The many delicious varieties of wild greens arrive with warmer weather and longer days. They are popping up in the desert now. Those of you living at higher elevations will see them as the temperatures warm up in your areas. The cheese weed (Malva parviflor, M. neglecta) is a European import that shows up uninvited in gardens and other disturbed places. The leaves, shaped like geranium leaves but smaller, are a little hairy and slightly coarse, but they have a mild flavor and hold up in stir-frys and soups. The seed pods are round and look a bit like wheels of cheese, thus the common name. The seed pods make good additions to salads as a substitute for capers if they are soaked overnight in a strong salt solution then pickled with any ordinary pickling solution. Let them cure for three months before using.
It’s prickly pear season! That makes September the perfect time to start a blog focusing on southwestern food,
particularly wild foods. Prickly pears are native to Mexico, but now grow throughout the warm parts of the globe, spread initially by Spanish explorers. The Spanish weren’t so much taken by the fruits as by the cochineal beetles that feed on them. When crushed, the beetles produce a red dye that doesn’t fade, something that Europeans really needed.
Prickly pear fruits and juice are one of the easiest wild foods to enjoy. They are abundant, easy to gather and prepare, and delicious. The Prickly Pear Cookbook (Rio Nuevo Press) gives 60 recipes for delicious dishes using prickly pear fruit and pads. If you are a curious cook, you’ll want to take a look. But here’s an easy way to get started with a smoothie:
Make sure you have some heavy rubber gloves (supermarket kind is fine) and a good tweezers. Pick the fruit with tongs. When you get home, don the gloves, transfer the fruit to a colander and give them a good rinse. Cut into quarters and put in a blender jar with a little water to get it started. Whirl until all is liquefied, then strain through a fine sieve. Discard the seeds.
Combine in the blender jar some of the prickly pear juice with fruit chunks of your choice (try peaches and
banana), a little fruit juice such as orange or pineapple, some yogurt and a couple of ice cubes. Whirl until liquefied and enjoy. You can store any leftover juice in the refrigerator for a few days or in the freezer for months.