Posts Tagged With: Southwest food

Green Chile Makes Zippier Mac n’ Cheese

A recent discussion somewhere on social media had people recalling their favorite foods as kids. For many, it was macaroni and cheese. Carolyn here today recalling that when my dad worked late, my mom would let me and my brother choose what we wanted for dinner. It was always macaroni and cheese. Specifically Kraft macaroni and cheese in the blue box. Recently when planning a kid-friendly dinner for my 4-year-old nephew I remembered my own childhood and made macaroni and cheese, but from scratch. He wouldn’t eat it, didn’t even recognize it. Not like what he gets at daycare. Not like the stuff in the box.

If you have moved beyond daycare food, this version of the old favorite includes ingredients that raise the flavor level many notches. It is almost  impossible to eat just one serving. The roasted poblano chiles add a deep chile flavor that isn’t too spicy. The recipe originated with Chef Robert McGrath at Roaring Fork restaurant in Scottsdale and is included in the recently re-released New Southwest Cookbook. that includes dozens of recipes that bring Southwest flavors to salads (Chile Lime Dressing), entrees (Pork with Prickly Pear Glaze), and desserts (Pumpkin Flan) . This mac n’ cheese recipe takes a little more time than dumping out the box, but it is so worth it.

Poblano chiles are broader and fleshier than the more widely available Anaheims. Roast them on a grill or under a broiler until blistered black, then transfer to a lidded casserole dish or plastic bag to steam before peeling and removing the seeds .If you have fresh corn on the cob, roast it along with the chiles. If not, canned or frozen kernels will do fine.

Roast chiles on a grill or under a broiler until all skin is blistered.

 

Open chiles and clean out seeds and ribs. Chop until you have a puree.

Chop chile flesh until you have a puree.

This is billed as four servings. Nobody eats just one serving so plan accordingly.

Green Chile Macaroni and Cheese

1/4 cup diced red bell pepper

1/2 cup sweet corn kernels

1/4 cup diced red onion

2 teaspoons chopped garlic

1 teaspoon corn oil

2 cups cooked macaroni

1/2 – 3/4 cup puree of roasted peeled poblano chile

2/3 cup grated hot pepper jack cheese

1/4 cup heavy cream or half and half

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Sauté the bell pepper, corn, red onion and garlic in oil in a medium heavy saucepan or deep frying pan over medium heat until the vegetables are soft. Add the macaroni, poblano puree, and jack cheese, and stir until cheese is melted. Fold in heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Ready to expand your Southwest recipe repertoire beyond the basic enchiladas and tacos? 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: Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Wonderful Winter-Squash!

It may not be intuitive that WINTER Squash refers to a number of fantastic SUMMER crops!  Many winter squashes (or pumpkins) are in the same genus Cucurbita.  They can be eaten fresh in their youthful softness in summertime.  If left on the vine to mature into autumn, the same bulbous fruit develops a sturdy, tough skin, “shell” or “rind” which  makes them into great “keepers” through the winter.  You can save one whole, without refrigeration, until a feast or potluck occasion calls you to open it up to serve a crowd.

A volunteer at Tucson’s Mission Garden at a fall harvest. Two of the “Three Sisters” (Chapalote corn and Magdalena Big Cheese Squash) were dry and ready to harvest.(MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share some creative ideas for serving winter squash–aka pumpkins.   The harvest of heirloom pumpkins at Tucson’s Mission Garden last fall was sumptuous and I purchased one of my favorites, Magdalena Big Cheese Squash.  It is so named because NativeSeedsSEARCH plant explorers were given it many decades ago by a farmer in Magdalena, Sonora, and its shape resembles an old-fashioned cheese-wheel.

A fresh Magdalena big cheese squash cut open, ready to seed–Visually savor the glorious orange flesh full of beta-carotenes.  Even better to savor its taste!
 (MABurgess photo)

Exercise care in cutting this huge pumpkin. It can be tough and requires a hefty knife. You can clean the seed to dry and save for next summer’s monsoon garden, or to share with the Pima County Public Library’s Seed Library. There are enough seeds inside to use some to toast with garlic oil and salt for a healthy, zinc-filled snack (especially good to eat for boosting the immune system in flu season).

It took two of us to cut wedges of it, one to stabilize the fat fruit keeping hands out of the way.  We shared chunks with several friends and relatives, and, unbeknownst to each other, each sent an email exclaiming how it was “truly the best squash I have EVER tasted!”  There couldn’t be better recommendations.

Simply steamed, chunks of Magdalena Big Cheese are a totally blissful experience. Here I dusted it with Spike spice-blend –but it really needs nothing –just eating!

For a down-home easy dish, try stir-frying slices of Magdalena Big Cheese with marinated tofu and other veggies, and serve over rice.

Stir-fried sliced Magdalena Big Cheese pumpkin with soy-sauce-marinated tofu, onion, and pea pods. Delish! Serve over rice. (MABurgess photo)

If you have leftovers, or if you want to serve a more exotic dish, you can curry your steamed or roasted squash, mashing with curry powder, salt and pepper to taste, then serving it with side “boys” to complement the curry.  I place little bowls of crystalized ginger, TJ’s blistered peanuts, dried currants, grated coconut, and banana slices for guests to bedeck their curry with.

Curried Magdalena Big Cheese squash with garnishes of peanut, mint leaf, crystal ginger, raisins, and banana. (MABurgess photo)

I don’t just cook winter squashes.  They are so sculptural that I have to document them–to paint them!  You are cordially invited to see my squash and gourd watercolors displayed next weekend at our Flor de Mayo StudioSaturday and Sunday, February 8 and 9, 2020–at our ArtTrails.org OPEN STUDIO TOUR on Tucson’s West Side.  See the ArtTrails website for a map to Flor de Mayo Studio (also showing photographer Rod Mondt’s nature images).

Shapely Dine Cushaw –a big-as-life watercolor by MA Burgess–Join us for the ArtTrails.org OPEN STUDIO TOUR Sat-Sun Feb.8-9 to see more!

Categories: Cooking, heirloom crops, Heirloom pumpkins & squashes, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Camp cooking at home

Hi all, Greetings from sunny Tucson! Amy here, at my new urban homestead. Taking out a wall left me a pile of old bricks to re-purpose, so I made a little outdoor hearth. This bucket of rainwater helped me level the cooking rack, sturdy enough for my over-sized, seldom used, cast iron cookware.

Making dinner for myself outside to admire the newly cleared yard, I cooked what was on hand from my Tucson CSA share: a butternut squash, Yukon gold potato, yellow onion, and French breakfast radishes. I decided to make a dish from my camping childhood, a foil meal cooked on the fire!

I cut the veggies into bite sized pieces, added a sprinkle of salt, and doused with olive oil and Mano Y Metate Mole Verde powder.

Then I sealed the foil seams very well and made a mesquite fire.

When the fire was almost down to coals, I put the sealed packet on the grill.

After about 45 minutes, the potatoes were perfectly tender and the embers glowing more dimly.

The steam from the veggies and the Mole Verde powder made a slight bit of sauce in the packet. It was mildly spicy and herbaceous from the cilantro, parsley and epazote in the mole powder. Of course, this would work with many other veggie and meat combinations, and any of the mole powder varieties.

I ate my dinner by the fire and dreamed of what might come next on this old urban lot.

Buenas noches, Amy

 

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

The New Southwest Cookbook: Recipe Inspiration

All of my kitchen appliances, including the stove from the dismantled island, are sitting on the back patio as two workers go about putting in a new kitchen floor in our 100-year-old house. Forty-two years ago, my mother-in-law Dorothy and I spent days on our knees scraping off linoleum and the black gunk beneath to reveal the reddish fir floor underneath. But that has begun to splinter, and its time is up.

Unable to cook and photograph something yummy for today’s column, I’m going to talk about my re-released The New Southwest Cookbook and what adventurous home cooks can learn from the talented chefs from all over the Southwest who contributed recipes to the book.

In the early 1990s, professional chefs began to look at our traditional Southwestern ingredients and come up with new and delicious ways to combine them. The one element that seems to characterize the best of the recipes is a willingness to go for bold flavors enhanced by chiles, citrus and herbs. Not just a squirt or a sprinkle, but lots. Even if you don’t have time to go all out on a recipe, using flavorings generously can elevate a weeknight recipe.

Preparing for the new kitchen floor. The pipe in the foreground is where the stove should be.

I took the Tequila Braised Country-style ribs to a recently widowed neighbor who loved them. Rub the ribs with brown sugar, 5-spice, and lots of garlic and marinate overnight. Then bake in a sauce of caramelized onions, garlic, tequila, orange juice, tomatoes, and chipotle. The recipe came from a chef in Albuquerque.

Another winner is roasted poblano chiles stuffed with a mixture of goat and cream cheese, dried cranberries, corn kernels, mint, and basil. The recipe originated at the Hilton in Santa Fe.

My favorite recipe in the book and the one I’ve made for company so often that the page is spattered in Chicken with Citrus, Prickly Pear and Chipotle. It was invented by Sue Scheff, a popular Tucson caterer. It involves marinating chicken thighs in a citrus chile mixture, then coating them in mustard and herbs before roasting. They are topped with a prickly pear-chipotle-orange sauce. It is dreamy with flavors that explode in your mouth (in a good way.). For a company dinner it is a wow entree that isn’t expensive.

Southwest cuisine often incorporates citrus juices and lots of fresh herbs such as  mint, cilantro, and basil.

Another favorite is Green Chile Macaroni from Roaring Fork in Scottsdale. It’s a more complex take on the dish with added vegetables and pureed poblano chiles. It goes well beside roasted salmon or grilled steak or burgers.

These recipes do not require complicated techniques and have few exotic ingredients. Those ingredients not available outside the Southwest, such as prickly pear syrup, can be easily found on-line. The prime factor that leads to their deliciousness is the creativity of the chef who invented them.

If you are an adventurous cook, you can possibly follow the ideas and come up with something fabulous. Or if you like to follow a recipe, at least the first time,  you can order The New Southwest Cookbook directly from the publisher, Rio Nuevo, or from your independent bookstore, or Amazon or Barnes & Nobel.

 

 

 

 

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

Festive Buffet Ideas–Southwest Style

Winter is here, and out-of-town company is sure to invade our relatively sunny climes in Baja Arizona.  Tia Marta here with some ideas for local Sonoran Desert goodies that you can make ahead to have at-the-ready for creating a glorious buffet or instant party.

This festive table features colorful, delectable Sonoran-desert fare.  Note lemon juice ice-float for flavoring and chilling the punch.  Many other buffet ideas following….. (MABurgess photo)

With freezing nights everyone is harvesting citrus like mad.  What to do with all those lemons your neighbor has generously dumped at your door?  Right!–save space and squeeze the wonderful juice into a plastic bowl to freeze and use as a floating ice-block or as lemon ice cubes.

Zoom in to check out the buffet table details:  On the cheese plate note the thin slices of barrel cactus fruit as rings atop the cheese wedge, adding a zesty touch to the spread.  Squares of white manchego cheese top squares of sweet local cajeta de membrillo, a lovely conserve made with heirloom quince fruits from Mission Garden.  My special veggie dip is laced with “chives” of chopped I’itoi’s Onion and fresh oregano from my garden, moringa leaves from friend Wanda’s tree, and a single crushed dry chiltepin pepper for a picante kick.

Tangy pickled cholla cactus flower bud hors d’oeuvres (MABurgess photo)

In place of olives or pickles I like to feature my pickled cholla flower buds  or nopalito pickles.  In place of mixed nuts I serve bellotas (Emory oak acorns) or pinyon nuts, both supporting local harvesters (see Southwest Foraging).  Instead of peanuts I like to present Incan corn nuts (not local, from Peru, but a bow to Native tradition.)

Refreshing and colorful prickly pear lemonade and mesquite-amaranth-white Sonora wheat-chocolate chip cookies! (MABurgess photo)

For luscious “local cookies” I use a basic toll-house cookie recipe (calling for 2 cups flour) by substituting 1/2 cup mesquite flour, 1/2 cup amaranth flour, and 1 cup white Sonora wheat flour, plus an extra egg and a cup of pine nuts in place of pecans.  These treats will get snarfed up as soon as you put them on the table.  (See Dec13 post for other cookie recipes)

Sparkly and nutritious cherry punch with ginger ale and a floating iceberg of pure prickly pear juice (MABurgess photo)

Whirl your thawed prickly pear tunas in blender

Squeeze whirled prickly pear fruit thru 4 layers of cheesecloth

SPARKLY PRICKLY PEAR CHERRY PUNCH RECIPE:

In a big clear punchbowl mix:

1  block of frozen pure prickly pear juice   (OR, 1 bottle of Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup plus ice cubes)

1 pint (half jar) Trader Joe’s pure Cherry Juice

1 liter chilled ginger ale

Serve with joy!

(As ice block is thawing in the punchbowl and the punch is consumed around it, add the remaining pint of cherry juice and another liter of chilled ginger ale over the block.)

With a bag of prickly pear tunas frozen whole from last September’s hasty harvest, I thawed them to extract the juice to then refreeze as a cactus-fruit ice-block.  It is an easy process–but timely action required.  If you haven’t harvested from the desert, Cheri’s Desert Harvest Prickly Pear Syrup is available at NativeSeedsSEARCH Store, 3061 N.Campbell Avenue or at other special Southwest food shops.

To make your own cholla or nopalito pickles, as March approaches, watch for announcements of cholla bud harvesting workshops.  Tia Marta may schedule classes through Mission Garden or www.flordemayoarts.com.

Happy entertaining with a local Southwest flair!

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

Rosie Bravo’s Chimichangas

Hello, Amy here. Once I lived next door to Rosie, who made food that her husband Arturo peddled in the neighborhood. She made Sonoran classics including tamales de res, THE BEST tamales de elote, Mexican interpretations of Chinese food (for parties), and her own creations. One of Rosie’s creations was a spicy bean burrito, wrapped in bacon and fried, served with her own salsa roja.

Inspired by Sonoran Hot Dogs wrapped in bacon, she had no name for this delicious lunch, but it seems to me to classify as a chimichanga. The chimichanga has a few often sited origin stories, but it is a logical thing to fry stuffed flour tortillas just like you do corn tortillas!

 

To replicate Rosie’s dish, I started with Mano y Metate Adobo Powder. I cooked a couple tablespoons of powder in a splash of grape seed oil until it got bubbly and slightly brown.

 

Then I added a couple cups of cooked pinto beans and their cooking liquid. (Yes, these were from the freezer.) Of course, any bean would be delicious.

I let them defrost and reduced the liquid until it was almost dry. Then I mashed the beans by hand.

I heated a big wheat flour tortilla in by biggest pan JUST until pliable, an important step in making any burrito. Skipping this step makes for cracked, loosely rolled burritos. That is never good, but for this project would be a disaster.

The beans have to be spread pretty thinly, because these are only rolled without folding the ends, and because they have to be sturdy enough to fry.

Then a strip of bacon (or two) are wrapped around the burrito and fastened with toothpicks. (Yes, you could totally just fry the burrito without the bacon!)

Fry until golden and crispy. I had to add a little splash of oil to the pan, but by no means was it deep fried. Simply roll the chimichanga to brown on all sides. The bacon shrinks and attaches firmly to the tortilla as it cooks. If you started with a good flour tortilla, it might shed flakes of crispy dough, so handle gently.

I suggest eating immediately. (Yes, before you cook the next one.) Rosie used to pack each in small brown paper bag, to keep them crispy. But they are still wonderful at room temperature. ¡Buen Provecho!

 

 

 

Categories: Cooking, heirloom beans, heirloom crops, heirloom grains, Mexican Food, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized, White Sonora wheat | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sioux Chef Cooks Southwest Heritage Foods

Chef Sean Sherman, founder of the company The Sioux Chef, uses indigenous ingredients in creative dishes.  He was invited by the New York Times to submit ten essential Native American dishes.   (Photo courtesy of The Sioux Chef)

The Desert People have grown and eaten tepary beans for more than a thousand years. In the mid-20th century they nearly disappeared, but became popular again when people began to realize how well they were adapted to the hot, dry Southwestern climate. Just recently, they appeared in the food pages of the New York Times, courtesy of Chef Sean Sherman , founder of the company”The Sioux Chef.”

Sherman  grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in the 1970s. As a kid, he and his cousins harvested edible wild plants that grew there including chokecheries, wild prarie turnips and juniper berries. As an adult he became a professional chef, eventually turning to more wild foods from his heritage and that of other Native American nations. In 2014, he started The Sioux Chef, connecting with other indigenous chefs, farmers, seed keepers and leaders. His cookbook, The Sioux Chef, won the 2018 James Beard Foundation Book Award. Sherman focuses on making appealing foods using only indigenous American ingredients, nothing imported by Europeans.

Sherman’s recipe for teparies involves seasoning the cooked beans with sautéed onions, a little agave nectar, and chile–either Hatch ground dried chile or chipotle chile. He calls for half brown and half white teparies, but you can use whatever you have on hand. The New York Times sends readers wanting to purchase teparies to two sources we’ve often cited here, Ramona Farms and Native Seeds/SEARCH.

Teparies have been a frequent subject on this blog. We love their flavor and adaptability. Tia Marta wrote about them here; Amy uses them in a mixed vegetable stew.

Below is another of the Sioux Chef recipes the Times printed, this one using chia, which grows wild in Southern Arizona, and domesticated amaranth grain, a relative of the wild amaranth that shows up after the summer monsoons. Sherman calls for domestic berries, but they are found in woodlands. If you are lucky enough to have access to wild wolf berries or hackberries, they would be a perfect addition. I used some saguaro fruit I had in the freezer.

Popping the amaranth is easy in a dry hot wok. The popped kernels look like teensy pieces of popped corn. Watch closely when popping. The time between popped and burnt can be a matter of seconds.

Amaranth showing both popped and unpopped seed. Like popcorn, seeds don’t all pop at the same time. Keep stirring until most are popped.

 

Chia pudding with saguaro fruit and popped amaranth. I added a couple of blueberries and some kiwi for contrast. After I made this for the photo, my husband and I ate it for breakfast.

Almond Chia Pudding

1 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk, plus more if needed

½ cup chia seeds

¼ cup light agave nectar

Pinch of fine sea salt

¼ cup amaranth

1 to 2 cups fresh mixed berries (any combination of blackberries, blueberries and raspberries)

¼ cup crushed manzanita berries (optional)

Small fresh mint sprigs, for garnish

In a lidded quart container, vigorously whisk together the 1 1/2 cups almond milk, chia seeds, agave and salt. (This ensures the chia seeds are evenly hydrated.) Let the mixture soak in the refrigerator at least 1 hour and up to overnight, so it develops a rich, creamy texture that is similar to that of rice pudding. If the mixture becomes too thick, whisk in more almond milk.

While the pudding soaks, heat a small skillet over medium-high. Add the amaranth and cook, shaking the skillet, until the amaranth begins to smell toasty and about half of the seeds have popped, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer the amaranth to a plate to cool to room temperature. (Popped amaranth can be prepared up to 3 days ahead and stored in a lidded container in a cool, dark place.)

To serve, whisk the pudding to incorporate any liquid on top and break up the chia seeds, then spoon pudding into bowls. Top with the berries, popped amaranth and mint sprigs.

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One more thing: My book on the 10,000 years of culinary history that led to Tucson being named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy has entered editing and over the next few months I’ll be posting a few bits of the most interesting information I learned in the two years I spent researching. Please follow me on my Facebook author page (Carolyn Niethammer author). I learned lots and would like to share it with you.  This will be the first book authorized to use the City of Gastronomy logo.  See my other books at http://www.cniethammer.com.

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

What to do with tomatillos? Carne en su Jugo

Hello, Amy here, with tomatillos from my Tucson CSA share. Some people asked me what to do with them if they don’t like salsa. Try a soup! Carne en su jugo, meat stewed in is own juices, is a traditional Mexican dish that features tomatilos and makes a little meat go a long way. Mole Verde powder contains lots of green chile and cilantro, so I used that for seasoning and it worked perfectly.

Start by sorting, soaking and boiling pinto beans.

Use any cut of beef; trim and cut into tiny bites. Boil the trimmings to make a broth. Cut a few slices of bacon into tiny bites and fry to make it crispy and render the fat. Set aside the bacon and save the fat in the pan.

Then husk and boil tomatillos in water.

They will start bright green but are done when soft and dull green.

Drain the tomatillos. Then peel and mash, or just puree whole in the blender.

Next, brown the beef in the bacon fat. Salt to taste. Add some sliced garlic and onion, to taste. I used elephant garlic and red onion from Tucson CSA. Then add some home made beef broth and stew until tender.

Add the pureed tomatillos. In a separate pan, I cooked a couple tablespoons of Mole Verde powder in a little oil and then thinned with more beef broth. All that went into the pot, too. Salt to taste again.

Spoon in some cooked pintos. Cook for a few minutes for the flavors come together and the stew thicken a little. At the last moment, stir in the crunchy bacon or sprinkle on top of each serving. Eat with hot corn tortillas. Enjoy!


Categories: Cooking, Sonoran Native, Southwest Food, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Home-Cured Olives are Easy

I like to pick olives when they are part green and part black. But all green or all black, if they aren’t over ripe, are fine as well.

Fall may mean colorful leaves and apple harvests in the temperate regions of the globe, but in Southern Arizona and warm desert regions around the world, it is olive harvest time. Several years ago, a famous author died, and many notables who had been guests in his home on the coast of Southern Italy recalled their visits. One woman remembered walking through the olive groves and plucking and eating juicy olives. I laughed aloud when I read that. She may have plucked something, but it wasn’t olives. Olives off the tree are very bitter and they must be processed to be edible. The bitterness is due to a substance called oleuropein.

Various cultures have their own methods of removing the bitterness from olives. There’s the dry salt method, the brine method, the water method and the lye method. For 30 years I have followed instructions taught by the late Dr. Robert H. Forbes, who became dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Arizona in 1899. He had made an intensive study of the home processing of curing olives. His process uses lye and the method has always worked for me. Last week when I went to the hardware store to buy the lye and told the clerk what I was going to do with it, he kept cautioning me that it was poison and came close to refusing to sell it to me. By following the instructions carefully, I never poisoned myself or the recipients of my olives.

(Aside: Dr. Forbes was still alive when I was a young journalism student in 1964. I interviewed him at his home on the edge of the University of Arizona campus on Olive Street, surrounded by gnarled old olive trees. His house stood where the Center for Creative Photography is now.)

You can home process green olives, black olives or those somewhere in between. Many people with olive trees would be happy to have you harvest from their yard and cut down on the mess when the olive drop. I just knock on the door and ask. Then later I leave a small jar of finished olives on their porch with a note.

You’ll need some glass jars to process your olives.

It’s too much typing to explain Dr. Forbes’ method, but the good folks at UC Davis have done a complete description of each method of olive processing and you can find them here.    The difference in Dr. Forbes’ lye method is that it doesn’t call for a changing of the lye bath.  You just leave the olives in the original lye solution until either taste or a litmus paper shows that the bitterness has been removed.  For me, this has been between five and seven days.  But lye is cheap and you’ll have more than necessary, so if changing helps, why not?  You can find another whole way to dealing with olives in a months’ long process here.

If you happen to live in Tucson, Jill Lorenzini will be discussing olive curing at the Santa Cruz River Farmers Market on the afternoon of October 24.

With the lye plan, after the bitterness is gone, the olives are rinsed (and rinsed!) to remove the lye and hardened with successively strong salt brine solutions. Lastly, they are freshened in water.  Whatever your processing plan, I like to flavor mine with a mixture of olive oil, wine vinegar, garlic cloves and fresh herbs from my garden. You can also slip in a small chile.

A few olives, some cheeses, all you need is a glass of wine to make a perfect Happy Hour snack.

Home processing olives is neither difficult nor overly time consuming, but you do need to get yourself some big glass jars and commit about five minutes a day to the endeavor.  For that little bit of effort, you can end up with a year’s supply of olives for only the cost of lye and salt and some nice gifts for your friends and family. Just one caution: don’t tell the clerk what you are buying the lye for.

One more thing: My book on the 10,000 years of culinary history that led to Tucson being named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy has entered editing and over the next few months I’ll be posting a few bits of the most interesting information I learned in the two years I spent researching. Please follow me on my Facebook author page (Carolyn Niethammer author). I learned lots and would like to share it with you.

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

Savoring Bellotas in Apache Acorn Stew

Emory oak acorns (bellotas in Spanish, chich’il in Ndee, and wi-yo:thi or toa in O’odham), harvested from our native Southwestern live-oak Quercus emoryi, have traditionally provided a superbly nutritious and flavorful summer staple for the Tohono O’odham, the Apache, and other local people of the borderlands. (MABurgess photo)

You can shake them off the tree.  You can buy them by the (expensive!) bag on the roadside en route to Magdalena on pilgrimage for Dia de San Francisco.  You can sometimes find them in small Mexican markets in Tucson–if you ask.  These are bellotas, a seasonal treat of late summer gathered from the desert oak grasslands and woodlands flanking our sky islands.

The White Mountain Apache now have a richly productive community farm. It is the venue for their Traditional Foods Festival where they celebrate their young farmers, their delicious roasted heirloom corn, and many wild foods that their ancestors thrived on. (MABurgess photo)

Tia Marta here to share a recipe learned on a trip recently to the Ndee Nation, to the Western Apache Traditional Foods Festival.  With my talented friend Dr. Letitia McCune (known as BotanyDoc) we enjoyed this special event where elders and young people together were celebrating and sampling their harvest of heirloom crops and wild mountain foods. Botanist and diabetes-nutritionist McCune has recently provided the Ndee Nation with nutritional analyses of their ancient, honored foods.  It’s eye-opening to learn how important the traditional Native foods are for health and disease prevention.

Apache ladies at their Traditional Foods Festival prepare cauldrons of acorn stew. As the stock simmers they add pieces of dough to make dumplings that will take on the rich flavor of the bellotas. (MABurgess photo)

The breeze was full of delicious aromas of oakwood smoke, pit-roasted corn in the husk and juicy banana yucca pods (…that’s another post!) We watched as the Ndee cooks slowly simmered locally-farmed squash and chunks of range beef over the open fire.  They had prepped dough to pull into ribbons then tore pieces to drop into the stock as dumplings.  Over some hours, we kept returning to the cook-fire to watch the stew process.  Whole corn cobs covered with plump kernels went into the giant pot.  At last the cooks brought out the precious acorn flour they had ground from the chich’il (Quercus emoryi) they’d collected this summer and stored carefully for feast occasions.  With the acorn flour the soup stock became thicker and “creamier.”

You can easily crack the shells of Emory oak acorns (bellotas) with a rolling pin or, as in this image, on a stone metate with a mano to release the yummy golden nut-meat inside. (MABurgess photo)

Acorns are chuck-full of healthy oils that are akin to olive oil, complex carbs that slow down the release of sugars into the bloodstream, enabling sustained energy and blood sugar balancing.  It is no surprise that Indigenous people all over the planet have used acorns wherever oaks naturally grow.  The big issue with most acorns is their high tannin content, a chemical that can be damaging internally, but which can be easily leached out with water treatments beforehand.  Fortunately –hooray for our Emory oak acorn!–bellota–it is one of the few acorns which has low tannin content and can be eaten raw right off the tree!

You may not be able to see it but you can taste its wonderful bitter-sweetness–the flavor and thickening of Emory oak acorn flour–in delectable Apache acorn stew. (MABurgess photo)

Here’s a recipe for the Apache Acorn Stew that we tasted in delight at the Festival, here adapted to serving 8-10 persons instead of a whole tribal gathering:

Ingredients:

4-5 qts (or more) drinking water

1-2 lbs bigger-than-bite-size chunks of stew beef or wild elk meat

4-5 summer squash of whatever you grow (e.g.medium to large zucchini or 8-10 paddie-pan)

8-10 whole corn-on-the-cob (de-husked, broken in half)

1-3 cups prepared bread dough, pinched into ribbons and torn into 2″ pieces

1/2-1cup ground Emory oak acorn flour

Directions:

Over an open fire in a big pot, boil beef until tender, making a rich stock.  Add chunked/diced summer squash. Keep simmering. Add torn pieces of bread dough and let puff up.  Add whole corn cobs cut in half. When everything is well-simmered and tastes great, and still on the fire, gradually stir in the acorn flour.  Serve outside with a sample of each ingredient in each bowl.

This hearty stew has elements of Mexican cocido, but in taste it is all its own.  Enjoy the timeless flavors!

An interesting note:  It was the Spanish who brought the name “bellota”–their name for Old World cork oak–to apply to our New World Emory oak, as the two oaks are so similar in their animate, tortuous yet graceful shape.  Andalusians must have felt quite at home when they first encountered our Emory oak in what is now southern Arizona.  To gather bellotas for yourself, head to the grasslands in July or early August to groves of the beautiful Emory oak, shake a branch and let the bellotas fall onto a blanket, and enjoy these precious acorns as Nature’s manna.

[For another traditional acorn stew recipe check out SavorSister and gourmet cook Carolyn Niethammer’s American Indian Cooking, Univ.of Nebraska Press. You can find other great acorn recipes and instructions in DesertHarvesters‘ book Eat Mesquite and MoreSouthwest Foraging by wild-crafter and herbalist John Slattery also gives good instructions how to remove tannins from acorns.   Grow your own heirloom squash and corn, and white Sonora wheat for dough, as ingredients for this stew with saved seed from NativeSeedsSEARCH  !]

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