the fall for a spring show is Mexican gold poppy. Its effect as a calmer/mellower has been known to traditional people for centuries. (MABurgess photo)

A hedge of prickly pear, especially this Persian orange-flowered Opuntia lindheimeri, can give you tasty “remedies” from blood-sugar-balancing nopales (see the new growth in the photo), herbal tea from the flowers, and high calcium from both young pads and fruits in late summer. (MABurgess photo)

No desert garden is complete without cholla! Cylindropuntia versicolor‘s (Staghorn’s; ciolim) colors are dazzling; its prepared buds balance blood sugar and give enormous amounts of available calcium helpful in prevention of osteoporosis. (MABurgess photo)

 

Late spring will bring a pink and lavender show of flowers to desert willow (“ann” in O’odham). The beautiful tree in this photo is in the landscape of the new Tohono O’odham Community College campus. All parts of Ahn have been used traditionally as an effective anti-fungal. (MABurgess photo)

Flowers of Ahn (Chilopsis linearis) are a visual as well as an herbal gift. Check out herbal books for guidance how it was traditionally used. (MABurgess photo)

With monsoon rains come the bright yellow flowers of Tecoma stans (“tronadora” in Spanish) making a sensational landscape splash. It also doubles as an important remedy for certain types of diabetes. (MABurgess photo)

A perennial to be planted as a tuber in the fall is the wild rhubarb (hiwidchuls in O’odham)( For more about this one, see last month’s blog post). Its tuber has important astringent properties.(MABurgess photo)

At summer’s end your garden will be punctuated with bright Chiltepin peppers! You–and your wild birds–will prosper with picante delights full of vitamin C and A. In addition, you can use them in a topical salve to soothe the anguish of shingles or muscle-sore. (MABurgess photo)

All through the year a Baja Arizona desert garden can give dramatic color as well as special healing gifts that have been know to Desert People since time immemorial.  You can see examples of these native desert plants growing at the Friends of Tucson’s Birthplace’s Mission Garden (foot of A-Mountain in Tucson, at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, and at Tohono Chul Park.  Stay tuned for more about Mission Garden’s Michael Moore Medicinal Plant Garden to be planted this year.

Tis the season now to see a show of spring medicinals in nature as well as in town.  Here’s hoping you can get out in this lovely weather to see the desert explode with its colorful herbal gifts!

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

EVERYTHING-LOCAL PIZZA from Baja Arizona!

Totally local veggie pizza with cholla buds, nopalitos, acelgas, mushrooms, goat cheese and home-grown cherry tomatoes--ready to bake

Totally local veggie pizza with cholla buds, nopalitos, acelgas, mushrooms, goat cheese and home-grown cherry tomatoes–ready to bake

If you love pizza–and I’m picky about good pizza–here are some ways to celebrate local foods, to eat super-healthily, get creative in the kitchen, AND have new excuses to eat pizza!  Tia Marta here to share ideas for a delicious pizza party, incorporating the fabulous gifts that our local desert foods offer.

It will take a little fore-thought and assembly time (…like, all year harvesting at the right seasons for DIYers, or trips to the farmers market, NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, or San Xavier Farm Coop).

Locally-harvested buckhorn and staghorn cholla buds, reconstituted and ready to cut as toppings for pizza

Locally-harvested buckhorn and staghorn cholla buds, reconstituted and ready to cut as toppings for pizza

Pickled prickly pear cactus pads--better known as nopalitos in Spanish and nowi in Tohono O'odham

Pickled prickly pear cactus pads–better known as nopalitos in Spanish and nowi in Tohono O’odham

Cholla buds dried from last April’s harvest, soaked and simmered until soft through, make a tangy taste surprise– a super-nutritious calcium-packed pizza topping.  In the photo, the larger buds are from Buckhorn cholla (Cylindropuntia acanthacarpa) and the smaller buds are from Staghorn (C. versicolor), both plentiful for harvesting in low desert.  Dried cholla buds are available at San Xavier Coop Association’s farm outlet, at NativeSeeds/SEARCH store, and at http://www.flordemayoarts.com.

Another perfect topping is nopalitos, simmered or pickled and diced young pads of our ubiquitous prickly pears (Opuntia engelmannii, O.ficus-indica to name a couple).  Collecting from the desert is a spring activity, but you can easily find whole or diced nopales anytime at Food City.  The other cheater’s method is to find canned pickled cactus in the Mexican food section of any local grocery.  Nopalitos are a taste thrill on a pizza, and you can enjoy their blood-sugar balancing benefits to boot.

Starting the dough sponge--with local, organic hard red wheat flour--ready to rise

Starting the dough sponge–with local, organic hard red wheat flour–ready to rise

Risen pizza dough after a couple of hours--note the rich whole grain flour of local BKWFarms hard red wheat

Risen pizza dough after a couple of hours–note the rich whole grain flour of local BKWFarms hard red wheat

As for making the crust, we have the perfect source of the freshest whole grain organic flours right here from BKWFarms’ fresh-milled heirloom white Sonora & hard red wheat.

My suggestions for a Baja Arizona Pizza Crust:

Ingredients:

3 ½ to 4 cups bread flour mix  (consisting of 2- 2  1/2 cups organic hard red wheat flour from BKWFarms Marana, 1 cup pastry-milled organic heirloom white Sonora wheat flour also from BKWFarms, ½ cup organic all purpose flour from a good grocery)

2 tsp local raw honey (see Freddie the Singing Beekeeper at Sunday Rillito farmers market)

1-2 envelopes instant dry yeast (or your own sourdough starter)

2 tsp Utah ancient sea salt or commercial sea salt

1 ½ cups drinking water, heated in pyrex to between 105 degrees F and 115 degrees F

2 Tbsp organic olive oil for the dough

PLUS 2 tsp more olive oil for spreading on dough as it proofs

Pizza dough risen and kneaded then stretched and patted out on pizza pan ready for toppings

Pizza dough risen and kneaded then stretched and patted out on pizza pan ready for toppings

Directions for making Crust:

[Note–you can find several pizza dough recipes for bread mixers online.  Just substitute the above ingredients.]

Heat water and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Test for temperature then dissolve dry yeast.  Add honey and sea salt and dissolve both.  Add oil to wet mixture.  Sift flours. Gradually mix flours into wet ingredients until a mass of dough is formed and begins to pull away from sides of bowl.  Knead into a ball.  Let stand covered in a warm place until ball of dough has at least doubled in size (approx 2 hours).  Knead the ball again, divide into 2 equal parts, cover thinly with the additional olive oil, and roll out or hand-flatten the 2 dough balls out onto 2 oiled pizza pans.  Pat dough to approximately 1/4″-3/8″ thickness to the edges of pan.  At this point you are ready to add any number of good toppings.  Here are ideas for a local veggie and a local meatie pizza.

For the finest plain local carefully created goat cheese, find Fiore di Capra at Rillito Farmers Market, Sundays in Tucson

For the finest plain local carefully created goat cheese, find Fiore di Capra at Rillito Farmers Market, Sundays in Tucson

Baja Arizona Pizza Toppings

Ingredients for local Veggie Pizza toppings:

1/2 pt. spreadable goat cheese (I use Fiore di Capra’s plain)

local chard or acelgas (from Mission Garden) torn in pieces

local tomatoes, sliced

I’itoi’s Onions, chopped

heirloom garlic, minced

1/2 cup reconstituted cholla buds, sliced in half or quarters

1/2 cup diced nopalitos 

Fresh Chard (acelgas) from a refugee friend's garden--a great substitute for spinach in a pizza!

Fresh Chard (acelgas) from a refugee friend’s garden–a great substitute for spinach in a pizza!

Native I'itoi's Onions and local heirloom garlic from my garden for pizza topping

Native I’itoi’s Onions and local heirloom garlic from my garden for pizza topping

1/2 cup local oyster mushrooms, sliced

1/4-1/2 cup salsa, optional

Luscious oyster mushrooms from Maggie's Farm (Rillito Farmers Market) to cut in strips for pizza

Luscious oyster mushrooms from Maggie’s Farm (Rillito Farmers Market) to cut in strips for pizza

[You probably by now have some ideas of your own to add!]

Ingredients for Meatie Baja Arizona Pizza toppings:

1/2 pt goat cheese

1/2 lb local chorizo sausage, loosely fried

or, 1/2 lb local grass-fed beef hamburger, loosely fried and spiced with I’itoi onions, garlic, salt

1/2 cup tomato&pepper salsa of choice (mild, chilpotle, etc)

Fresh local pork chorizo to render before putting on pizza dough

Fresh local pork chorizo to render before putting it on the pizza dough

Directions for Toppings:

Layer your toppings artfully, beginning by spreading the goat cheese evenly over the patted-out crust dough.  For a local Veggie Pizza, scatter minced garlic and chopped I’itoi’s onions evenly atop the goat cheese layer.  Place torn leaves of fresh acelgas over the onion/garlic layer.  Add sliced tomatoes, sliced mushrooms, sliced cholla buds, diced nopalitos.  Top with optional salsa.  For a Cholla&Chorizo Meatie Pizza, do a similar layering beginning with goat cheese spread over the crust dough, then scattered I’itoi’s onions and garlic, then a full layer of cooked chorizo, and topped by lots of sliced cholla buds.  Adding salsa over all is optional for making a juicier pizza.

Preheat oven to high 425 degrees F.  Bake both pizzas 20-24 minutes or until the crust begins to turn more golden.  You won’t believe the flavor of the crust alone on this local pizza–and the delicious toppings grown right here in Baja Arizona are better than “icing on the cake”!  You can add more spice and zing by crushing our native wild chiltepin peppers on your pizza–but be forewarned–they might blow your socks off.

Home-grown chiltepin peppers crushed and ready to spice up a local pizza--Look out for a wave of picante heat even with a small pinch!

Home-grown chiltepin peppers from my garden, dried, crushed and ready to spice up a local pizza–Look out for a wave of picante heat even with a small pinch!

Here’s wishing you a great local pizza party!

How could you top this Baja Arizona Pizza?!!! Our locally grown and wild desert-harvested ingredients can't be beat by any other veggie pizza!

How could you top this Baja Arizona Pizza?!!! Our locally grown and wild desert-harvested ingredients can’t be beat by any other veggie pizza!

What a great combination--wild-harvested cholla buds, local chorizo, Fiore di Capra goat cheese, and truly flavorful organic wheat flour crust!

What a great combination–wild-harvested cholla buds, local chorizo, Fiore di Capra goat cheese, and truly flavorful organic wheat flour crust!

Buen provecho from Tia Marta!  See you when you visit http://www.flordemayoarts.com.

 

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, Edible Landscape Plant, Gardening, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Everybody Cooks Desert Wild Plants

It’s Carolyn Niethammer with you this April Friday, my favorite time of year when the Sonoran Desert is bursting with life. The rains weren’t as heavy as El Niño had promised, but there was enough moisture so that our arid-adapted plants could produce a colorful and abundant spring. When I was a young reporter for the Arizona Daily Star we used to have a feature called “Everybody Cooks.” I loved going out into the community and talking to good cooks from all walks of life — Mexican nanas, musicians, business owners, Jewish homemakers — about what they made for holidays and everyday family meals. I recalled those good times earlier this month at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Arid Abundance Potluck.

People arrived at the Arid Abundance Potluck with so many creative uses of the delicacies of a Sonoran desert spring that I just had to document the event.

Chad Borseth shows off his cholla bud appetizer.

Chad Borseth shows off his cholla bud appetizer.

Chad Borseth, the manager of the NS/S retail store, started us out with a cholla bud appetizer. There’s an old joke about how a cook made chicken soup in 1880. It starts: first you catch the chicken. This is sort of like that. You do have to harvest, clean (meaning remove the thorns) and dry the cholla buds. Or you can go the the NS/S store and buy some already cleaned and dried. Chad boiled the dried cholla buds for about 45 minutes, drained them and then chilled them in white balsamic vinegar overnight. When he was ready to serve them at the potluck he cut  each of them in half and arranged them on a plate and drizzled them with prickly pear syrup. Toothpicks are handy for picking up the delicious little morsels.

 

 

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Nancy Reid serves up  her rich and delicious  Green Chile-Cholla Bud Quiche

Nancy Reid, a retail associate at the NS/S store,  brought a green chile and cholla bud quiche that she had modified from a recipe in a wonderful but out-of-print NS/S cookbook. She began by melting a tablespoon of butter in the bottom of an 8-inch round pan. In a bowl, she beat 4 eggs. Then she added 3/4 cup cooked cholla buds, 3/4 cup chopped green chiles, 1 cup of cottage cheese, 2 cups of shredded colby/jack cheese, and a little salt. It went in the oven at 325 degrees F. for 40 minutes.

 

 

 

Laura Neff with her salsa.

Laura Neff , NS/S retail associate, with her salsa.

 

 

What’s a southwestern meal without salsa? Laura Neff’s version includes 1/2 cup dried cholla buds boiled for 45 minutes and drained, 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, 1/4 cup diced red onion, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1-2 finely minced jalapenos, and 1 tablespoon of lime juice. She combined everything except the cholla buds in a food processor. The cholla buds were chopped by hand and added  at the end.

 

 

 

My friend Connie Lauth wasn’t at the potluck but she made this gorgeous quiche recently for company. Connie lives on the desert at the very end of a road into the Tucson Mountains. While Chad and Laura used dried and reconstituted cholla buds, Connie just walked out her door and picked some fresh ones. She used nopalitos from Food City but by now there are plenty of fresh, new-growth prickly pear pads ready for harvest.

Nopalito-Cholla Bud Quiche

Connie’s Nopalito-Cholla Bud Quiche

Here’s Connie’s recipe:

Connie’s Desert Pie

1 cup of cholla buds

1 cup of nopalitos

½ cup thinly sliced red bell pepper

4 large eggs

1/2 cup milk,

1 ½ teaspoons pico de gallo seasoning

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro

1 frozen deep dish pie shell

1 cup shredded Mexican cheese

Dethorn cholla buds by holding them with tongs and burning them off over a gas stove.. Rinse. Microwave in a covered dish on high for 4 minutes.

Cut gathered or purchased nopalitos into 1/4-inch dice. Microwave with red bell peppers for about 4 minutes.  In a bowl, beat eggs and milk, add seasonings.  Layer egg mixture with vegetables and cheese in the pie shell. Bake at 400 degrees about 40 minutes until a knife inserted in center comes out clean

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If  you are inspired to try your hand at more desert gathering and cooking, my book Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicous Recipes for Desert Plants can be your guide to 23 easily recognized, gathered and cooked  desert edibles.  If you want to harvest some nopales (prickly pear pads), you can find lots of recipes in The Prickly Pear Cookbook. Both books  are available in the Native Seeds/SEARCH retail store at 3061  N. Campbell or on their website. The books are also available from Amazon and B&N.

 

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

Spring Salad

cholla 2016

Amy collecting cholla buds

Some years, spring seems to last about a week in the desert, going from winter to summer too fast. When the weather is beautiful, we know to celebrate these days outside!!!!

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Romaine hearts and assorted red lettuces

Winter lettuces are still around for a short time more, and the weather is finally warm enough that I feel like eating a salad. Here is a salad made with ingredients I had on hand. I traded for most items, the exceptions being the items I made. I hope this serves as an inspiration to go to a farmers’ market, use little bits of what you have in the refrigerator, go into the desert near your home, and forage in your yard.

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Hakurei turnips, Chioggia and Golden beets, Carrots, Kholrabi, , and French Breakfast Radishes.

Hakurei “salad turnips” are so sweet and tender, they can win over stubborn turnip haters, and are a treat raw for turnip lovers.

I steamed and sliced the beets, peeled and sliced the kholrabi, and simply sliced the turnips, carrots and radishes.

I'itoi onions and dill.

I’itoi onions and dill.

For fresh herbs, I used dill and I’itoi onions. I like the green tops as much as the white parts.

Crusts of Small Planet Bakery Cottage Wheat make excellent croutons. Just chop, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and garlic powder (my guilty pleasure), then toast in a skillet until crunchy.

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Heels of Cottage Wheat.

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Cast iron skillet croutons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Brined goat feta.

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Mango Salsa.

Last fall, I goat/house sat for a friend, and this is the feta I made from the milk. Mango the goat has mellowed over the years since I first learned to milk and she first learned to be milked.

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The heard on the grassland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fresh cheese curds draining whey.

Solar cured olives from Bean Tree Farm.

Solar cured olives from Bean Tree Farm.

Pickles! Cholla buds and nopalitos en escabeche.

Pickles! Cholla buds and nopalitos en escabeche.

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Fresh flowers for garnish.

 

 

 

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Desert Honeysuckle, Anisacanthus thurberi.

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Foothills Palo Verde, Parkinsonia microphylla.

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Chuparosa, Justicia californica.

Prickly Pear Cactus flowers are a fleshy, vegetal garnish. Opuntia engelmannii

Prickly Pear Cactus flowers are a fleshy, vegetal garnish. Opuntia engelmannii

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Dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Harvest Time for I’itoi Onions

Big clump of iItoi onions. All this from just one little onion planted last October.

Big clump of  I’itoi onions. All this from just one little onion planted last October.

I had to put my vegetable garden to bed for the summer early this year since we were leaving for a month.  No use having the housesitter water for the weeks we were gone as the hot weather would overcome the vegetables about the time we got home anyhow. The plants were at the end of their season, but still pulling them up was almost as painful as putting down a beloved pet. I go through this mourning every year when one by one the winter crops reach the end of their production – first the peas, then the broccoli, then the last of the lettuce and spinach even in the shade. The kale was still so hearty I simply could not consign it to the compose bin. After freezing some for soup and making as many kale chips as we could handle, I dug up the plants and put them in a pot to transfer to a friend.

One chore involved pulling out the remaining I’itoi bunching (or multiplier) onions.  I’ve been using them all spring, but they are very prolific. One little onion that looks like this produced the bunch in my hands at the top of the page:

Lovely little iItoi onion with penny for size comparison.

Lovely little I’itoi onion with penny for size comparison.

I’itoi onions were brought to the Southwest in the 17th century by Spanish missionaries, but have become such a part of the Tohono O’odham biology that they are called by the name of their creation diety, Elder Brother, or I’itoi.  These little gems were beginning to die out when they were brought to Native Seeds SEARCH by a Tohono O’odham woman.  They are one of the plants in the Slow Food Ark of Taste. 

I’itoi onions (Allium cepa var. aggregatum) are easy to grow — in the fall, just plant each bulb about an inch below the surface and at least eight inches apart.  They will send up chive-like greens first that can be used until you decide they have multiplied enough and pull them up for use.  When you harvest the last clump in the summer,  put aside a dozen or so bulbs in a paper bag and set aside on a cool shelf to await fall.  (I find it amusing that the onions “know” when to start again — if I don’t get around to putting them back in the ground until later in September, I sometimes find that they have begun to sprout in anticipation.)

To prepare onions for cooking, first separate and clean off the dirt,  then peel.

Like most onions, these contain potassium, vitamin C, folic acid and vitamin B6. Onions contain substantially the same amount of vitamins and minerals when cooked.  I’itoi onions can be substituted for onions or shallots.  You can find them at farmers’ markets and from Crooked Sky Farms in Prescott and the Phoenix area and from Native Seeds SEARCH. Both of these places will ship to you as well.

A healthy row of iItoi onions.

A healthy row of iItoi onions.

You’ll have a ratio of green tops to bulb of about 10:1 so you’ll have to find a use for all the green onion tops.   When you’ve used all you can fresh, freeze them to add to soup stock later. You can also make delicious Chinese Onion Pancakes.

Savory pancakes using onion tops.

Savory pancakes using onion tops. (Photo from Serious Eats)

It’s easy, but rather than recount the recipe here, go to this link. These are the best directions I’ve found for making this delicacy and the author also gives a wonderful tutorial on the difference between adding cold and hot water to flour.

If you’d like a recipe to show off your onion harvest, this one is easy and delicious.

I'itoi onions cooking for Sweet and Sour sauce.

I’itoi onions cooking for Sweet and Sour sauce.

 Sweet and Sour I’itoi Onions

Here’s my recipe for sweet and sour I’itoi onions.  You can use red wine and red wine vinegar or white wine and white wine vinegar. Makes a great topping for grilled fish or chicken or mix it into steamed vegetables to add flavor.

1 cup cleaned and sliced I’itoi onions

1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons wine vinegar

2 tablespoons wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar or agave syrup

1/2 cup water (again)

In a large heavy frying pan, cook sliced I’itoi onions and water covered over very low heat for 10 minutes until soft.  Add wine, wine vinegar, olive oil and sugar or agave syrup.  Cook over very low heat for another 10 minutes.

My blog sister Jacqueline Soule wrote a column about I’itoi onions for the Explorer and finished with a recipe for I’itoi onion and goat cheese scones. You can see it here

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If you are interested in wild and heritage foods of the Southwest, check out my cookbooks Cooking the Wild Southwest, Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants,   and the Prickly Pear Cookbook.  The books are also available through Native Seeds/SEARCH. For inspiration and directions on what wild plants are available in what season, watch a short video here.

Categories: Cooking, Gardening, herbs, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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