Blog has moved

A few people have signed up for Carolyn’s Southwest Kitchen since I have discontinued writing it. I now share a blog at http://www.savorthesouthwest.wordpress.com with three other amazing women all interested in different aspects of growing and cooking food in the Southwest.  We each post once a month. The most recent post is by Martha Burgess on edible weeds growing right now. Please surf over and check it out.  Also look at some of the previous posts, particularly those by Tia Linda with her incredible photography.

I do appreciate your interest in Carolyn’s Southwest Kitchen and the posts will stay up (does anything ever disappear from the net?) but there will be no new posts on this blog.

See you at SavortheSouthwest. On Friday, Feb. 21, I’ll be writing about oyster mushrooms.

Carolyn Niethammer

Mesquite Tart at Savor the Southwest

It is my day to post on the new Savor the Southwest blog and I am telling you how to make a delicious Mesquite Ginger  Tart with pears.  With mesquite millings happening all over Arizona, you’ll want some new ideas to use your mesquite meal.

So hop over to Savor the Southwest and get ready for that next potluck where everyone will be asking you for the recipe for this delicious cake.  And please click the follow button on the right so you won’t miss future posts from me, Carolyn Niethammer (on native plants and Southwest cooking),  Martha Burges ( on wild plants, Native agricultural crops and solar cooking)  and Tia Linda, (on bees, heritage chickens and eggs, and the joys and difficulties of raising grass-fed beef).

Honoring Bees on Day of the Dead

The first full post on the new blog Savor the Southwest was put up by beekeeper Tia Linda. As we celebrate Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), she discusses her altar that remembers all the bees that have died of colony collapse disorder.  Gorgeous photo of honeycomb.  Also a photo of a charming quilt honoring bees.

Please surf on over to read it at http://savorthesouthwest.wordpress.com. And please subscribe by clicking on the Follow button (which will then very subtly change to Following.)  Forgot to add that last time.

An Invitation to a New Blog

About a month ago I sent out word that I would be ending Carolyn’s Southwest Kitchen and beginning a new blog with some friends who have been my teachers and inspiration for years.  It took a while to pull it together — we are gardeners, foragers, teachers and in one case a raiser of bees, chickens and cattle — not web designers.  But we perservered and Savor the Southwest: Forage, Raise, Cook was born.  That seems to cover gathering edible wild plants, gardening, raising bees, chickens and cattle, and turning it all into supper.

I’m excited for you to meet my fellow bloggers.  Some of you may already know one of them or have taken a class where she inspired you to learn something new about Southwest food.

I’m sorry that this platform doesn’t allow me to transfer all of you who have so faithfully followed me through spring greens and summer cactus and autumn mesquite pods over the last two years.  So if I’ve sufficently intrigued you, please click over here and sign up to follow the new blog.  We need you to join the conversation.

See you over at Savor the Southwest!

Dried Corn Dishes Smell Like Fall

I recently was privileged to participate in the pilot run of a Borderlands Heritage Food Tour organized by Dr. Rafael de Grenade. It will eventually be part of a broader tourism attraction initiative.  One of the first stops was the San Xavier Coop Farm where we saw their fields and also watched the preparation of the traditional cracked roasted corn product called ga’ivsa.  I had purchased some ga’ivsa from Ramona Farms on the Gila River Indian Reservation  a few months before, but stuck it in the pantry and waited to learn more about preparation.

Some women were processing the corn  into ga’ivsa during our visit and we got a close-up look at their work. First the corn had to be shucked of all the outer leaves, then it is put on a charcoal fire to roast.

Shucking the corn at San Xavier Coop Farm

Tohono O’odham women work at shucking the fresh corn at San Xavier Coop Farm.

Corn roasting over mesquite coals gets a delicious smoky flavor.

Corn roasting over mesquite coals gets a delicious smoky flavor that adds to any dishes you prepare.

It was still very hot on that day, so we all moved into the shade of a barn where Verna Miguel, a Tohono O’odham woman from the San Xavier section of the reservation, explained to us that traditionally  the corn was crushed manually.  But now they have a machine that cuts processing time dramatically.  You can see the machine behind Verna in the photo below.  They can feed in the whole cobs that have been roasted and dried and get cracked corn ready for packaging.

Verna Miguel discusses the products available from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm. Cracked corn processing machine in the background.

Verna Miguel discusses the products available from the San Xavier Cooperative Farm. Cracked corn processing machine in the background.

Preparing the ga’ivsa begins with simmering it in water to soften it.  Put it in a heavy bottom pot, cover with water and cook for about 30 minutes.  Watch closely and add water as needed.  The kernels will soften and swell.  Soon it will begin smelling smoky, sort of like ham. A traditional preparation is corn soup.  To add to the deliciousness, add some green chile and cheese and perhaps some chicken or vegetable base or bouillion.

Ga'ivsa soup with green chile and cheese.

Ga’ivsa soup with green chile and cheese.

With some cooked ga’ivsa left after the soup, I decided it would be great as a stuffing for a green chile.  I roasted a poblano chile I had in my refrigerator, peeled it and cleaned out the seeds inside. If you are new to roasting chiles, don’t be afraid to get the skin well charred so it will peel easily.

Roasted poblano chile before peeling.

Roasted poblano chile before peeling.

I then sauteed some I’itoi onions (you could used green onions),  and added those and some herbs to the cooked corn and stuffed it in the chile.  I topped it with a little fresh cheese and heated it up. Some ground chicken or leftover meat of any kind could also work well.  That became dinner.  I should have taken a picture of my husband tucking in.  He loved it.

Chile stuffed with cracked corn mixture.

Chile stuffed with cracked corn mixture.

Note: This is the 61st and last issue of Carolyn’s Southwest Kitchen. Starting in October, I will be joining a new blog with three other women, all of them experts in several aspects of Southwest food.  I have known each of them for years, and every time I’m with them I learn something new and exciting.  I’m thrilled to be sharing their expertise with all of you.  We will each post once a month on a Friday in a regular rotation.  When we begin again in early October, I will introduce you to each of them — I’m sure you will recognize some of them.  I am trying to learn how to migrate subscribers to the new blog which will be titled Savoring the Southwest.)

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‘Want more recipes for traditional foods and  edible wild desert plants?  You’ll find lots of great ideas in The Prickly Pear Cookbook and Cooking the Wild Southwest.  You’ll learn how professional chefs incorporate traditional Southwest ingredients into their menus in The New Southwest Cookbook. Ask your local bookstore to order for you or follow the links to order on-line.

Turn Prickly Pear into a Cooling Dessert

Juicy prickly pear fruit

Juicy prickly pear fruit

When you can still find big juicy prickly pears, it’s time to try some recipies using the flesh of the fruit. Later when the season has passed we can still cook with prickly pear, but we’ll be using syrup we’ve made and juice we have frozen.

I’m going to tell you how to make a light and luscious summer dessert called Prickly Pear Blanc-Manger.  Pronounced  blah-mahn-jhay, it is one of the oldest sweets we know, possibly dating from Roman times.

You will need a cupful of prickly pear fruit chunk,s but preparing them is a sort of fussy job.  First agenda item: pull on your  heavy-ish rubber gloves and locate the tweezers. Rinse the fruit to wash off any dust.  Then, handling each fruit as gingerly as possible, use a sharp knife to cut off the blossom end.  Peel from there to the stem end. Then cut each fruit in half and carefully scoop out the seeds. Cut what’s left into about four pieces. Repeat until you have a cup full.

Peel and cut the prickly pear fruit.

Peel and cut the prickly pear fruit. Here are the four stages in the preparation.

This dessert is basically milk and cream, firmed up with gelatin,given a little heft with ground almonds and flavored with prickly pear fruit and seasonal berries.  First I’ll show you some photos, then give the recipe.

Get your prickly pear pieces and ground almonds ready first.

Get your prickly pear pieces and ground almonds ready first.

After the cream is whipped, gently  fold in the prickly pear pieces.

After the cream is whipped, gently fold in the prickly pear pieces.

Turn the mixture into a mold or even an 8-inch cake pan.

Turn the mixture into a mold or even an 8-inch cake pan.

Unmold and decorate with fresh berries.

Unmold and decorate with fresh berries.

Intrigued?  Ready for a little bit of a challenge?  Here’s the recipe:

1 ½ cups heavy cream, chilled

¾ cup whole milk, chilled

3 tablespoons ground almonds

½ cup sugar

1 envelope powdered gelatin

½ teaspoon almond extract

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup small (1/4 to 1/2  inch) prickly pear pieces

1 cup of fresh berries

Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water.  Have ready a smaller bowl that fits into the ice-water bath. Whip cream until it holds soft peaks. Refrigerate.

Bring milk, almonds and sugar to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make certain the sugar dissolves.While milk heats, put gelatin and three tablespoons cold water in a microwave safe bowl or small pan  When the gelatin is soft and spongy – around two minutes – heat it in the microwave for 15 seconds. If using a saucepan, cook it over low heat to dissolve. Stir the gelatin into the hot milk mixture and remove pan from heat.

Pour the hot almond milk into the small reserved bowl and set the bowl into the ice-water bath. Stir in almond extract and vanilla extract and continue to stir until the mixlture is cool but still liquid. You don’t want the milk to gel in the bowl.

Retrieve the whipped cream from the refrigerator and gently fold it into the almond milk with a spatula, then fold in the prickly pear pieces. Spoon the mixture into the 8-inch cake pan or the mold and refrigerate until set, about two hours.To make ahead, cover and refrigerate for up to a day.

To easily unmold, put mold upside down over a plate. Dampen a kitchen towel with very hot water and put over the top of the mold until the blanc manger slides out.

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Want more recipes for prickly pear and other edible wild desert plants?  You’ll find lots of great ideas in The Prickly Pear Cookbook and Cooking the Wild Southwest.  Ask your local bookstore to order for you or follow the links to order on-line.

Purslane: Summer’s Healthy Gift

Big bunch of verdolagas

Big bunch of verdolagas

By this time in the Arizona monsoon season, flower gardens and other empty spaces should be full of juicy purslane, also called verdolagas. It has small fleshly leaves about the size of a fingernail, pinkish stems, and grows close to the ground.  I have only a small patch this year next to an irrigation emitter because it simply has not rained yet in our part of downtown Tucson. The cactus are pitifully shrivelled and the ground is weedless. The picture above is from last year.

Purslane can be eaten raw, chopped in salads or sautéed .  In addition to all the vitamin C, calcium, and iron, purslane also has the most omega-3 fatty acids of any green. This is an important nutrient as our modern diets do not provide enough of it.   Certain fibers also help in controlling blood sugar.  Since it’s free and (usually) abundant, why not try some?

My friend Roni Rivera-Ashford taught me to put a bowl under the colander and catch the water you use to rinse the purslane. You will find lots of very tiny black seeds in the water.  Pour that water with the seeds on a potted plant and you’ll have purslane next year.

To prepare the purslane, first chop and sauté  some onion and garlic in a little oil.  I have I’Itoi onions left in my fridge from spring. Somehow they “know” it is time to be planted so they are beginning to sprout so I used some of those.

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Next add the chopped purslane.

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The classic next addition is chopped tomatoes.  My advisor on Mexican food is my water aerobics buddy Elda Islas. She cooked for a houseful of sons when they were growing up and now delights grandchildren with her authentic Mexican food.  She’s also pretty laid back.  When I asked what else to add, she said, “Anything you want!”  She added, “Sometimes I just clean out the refrigerator.”  Taking her cue, I also added fresh corn and sautéed  chicken pieces.

Add chopped tomatoes...

Add chopped tomatoes…

 ... and chicken if you'd like.

… and chicken if you’d like.

The mixture tasted a little bland to me, so I added a tablespoon of Santa Cruz Chili Paste.  That is a staple in my refrigerator.

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Elda’s suggestion for cheese topping is also forgiving:  “Whatever you have.” I have some nice organic white cheddar so that is what you see on these purslane tacos.

The finished purslane tacos.

The finished purslane tacos.

If you have a favorite way to use purslane, please share with the rest of us.

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*I will be at the Second Annual Prickly Pear Festival in Superior this Saturday demonstratiing Prickly Pear Onion Jam.  This event was rollicking last year and promises to be even better this year.

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If you are interested in more recipes for desert plants, take a look at my books Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants and The Prickly Pear Cookbook.   The New Southwest Cookbook contains recipes from talented restaurant and resort chefs throughout the Southwest using traditional ingredients in new and delicious ways.