In January, even the Sonoran Desert goes into winter mode – peaceful in tones of soft brown and gray. The earliest green comes in wild mustard that seems Technicolor against the muted background. This year mustard seems to have appeared particularly early here on the low desert – probably because of the warm December and finally, rain. Or maybe it is a sign of global climate change — just a few degrees uptick in the temperature brings it on.
Spicy mustard collapses to nothing when steamed, so eating it raw in salads is the way to go.
One of the raffle prizes at the Tucson Botanical Gardens Butterfly Affair last October was dinner for six at my house. The winner also received two of my cookbooks and the right to choose anything at all for dinner. Martin Eggers was the winner and he, his partner, and four guests are coming next Saturday. When asked what he was ordering for dinner, he said, “Everything looks delicious,” and left it to me to choose. So as I sat at my desk working out the menu, it seemed that wild mustard greens would be a good addition to the salad course. The flavor is too sharp to stand alone, so I’ll combine it with spinach and kale from my garden. This morning I did a trial run and it was terrific. (Husband Ford ate the experiment for lunch).
I had never eaten kale before it became the nutritional buzzword the last year or so. I’ve learned that to eat it raw, it should be massaged. Tear it into little pieces, put it in a bowl with oil and salt and squeeze and rub until it becomes soft. It also reduces by half.
To the spinach, kale and mustard, I added some thinly sliced sautéed nopalitos and some pepitas. A bit of local goat cheese from Fiore de Capra in tiny Pomerene, Arizona, (check out their Facebook page) will add the elegance a prize dinner requires. For a dressing, walnut oil mixed with fruity vinegar and a dollop of Dijon mustard makes a delicious addition.
For inspiration and other recipes using wild mustard and other wild greens, take a look at my cookbook Cooking the Wild Southwest: Delicious Recipes for Desert Plants. For directions on transforming cactus pads into delicious nopalitos, see complete directions in The Prickly Pear Cookbook.