Posts Tagged With: Slow Food

Sonoran Flat Enchiladas, a demo by the experts

Elda Islas and Armida Islas as sisters-in-law who make Sonoran flat enchiladas according to directions handed down by Elda's mother and their mother-in-law Josefa.

Elda Islas and Armida Islas are sisters-in-law who make Sonoran flat enchiladas according to directions handed down by Elda’s mother and their mother-in-law Josefa Islas.

Hello. It’s Carolyn here with you this week.  First I want to welcome all our new followers. Always feel free to leave a note, an observation, even a qibble. We want this to be a community conversation.

When I heard that Slow Food was considering nominating Sonoran flat enchiladas as a vanishing food tradition, I knew exactly where to go to document what in the Islas family is a recurring staple. Elda Islas and Armida Islas are sisters-in-law who are married to brothers who ran the American Meat Company on South Fourth Avenue in Tucson. Their families and their husbands go back many generations in Tucson and Sonora.

Elda’s husband Filiberto told me that Sonoran flat enchiladas were traditionally served on Fridays when Catholics were prohibited from eating meat. Since fresh fish wasn’t always available in the desert, this was a hearty substitute.

For our lesson, we met one afternoon last week in Elda’s comfortable kitchen in the Menlo Park neighborhood in Tucson. First we made the chile sauce.  In this case, we used fresh chile paste prepared from plump red chiles by Filiberto. But you can also use canned Las Palmas chile or Santa Cruz chile paste.  Elda began by smashing some garlic with a stone with a flat side she had inherited from her mother-in-law. It has been used by generations of women and has grooves worn where the fingers grip it.  Then we browned the garlic in a little oil.

Smashing the garlic with a stone.

Smashing the garlic with a stone.


Brown the garlic in a little oil.

Brown the garlic in a little oil.

Next we added 3 tablespoons flour, the  2 cups of chile paste and a little broth and let it simmer gently.

The chile sauce should be thick but fluid

The chile sauce should be thick but fluid.

Next we made the masa.  She used lard which recent studies have shown is not as bad for you as Crisco.  Armida mixed it with her hands.


5 pounds fresh masa

¼ cup soft lard (yes indeed)

2 cups queso fresco, grated

2 teaspoons baking powder

3 tablespoons salt

(Some cooks also include mashed potatoes, cottage cheese or a beaten egg)

Combine all in a deep bowl and knead with hands until thoroughly combined. It should be creamy, damp but not sticky. 

Making the masa patties.

Making the masa patties.


When the masa was ready, we formed it into patties 1/4- to 3/8- inch thick and 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Meanwhile  ½-inch of vegetable oil was heating in a heavy frying pan When it was hot (didn’t have a thermometer, but probably around 350 degrees F.), Armida slid in three patties. A bigger frying pan could probably accommodate four.

She fried them until they were golden on the underside, about three minutes.  Then she turned them to fry another 2 to 3 minutes until golden. She lined a oblong dish with paper towels and stacked the finished patties to drain. Eventually we ended up with 3 dozen patties.

Sizzling and smelling delicious.

Sizzling and smelling delicious.


The patties should be crispy on the outside and light on the inside.

The patties should be crispy on the outside and light on the inside.

Now it was time to assemble the enchiladas.  Armida dipped each patty in the chile sauce and arranged them on a plate.  Then it was time for the condiments.  We used lettuce, grated queso fresco, chopped green olives, radishes, and chopped green onion.

The condiments

The condiments

 When the Sonoran flat enchiladas are assembled, they look like this.  What is missing from the photo is the aroma.  Heavenly!

Three enchiladas made a nice meal. You can also add beans and rice.

Three enchiladas made a nice meal. You can also add beans and rice.

Should you have any leftovers, they are great warmed up and served for breakfast with eggs.  Filiberto Islas said this is called Enchiladas de Caballo.

Enchiladas de Caballo

Enchiladas  a Caballo

My sincere thanks to Elda and Armida for the lesson and a lovely afternoon!


Want more recipes for delicious food with a Southwest twist?  My book The New Southwest Cookbook contains recipes from top restaurant and resort chefs throughout the Southwest, using our local ingredients for mouthwatering dishes. You can find it at your local bookstore or order it here.   See all my cookbooks at my website. 


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Wonders of White Sonora Wheat Berries

Heirlooom White Sonora Wheat growing at Mission Garden April 2013--Rod Mondt photo

Heirlooom White Sonora Wheat growing at Mission Garden April 2013–Rod Mondt photo

Tia Marta here from Flor de Mayo to share news of an ancient grain newly emerging from its historic quietude as a flavorful and nutritious gift to Southwestern cuisine—a real boon to desert agriculture and health!   I’m talking about the White Sonora Wheat, introduced by Padre Kino, kept alive and well in a Sonoran village for 300 years, “rediscovered” and propagated by Native Seeds/SEARCH plant-sleuths, and at last being grown commercially by a few caring farmers in Baja Arizona.

Fresh harvest of White Sonora Wheat Mission Garden May 2013--Bill O'Malley photo

Fresh harvest of White Sonora Wheat Mission Garden May 2013–Bill O’Malley photo

This particular Triticum aestivum variety is a winter wheat for the desert.  Now is the time to plant it in your own garden plot through February for a later harvest into May and June.

Precious White Sonoran Wheat grain was provided by Native Seeds/SEARCH as a start-up ag experiment to a local grower, BKW Farms, and it has really taken off.  Tohono O’odham Elders may likely remember the Wong family of Marana who provided fresh produce out to the res in the early-mid 1900s.  Now in their 5th generation of attuned farming, the Wong family (as BKW Farms ) have turned their attention to growing heirloom wheat—USDA Certified Organic.  Bravo for feeding us well AND improving the soil, air and water!  With their first crop a real bumper, BKW Farms is returning more than twice the wheat seed back to NativeSeeds/SEARCH than the original “starter kit” quantity loaned to them.  Kneaded by the skilled hands of Barrio Bread and BigSkye bakers, their White Sonoran Wheat’s flavor is spreading and exciting many a Tucson palate.  Check out and .

At our Flor de Mayo farmers market booth, a few wheat-sensitive consumers have reported they are actually not affected by this heirloom wheat.  (Hey, scientists, there is information in its genes and constituents we need to know more about!)

BKWFarms' White Sonoran wheat berries cleaned and ready--MABurgess photo

BKWFarms’ White Sonoran wheat berries cleaned and ready–MABurgess photo

Using whole kernals of wheat in cooking seems to be almost an unknown in modern culinary culture, but health benefits are significant.  For one thing wheat berries are “live food” truly sharing life energy.  Vitamins in the bran and germ are super-active.  In commercial so-called “whole wheat bread” the vibrant living constituents have been removed for transport and storage then added back artificially when baked to make it “whole” again.  By eating the wheat berries whole from the git-go, we can enjoy their full nutrition.   [For local, fresh, the only truly whole flour (no parts removed) milled from White Sonora Wheat commercially available, we are blessed with the new Hayden Flour Mills in Phoenix ( providing packaged flour to the NSS store and to Flor de Mayo LLC.] 

Providers of other heirloom wheat berry varieties locally are Ramona Farms (  and San Xavier Farm Coop ( with Pima Club wheat, and the NSS Store with faro also known as emmer (

I made mini “greenhouses” of recycled clear plastic boxes.  Try rice bowls, berry or hamburger boxes for sprouting. MABurgess photo

I made mini “greenhouses” of recycled clear plastic boxes. Try rice bowls, berry or hamburger boxes for sprouting. MABurgess photo

I’ve been having a wheat-berry “hay-day” in the kitchen with White Sonoran Wheat berries.  Here are a few appetizing ideas to introduce wheat berries into your culinary repertoire:

Sprouted White Sonora Wheat Berries:

Sprouts will take about 3-4 days until ready.  Plan on rinsing them daily.  Soak 1 tablespoon of wheat berries overnight in a jar.  Prep “greenhouse” box with coffee filter or paper towel cut to size to prevent grains from passing thru any holes as a strainer.  Pour wheat berries into “greenhouse” box, wash and drain.  Place box on a dishtowel out of direct sunlight.  Rinse and drain them twice a day to keep them from getting sour.  Within 2 days you will see rootlets like tiny white spiders forming.  By the third day greenish stems will rise.  That’s when they are ready to eat.  Try sprouts as a surprise snack—you won’t believe how its relatively blah starch can change with the magic of living enzymes into the sweetest pleasant sweet you ever tasted!  To slow down growth of young wheat sprouts put “greenhouse” box in frig.  You can snip or “mow” elongating wheatgrass and add it to green drinks or smoothies.  Separate wheat sprouts and toss them in salads.  With a hand-crank masa-grinder (such as the one sold at Native Seeds/SEARCH store) grind them fresh to add flavor and texture to bread-baking.  [I will be interested you hear your wheat sprout ideas too!]

White Sonora Wheat berry sprouts at 5 days

White Sonora Wheat berry sprouts at 5 days

Cracked Wheat Berries–Speaking of grinders—a masa grinder or meat grinder can be used to crack dry wheat berries for cooking bulgar dishes.  If you have a stone-burr hand mill, White Sonoran Wheat berries mill to a beautiful flour for baking.  Keep your ear to the ground about upcoming wheat-berry milling events to be announced with my new WonderMill…..

Basic cooking directions for Whole Wheat Berries:  (Simply cooking wheat berries ahead makes some tasty recipes a breeze!)

1) Rinse 1 cup dry White Sonoran Wheat berries to remove any chaff or grit.  Drain.

2) In saucepan cook washed wheat berries with 3 cups drinking water and ¼ tsp sea salt.  Bring to a boil then reduce to low simmer.

3) Check berries after 30 minutes, adding more water if necessary to cover.  Taste for doneness every 5-10 minutes thereafter.   When done, berries should be round, fully plump, softly chewy (beyond al dente) with no white starch remaining.  It may take 45 minutes to an hour to finish taking up water, i.e. to be fully cooked.  One cup dry wheat berries yields about 4 cups of cooked wheat berries.

Then…you can eat hot wheat berries right away (or zap them later) as a hot cereal.  Or, refrigerate them for up to a week for use in pilaf or marinated salads—recipes follow….

wheat berry cereal makes a wonderful hot breakfast

wheat berry cereal makes a wonderful hot breakfast

Berry-Delish Hot Wheat Berry Cereal

1 cup hot white Sonora wheat berries cooked

2 T dry blueberries and/or dry cranberries

1 T chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Pinch of sea salt

½ cup warmed milk, rice milk or almond milk

1 pat of butter on top (optional)

Serve hot and enjoy the soft crunchiness.  My elderly mother got a nostalgic look of bliss after tasting this hot wheat berry cereal, saying that it reminded her of what her mother served her as a young child.

hot and tasty White Sonora Wheat berry pilaf-MABurgess photo

hot and tasty White Sonora Wheat berry pilaf-MABurgess photo

Perfect Wheat Berry Pilaf

In  2+ Tablespoons flavored olive oil, sautee 1-2 cups chopped fresh vegetables, such as red onion, yellow or winter squash, red sweet pepper, carrots, celery, greens (optional).

When veggies are al dente in the pan, add 2 cups cooked wheat berries to the mix and 2 more tablespoons flavored olive oil.  Stir-fry until hot through.

Add 2 T pine nuts (optional—they won’t show) and 1 T chopped tops of I’itoi’s Onion (or chives)

Dress with salt, pepper, and spices, such as Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Company’s “zapp.”  Serves 3-4 generously.  Enjoy!

[A cool idea is to make extra pilaf (more than recipe) and chill it to use later as a flavorful salad.]

Wheat Berry Salad Supreme

Marinate 2 cups cooked wheat berries in your favorite Italian, balsamic, or Asian dressing overnight (8-12 hours) then toss with fresh chopped romaine, carrots, celery, sweet peppers, olives.  Serves  4.  As Mom says, “It’s so chewy—you know you’ve eaten something!”

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Three cheers –for our local seed-savers and growers bringing this ancient grain afresh to our tables!  For our local bakers helping it rise again!  And for our creative Baja Arizona chefs honoring pre-industrial wheat with their culinary alchemy!

Local, heirloom, organic—wow, what more could we ask?  That is White Sonora Wheat.  Come taste a White Sonora wheat berry sprout.  Stop by and see me, Tia Marta, at the St. Phillip’s Sunday Farmer’s Market where I’ll have the BKW organic White Sonoran Wheat berries for sale in 6oz and 1 kilo size packages ready to use.   Or you can find them packaged at the Native Seeds/SEARCH Store, 3061 N Campbell, Tucson.  Order online at  Please visit my website for other desert food products and scheduled events at

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Heirloom Beans for Holiday Feasts!

Colorful Christmas lima, also known as Chestnut lima, will keep some of its purple color and its shape in cooking.  Photo by Muffin Burgess

Colorful Christmas lima, also known as chestnut lima, will keep some of its purple color and its shape in cooking. Photo by Muffin Burgess

Among beans, Christmas Lima is a giant not only in size but in flavor!  This heirloom Phaseolus lunatus is dramatic mottled purple and white, and lends itself to many colorful dishes.  Try a holiday tip from the Heirloom Bean Queen “Tia Pan Dulce”—sure to please vegetarian and omnivore alike:  Curried Christmas Limas!

The evening before cooking, sort and wash ½ lb of dry Christmas Limas.  Presoak overnight in plenty of water (at least a qt) as they will swell.  Next day give remaining water to your compost and add a qt of fresh drinking water.  Simmer limas without salt until they test tender (1 ½-2hrs stove top; 2-3hrs solar oven; 3-5 hrs crock pot).  Some people prefer them al dente.  I like them soft and done through but not mushy.  Reserve the bean liquid.

Saute ½ cup chopped onion, ½ cup chopped celery, ½ cup thin-sliced winter squash, and ½ cup chopped sweet pepper in olive oil and stir in 2 tsp curry powder.  (My favorite curry powder is from Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Co, available at most southern Arizona groceries.  If you are ever in the Tubac area give yourself an olfactory adventure by visiting the SC Spice Co outlet just south of Tumacacori Mission Nat Hist Park.)

Add cooked limas to the veggie curry stir-fry adding either veggie stock or the reserved bean liquid as needed.  Simmer on low heat until flavors are blended (about 1/2 hr) and salt to taste.  Serve with brown rice or polenta for a complete protein complement.

(Here’s another idea to try with cooked Christmas limas:  If they keep their shape as individual beans when done, you can serve them as veggie hors d’oeuvres with toothpicks dipped in your favorite sauce.  Try BBQ or Asian or chilpotle sauce.  They are better than meatballs and much healthier!)

If you want to GROW Christmas limas for yourself, save a few seed out of the bag you find at Sunday’s Heirloom farmers’ market or at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store (3061 N Campbell, Tucson).  Plant them in April where they can vine their way up a trellis in dappled light or into a low-growing tree.  They are long-season, so plan on tending them thru heat of May and June until the monsoons give them a boost.  You will be climbing the tree or trellis to harvest big pods in the fall, ready for homegrown holiday cookery next year.

Bright and beautiful Four Corners Gold beans are used in the traditional winter ceremony by the Zuni.  These beans are truly light-returning and life-renewing.  photo by Muffin Burgess

Bright and beautiful Four Corners Gold beans are truly light-returning and life-renewing.  photo by Muffin Burgess

An important heirloom for the season– used by Native cultures of the Southwest since time-immemorial to celebrate the Winter Solstice—is the festive yellow and white Four Corners Gold Bean (aka Zuni Gold).  It will lend itself to any hearty dish you may want to have simmering in a crock pot ready to drive off any chill from ski-ing, hiking, cycling, or dog-walking thru these short wintry days.  Try them in a bean soup with an oxtail from Jojoba Beef at the farmers’ market; or as chile beans with Native Seeds/SEARCH’s amazing chilpotle chile powder; or as a dip mashed with a Tarahumara bean masher, dashes of Red Devil tabasco sauce and 1 tsp of cumin powder.

"Moon Beans" spiced with Pipian Rojo Mole from Mano y Metate makes an exceptionally festive vegetarian dish!  photo by Muffin Burgess

“Moon Beans” spiced with Pipian Rojo Mole from Mano y Metate makes an exceptionally festive vegetarian dish! photo by Muffin Burgess

My grandmother always served us black-eyed peas for New Year’s telling us grandkids that the number of them we ate was the number of dollars we would make in the new year.  In her tradition of black-eyed peas, as New Year’s approaches, I like to fix a Southwestern version of black-eyes:  Moon Beans!   For a festive flavor try moon beans with pipian rojo mole as a centerpiece dish, adding the prepared mole powder from Mano y Metate in the last half hour of bean cooking.

Solar-cooked Moon Beans can be downright celestial.  If December 30 or 31 is going to be sunny, and if you know you will be “hanging out” available for re-orienting your solar oven every ½ hour or hour, soak your Moon Beans the night before, change the water next day, and in a saucepan with plenty of drinking water add a ham hock and/or chopped onions and veggies to your Moon Beans.  A few hours of solar cookery will provide a New Year’s home-made feast worth a million dollars.

Happy Holiday-time with Heirloom Beans– and Bon appetit from Martha Burgess!

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Slowing it down: Super-Slow-Rosemary-Crusted-Steak

hearth as heart -

It is early winter, and as the days become shorter, things slow down in the natural world.  Egg laying is noticeably slower. Honeybee brood cycles are are scaled way back; the drones having been cast out (weeks ago) to preserve the resources of the hive. Our cattle are moved to winter pasture; and while we could keep a few cows near the house for milk/cheese,  we prefer to let the girls rest after the rough (read: drought) summer here.  Not taking milk allows the cows a chance to rest and recondition. This slowing down is a part of regeneration.

Humans, often forgetting our animal nature, can be out of sync with the rythms of particular seasons –  especially the slower more inward season that we are in now.  We continue the ceaseless output of energy that culture demands, as if it were perpetual spring – energy bursting upward and outward, rather than inward and in to our metaphorical  roots. .  We are a part  of the animal, insects, and plant kingdoms with which we live.  And seasons, with their increase and decrease in light and energy, offer different things to us. The winter kitchen is one of the few places where we can enjoy the slowness of this season, because winter meals often take time to simmer or bake.  We are nearing the winter solstice, which occurs between December 20th and the 23rd , wrapping the animals, insects, and plants, living on this side of the planet,  in darkness.

This recipe for Super-Slow-Roasted Rosemary-Crusted Chuck Steak, from Shannon Hayes’s THE GRASSFED GOURMET COOKBOOK is a flavorful way to both practice and delight in the Slowness of the Season.  And precisely because it   T A K E S  T I M E, the flavors  have time to mingle sensuously, another perk of the cold season.  More oddly, I feel it gives kitchens – sometimes forgotten as the “heart” of the home –  a chance to embody their mission.  Cooking meals slowly allows the kitchen to warm the home from the kitchen outward; you may find that family and friends linger a little longer, basking in the aromas and warmth and heartbeat. Forgive me for saying it, but I think I hear the kitchen smiling.

Harvesting range/grass fed beef

RECIPE: Super-Slow-Roasted Rosemary-Crusted Chuck Steak

Preheat oven to 250 degrees F.

Rub Garlic Rosemary Rub into the chuck (see below***)

Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for 30-60 minutes.   Roast the meat in a shallow pan for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 170 degrees F. Continue to roast for 4-6 hours,  (depending on the weight the larger the cut the longer it takes to roast), or until an internal meat thermometer registers 120 F to 125 F. Hayes suggests that you do not cook it beyond 125F or you will loose tenderness.   And in keeping with the Spirit of Slow: allow the meat to rest (with loose foil tented) for 5- 10 minutes before slicing.

*** Garlic-Rosemary Rub: 2 Tablespoons of dried Rosemary, 1 clove garlic, minced, 1 ½ Tablespoons coarse salt, 2 Teaspoons freshly ground black pepper.

Note: I cannot recommend Shannon Hayes, The Grassfed Gourmet Cookbook enough. It will likely change the way you look at farming, flavors, and how they/we are connected.

* If you are a veggie/vegan try slow roasting  winter’s roots vegetables with the oil of your choice and the same spices in the rub, but do not cook them as long, just till as tender and as flavorful as you love.

Please note: The photos were taken by me to share with you; I would love it if you would please leave them here (and not abscond with them to other parts of the internet). Thank you so much.

Categories: Cooking, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

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