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Recently I’ve tried modifying our mesquite flour tortilla recipe in a couple of different ways. First, I tried using raw goat milk in the dough instead of water. This didn’t have a huge impact on the consistency of the dough, but seemed to provide an ever-so-slightly richer taste.

The second modification involved using popped amaranth grain in place of some of the mesquite meal (1/4 cup of amaranth and 1/4 cup mesquite flour, plus 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour). I was very pleased with these tortillas, as the amaranth seemed to provide for a much moister and smoother dough, resulting in softer and more flexible tortillas. I did knead the dough a little bit longer than usual, though, so it’s unclear how much of this difference in texture is attributable to the amaranth. The amaranth changed the flavor of the tortillas subtly, but noticeably. I think next time I will try using less amaranth, as the mesquite flavor was too subdued for my tastes, and perhaps I will use carob again as well. Expect a post titled “Amaranth carob mesquite flour tortillas” sometime soon! We’re also working on making local corn tortillas (we’ve made the masa, but haven’t tried making the tortillas yet). We don’t mean to make this a blog about tortillas, but there are worse things to blog about, right?

Tacos made with amaranth mesquite tortillas

Tacos made with amaranth mesquite tortillas. The tacos were filled with fried eggs, fresh tomatoes, arugula, grilled bell peppers and onions, goat cheese, and a salsa made from tomatoes, Anaheim chiles, garlic, and red onion.

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One of our favorite discoveries during our initial local eating experiment was amaranth grain. We’d eaten it before, but hadn’t fully appreciated how delicious it was. It quickly became one of our favorite snacks at night. We’d mix the popped grain (purchased from Native Seeds/SEARCH, who grow it in Patagonia, Arizona) with some local olive oil (from Queen Creek Olive Mill in Phoenix), salt (from Sonora, Mexico), and guajillo chile powder (also grown by Native Seeds/SEARCH). It makes a great popcorn substitute (I think it’s better than popcorn, personally).

We later learned of another way to use amaranth grain. We attended the Native Seeds Sustainable Gardening Tour in September, and part of this tour was a demonstration by Diana Peel, the Community Relations Coordinator for Native Seeds/SEARCH, of how to cook with amaranth grain. We loved her recipe for amaranth patties, and have adapted it somewhat.

Basically, to make amaranth grain patties we first combine the following ingredients (we haven’t paid attention to exact proportions – the following are just approximations):

  • 2 cups popped or unpopped amaranth grain (or some of both)
  • One large egg
  • One tablespoon of whole wheat flour (to help it hold together)
  • Half of a small yellow onion
  • One clove of garlic
  • Half of a green bell pepper
  • Half of a red Anaheim chile
  • A tablespoon of chopped fresh basil leaves
  • A teaspoon of crushed coriander
  • Half of a teaspoon of salt
  • One cup of water

We sometimes use other ingredients as well (such as tomatoes or crushed chiltepines). The recipe is very forgiving and flexible – basically you can use whatever you have on hand that would be good in an omelette. You can make it wetter or drier by adding more or less wheat flour or amaranth. It should ideally be about the consistency of thick oatmeal.

The final step is simply to fry the mix in a pan with a little bit of olive oil over medium heat. Let it cook for a minute and then flip it over and cook the other side for another minute. The patties are delicious served with fresh salsa.

Marci made some of these amaranth patties for dinner tonight, and we topped them with a salsa she made from tomatoes, roasted Anaheim chiles, red onion, white wine vinegar (non-local), and salt. She also made delicious mashed potatoes with butter (non-local), guajillo chile powder, turmeric (non-local), and salt. Finally, she prepared a salad using arugula, basil, mizuna, mibuna, Portulaca, radishes, tomatoes, and pomegranate, with a dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar (non-local).

It was a delicious meal. For dessert we’ll probably finish off the bag of chocolate chips we had from before our local experiment. We’ve come to really appreciate chocolate – of all the foods we can’t get locally, chocolate is probably the one we prize the most!

Dinner 10-24-2007

Amaranth patties, mashed potatoes, and salad

Hot on the heels of our mesquite flour tortillas experiment last week comes another creation: carob mesquite flour tortillas. I used basically the same recipe as before, but with some very slight differences.

For one thing, we used whole wheat flour which we had ground ourselves. Our friend Chi gave us (on permanent loan) a hand grinder she had gotten (also on permanent loan) from a mutual friend of ours. It was a cinch to set up in our kitchen, and Marci set to work grinding some wheatberries we had stored up from our CSA. She ground them twice, yielding flour which was fairly fine but still coarser than the flour we’d been buying from the San Xavier Co-op. To this flour we added both carob and mesquite flour. Since we were almost out of olive oil and happened to have some bacon grease saved in the refrigerator, we used equal parts olive oil and bacon grease (rather than just olive oil).

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (hand-ground wheatberries from the Tucson CSA)
  • 1/4 cup mesquite flour (from our tree)
  • 1/4 cup carob flour (donated by our friends Chi and Rodd; from trees in Tucson)
  • 10 dried chiltepines, crushed by hand (from Native Seeds/SEARCH)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (from Sonora, Mexico)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil (from Queen Creek Olive Mill in Phoenix)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons bacon grease (the bacon was from a ranch in Cochise)
  • 3/4 cup water

Just as before, I first mixed the dry ingredients (wheat flour, mesquite flour, carob flour, salt, and chiltepines) in a bowl, then added the olive oil and bacon grease and mixed well with a fork. I gradually mixed in the water, and then kneaded the dough for about three minutes. I let the dough sit for fifteen minutes, covered, in the bowl. I next divided the dough into eight separate balls, and again let these sit for fifteen minutes, covered, in the bowl. Because the flour I used was coarser than before, I ended up having to knead the dough a few extra minutes at this point in order to work the gluten sufficiently (otherwise the dough wouldn’t stick together). I heated a metal comal over our gas stove on medium heat, and rolled a dough ball out onto a floured cutting board until the dough was about an eighth of an inch thick. Finally, I placed the tortilla on the hot comal, let it cook for about 10 seconds, flipped it and cooked it for 10 more seconds, flipped it again and cooked it on the original side for 10 more seconds, and then flipped it one more time and cooked it for 10 more seconds. I repeated this for the other seven balls. Don’t let the tortilla sit on the comal for very long, as mesquite flour burns very easily!

We thought these tortillas were truly delicious, and even better than the mesquite tortillas! The carob added a subtle but noticeable chocolate-like undertone.

We made tacos using:

  • Eggs (from our chickens) fried in olive oil
  • Squash blossoms
  • Grilled onions and Anaheim chile
  • Tomatoes
  • Fresh greens (lettuce, arugula and tatsoi)
  • From our pre-local stockpile: Guacamaya hot sauce from Mexico (on my tacos) or ranch dressing (on Marci’s)

We also had potatoes and sweet potatoes baked with olive oil and salt. Yum!

Velvet mesquite (Prosopis velutina) is the most common native tree in the desert around Tucson. It also happens to be a spectacularly useful plant. We plan to devote a future post to a lengthy discussion of the uses of mesquite, but for now a short list of the uses for mesquite include food (the pods are delicious and very nutritious), firewood (smoke from mesquite wood imparts a delicious flavor to food), furniture and other wood products, medicine, and textiles. In addition, it is a fast-growing tree, is very drought-tolerant, provides habitat for many native birds and other species, and is also just a beautiful tree. See the Desert Harvesters website for some great information about mesquites.

We have several mesquites in our yard, but only one appears to be pure (or mostly pure) Prosopis velutina. The others are some hybrid combination of P. velutina and the Chilean mesquite, P. chilensis. P. chilensis is commonly used in landscaping in southern Arizona because it is faster-growing than the native species, but it does not provide the same benefits to wildlife and its pods do not taste very good when grown here (though they are apparently delicious in their native habitat). Another commonly planted non-native Prosopis species in Tucson is the Argentinean mesquite, P. alba. Unfortunately, our other two native species are rarely planted. They are the honey mesquite, P. glandulosa, and the screwbean mesquite, P. pubescens. In our yard we have one more-or-less pure P. velutina, several P. velutina – P. chilensis hybrids (which we did not plant and would not have planted), and one P. pubescens.

Every June we harvest the copious pods produced by just one of our trees, a velutina-chilensis hybrid growing in our back yard. Our other hybrid trees produce pods which are not very tasty, but this particular tree produces delicious pods. It may be less chilensis than the others genetically, or it may have just gotten the right mix of alleles from its parents to result in tastier pods. In any case, that one tree yields more than a gallon of finely-ground mesquite flour every year (we could probably get double that yield if we really tried hard to harvest all the pods).

Yesterday as an experiment I made mesquite flour tortillas. At the risk of not sounding humble, I have to say that these were Killer Good. I adapted an online recipe for wheat flour tortillas by replacing one quarter of the wheat flour with mesquite flour, and replacing the vegetable shortening with olive oil. I also added several crushed chiltepines (native wild chiles) to the dough. Here is what I did:

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour (I used a mix of Durum/Pima wheat from the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Coop in Tucson)
  • 1/2 cup mesquite flour (from our tree)
  • 8 dried chiltepines, crushed by hand (from Native Seeds/SEARCH; any chile flakes would work)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (from Sonora, Mexico)
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil (from Queen Creek Olive Mill in Phoenix)
  • 3/4 cup water

I first mixed the dry ingredients (wheat flour, mesquite flour, salt and chiltepines) in a bowl, then added the olive oil and mixed well with a fork. I gradually mixed in the water, and then kneaded the dough for about three minutes. I let the dough sit for half an hour, covered, in the bowl. I next divided the dough into eight separate balls, and again let these sit for half an hour, covered, in the bowl. I heated a metal comal over our gas grill (on medium heat), and rolled a dough ball out onto a floured cutting board until the dough was about an eighth of an inch thick. Finally, I placed the rolled out tortilla onto the hot comal, let it cook for about 10 seconds, flipped it and cooked it for 15 more seconds, and finally flipped it again and cooked it on the original side for 15 more seconds. I repeated this for the other seven balls. Be very careful when doing this, as mesquite flour burns very easily!

The tortillas were absolutely delicious. We used them to make tacos, and filled them with the following:

  • Chicken: from a whole chicken placed in a baking dish with water, garlic, and a little bit of olive oil, coated with guajillo chile powder and a little bit of salt, and baked in the oven at 350° for two hours
  • Green bell peppers and onion, sauteéd in olive oil
  • Roasted Anaheim chile and Guero chile
  • Fresh tomato
  • Arugula

The tacos were fantastic, and like most things I cook they were full of chiles! I am something of a freak when it comes to chiles. I have to put them in everything, and can’t seem to get enough of them. This particular meal featured five different varieties of chiles: chiltepines, guajillos, bell peppers, Anaheims, and Gueros. I have been so happy that we chose to do this local eating experiment at the height of chile season in Tucson (I promise it was not intentional). I would be very grumpy right now if I couldn’t get fresh chiles!

We also had butternut squash and apples: cubed, covered in honey, and baked at 350° for about an hour. They were great too!

We had an active weekend tucsonivory-wise, and we plan to describe it over several different posts. In this one I will describe our meals from this weekend, since we’ve been neglecting to do that.

Somehow we didn’t plan our food purchases very well this week, and the result is that we’ve had to scrounge around a little bit to come up with decent meals. Fortunately we’ve been successful so far, but we still have two more days before our CSA pickup, and not a lot of options for local vegetables before then. This has reminded us of the importance of planning ahead and stocking up when things are available!

We made a nice dinner last night from the following:

  • Okra sautéed in olive oil with tomatoes and onion
  • Ground beef sautéed with tomatoes, onion, roasted Anaheim chile, and crushed chiltepines (native wild chiles)
  • Butternut squash baked with honey (left over from the night before)
  • Homemade whole wheat tortillas (from a few nights before)
  • Goat cheese
  • Apple cider

Dinner on 9-23-2007

Dinner on Saturday night

We enjoyed this meal thoroughly. As we were eating, our friend Chi stopped by and gave us two pomegranates from their tree and a container full of local carob flour. Thanks Chi! The pomegranates are a welcome treat, and we are so happy to get carob because we can substitute it for chocolate. Although carob is definitely not the same thing, it is certainly reminiscent of chocolate (hopefully enough so that we’ll be satisfied!). We think carob is delicious in its own right, anyway. It bears some resemblance to mesquite flour, which makes some sense as they are both legumes.

As a snack last night we had popped amaranth seeds mixed with olive oil, salt and guajillo chile powder. This has quickly become one of our favorite snacks – it’s delicious, healthy and fun to eat. Other snacks we’ve been enjoying during this experiment have been fresh fruit (mostly pears or apples), tortillas with goat cheese, baked squash seeds, and cherry tomatoes.

We were not able to make it to the St. Philips Plaza Farmers’ Market this morning (we were doing the Native Seeds/SEARCH Sustainable Gardening in the Desert tour, which we will write about in another post). Happily, our friends Alex and Jo-anne were going to the farmers’ market and generously got us some potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant. Thanks you guys!

For lunch today Marci made us a mean scramble from the leftover okra and three eggs from our chickens, as well as the remainder of the butternut squash from before. This made a fantastic lunch and I would definitely combine okra and eggs like this again!

For dinner tonight we decided to try making empanadas. We’d never made them before, but they seemed like a nice use for the ingredients we had. I combined slightly over 3 cups of wheat flour with the last tablespoon of our bacon fat, plus 2/3 cup olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a little more than 1/2 cup of water. After mixing these ingredients and kneading the dough briefly, I rolled chunks of it out on our cutting board and then cut out 3 inch diameter circles using the lid from a yogurt container. In total the dough yielded about 25 empanada skins.

While I was making the dough, Marci prepared the filling. She made mashed potatoes using the potatoes from the farmers’ market, plus olive oil and salt. She then mixed this with the leftover ground beef from the night before. We placed about a tablespoon of this mixture into the center of an empanada skin, wetted the edge, folded it over, and pressed it shut using our fingers. We baked them at 400° F for 20 minutes. I made a sauce for the empanadas using some leftover juice from a beef roast we had cooked earlier in the week. To this I added a mashed tomato, lime juice, and guajillo chile powder. Marci also made a salad from lemon cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, green bell pepper, lime juice, and salt.

Empanadas!

Empanadas filled with ground beef and mashed potato

The empanadas were great. I would experiment with some different dough, filling, and sauce recipes next time, but we thought they were pretty good for a first try!

On writing this post I realized that we’ve been eating a fair bit of meat lately. I think this has resulted partly from our failure to adequately shop for vegetables this week, but in any case I would like to get back to eating less meat.

We realized that we haven’t written about any of our meals for a while, instead opting to write about where we’re purchasing our food. To get us back into describing our meals, here is what we had for dinner tonight (this meal is more or less typical of the sorts of things we’ve been eating for the past two weeks):

Dinner on 9-18-2007

  • Squash soup: made from half of a Hubbard squash (previously baked, then mashed), half of a medium yellow onion, one large clove of garlic, a roasted Anaheim chile, and a little bit of salt (this soup was very good, but in retrospect I wish we had added a tomatillo – it would have added a great flavor as well as thickened the soup)
  • Potatoes and sweet potatoes: sliced into strips, drizzled with olive oil and salt, baked, and then topped with leftover homemade tomatillo salsa (a surprisingly good combination!)
  • Salad, our first since we began this experiment: arugula, lemon basil, cherry tomatoes, olive oil, and lime juice (this would have been great, but the basil was a week old and tasted a little funny)
  • Beans: leftover from a few nights ago; cranberry beans and Colorado River beans cooked with cholla buds, onion, roasted Anaheim chile, and honey

This past weekend we found some additional sources of local food, experimented with some new foods, and did a little bit of work in our yard. All in all it was a relaxing but productive weekend.

On Saturday I visited the Native Seeds/SEARCH store, which is conveniently located near our house. Native Seeds/SEARCH is a fantastic organization, based in Tucson, which works to conserve and promote the use of plant cultivars traditionally raised by the native peoples of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. Their farm is located in Patagonia, about an hour from Tucson, and although they sometimes use a small amount of pesticide on their crops, I tend to forgive them since they do so in order to preserve endangered crop varieties (Marci still holds a grudge about this, however). Roughly half of the plants we grow in our garden are derived from their seeds. At their store (located on 4th Ave.) they sell seeds, packaged foods, books on desert gardening and other topics, and crafts made by native groups.

We were hoping that many of the packaged foods at Native Seeds/SEARCH would be locally grown. From what I could gather from the people working there, however, relatively little of the food they sell is actually grown within 100 miles of Tucson (much of it comes from northern Arizona and New Mexico). Fortunately, most of their beans, many of their chiles, all of their amaranth, and many of their prickly pear products are grown locally. I bought two bags of dried beans, some guajillo chile powder (one of my favorite types of chiles), and a bag of popped amaranth. We’ve been enjoying the amaranth as a snack at night. It’s delicious mixed with olive oil, a little bit of salt, and chile powder, and tastes a lot like popcorn, though not identical.

On Sunday we visited the St. Philips Plaza Farmer’s Market (at River Rd. and Campbell Ave.). It’s usually an active market, and this weekend was no exception. There is a great variety of vendors there, selling local vegetables, fruit, nuts, herbs, honey, and meat, as well as quite a bit of non-local food and goods. We bought some local pistachios (a great find!), pears, apples, arugula, tomatoes, and bell peppers, as well as bacon and ground lamb. For lunch Marci made “BLT sandwiches” of a sort, by cooking the bacon and wrapping it inside leaves of arugula along with slices of tomato and roasted chiles. They were fantastic!

We saved the bacon grease, as it would have been a shame to waste such a useful substance. This was fortuitous because I was wanting to make flour tortillas, partly due to the inspiration of my friend Ryan, who’s been making tortillas and having good success. I mixed some of our local flour with part of the bacon grease (as a substitute for pure lard), a tiny bit of salt, and some water. After kneading the dough for a couple of minutes, I let it sit for an hour and then divided it into smaller balls. These I flattened using our “rolling pin” (actually a large wooden pestle) and dropped onto a heated comal (a flat metal cooking surface). After thirty seconds I flipped them over and cooked the other side for another thirty seconds. I was quite surprised by how well they turned out, given that this was my first time attempting to make wheat tortillas! Next time we will use more bacon grease or oil, and will try to make the tortillas thinner.

Since we had tortillas to use, we decided to cook up some vegetables and make tacos. As a filling Marci sautéed some onions and bell peppers and roasted some Anaheim chiles, tomatillos and cherry tomatoes. They were delicious.

Finally, we worked on three projects in our yard. Our chicken coop was needing some repair, so I set about fixing the chicken wire gate and the fencing. The chickens haven’t seemed interested in escaping for a while, but it seemed like a good idea to maintain the fence. I also planted some additional nopal (Opuntia ficus-indica) pads along our north fence. This is a fantastically useful plant, and we have quite a few scattered around our front and back yards. It produces edible pads and fruits, makes a great windbreak and privacy screen, and requires very little water. We planted some along our north fence a year ago and it’s done very well, due to the sunny exposure and the fact that the plants have access to the water which our neighbor dumps on his accursed oleanders just on the other side of the fence…

Finally, Marci bought some parts we’ve been needing for our outdoor shower, which we plan to put together soon. We’re already diverting the graywater from our washing machine to our fruit trees, but the trees need more water than this provides alone, so we’re planning to build the outdoor shower such that the water flows to the trees. We’re also planning to plant a grapevine or two around the shower, to take advantage of any water that isn’t effectively channeled to the trees.

We had a wonderful, relaxing Friday at home. Chris did some work on the computer while I read and talked with some friends online. It was a good food day, too. I had oatmeal (whole cooked oats) with honey for breakfast and Chris and I ate a bunch of leftovers for lunch. Then I had the foresight to soak some adzuki beans for dinner. We had all the right ingredients for a good bean stew- onions, chiles, tomatoes, tomatillos, garlic, bell pepper, cholla buds, oregano… When I was about to cook the beans, Chris asked me where they were from. I have no idea where those beans came from! I’m sure I bought them at the co-op, and they’re from nowhere local. Funny how my mind just switched off for a while. I decided to cook the beans anyway (they were already soaked and ready to go) using our non-local salt and chiles. We’ll give them to our friends when we go to their house later this evening.

So now we had a dilemma: We really didn’t have much in the house for a satisfying dinner. We have only gotten two eggs from our chickens in the last two days, and we ate one of them yesterday. But, man, omelettes sounded really good! We called Wild Oats, the Food Conspiracy Co-Op, and Rincon Market in hopes of finding some local eggs and/or meat, but no luck. Rincon Market does carry Hickman’s Farm eggs, but they are from Buckeye, AZ, which is 117 miles from Tucson: Too far! We searched for farmer’s markets open on a Friday afternoon, but found none. Then Chris remembered that our CSA has a pick-up day on Friday as well as Tuesday (when we get our share), and they often have fresh, local eggs. Bingo! We went to the CSA pick-up site and lo and behold, there were our eggs! Five bucks a dozen for local eggs, and well worth it. Even if we ate the entire dozen for dinner we’d be eating for less than $10 total, which is less than any restaurant meal, and would be of better quality. We felt a rush of relief as soon as we knew we’d have a good dinner.

Our omelettes were superb. We filled them with leftover baked veggies (squash, eggplant and zucchini), leftover sauted okra, tomatoes and onions, fresh oregano and fresh tomato. They were topped off with a roasted tomatillo, garlic and anaheim chile salsa that Chris made, and a bit of goat cheese. We’ll be having grapes for dessert.

While the omelettes were cooking, our friend called us to tell us that Shamrock Farms (a dairy farm) is local and sells organic products. Indeed, they are located about 70 miles from us. Chris is ecstatic because, as he said, “where there’s milk, there’s the potential for ice cream”! I’m hoping they have yogurt, although we’ll need to figure out if all the ingredients in any processed food like yogurt are acceptable to our local palates.

That’s it for today. Signing off to go eat some Cochise-grown grapes.

The last couple days we’ve had some good food and we’ve made some happy discoveries. First, the meals.

Last night:

  • A soup made from the remains of the chicken we cooked the previously night, along with onions, garlic, yellow crooked neck squash, and salt.
  • Red La Soda potatoes and sweet potatoes, baked with a touch of salt.
  • String beans cooked in red wine with shallots, garlic and salt.
  • The remainder of the watermelon from the night before.
  • Prickly pear refresca.

Tonight:

  • “Bunless” hamburgers (lean grass-fed beef from Cochise) topped with goat cheese, roasted chile and tomato – these were awesome, and I think only an avocado could have improved it (this will not be the last time I lament the absence of local avocados!).
  • Okra sautéed with a green bell pepper, onion, tomato, coriander (from our garden), and salt.
  • Lemon cucumbers, sliced and marinated in olive oil, lime juice and salt.
  • Prickly pear refresca.

Next, the happy discoveries. Last week we were quite pleased to find a source of local olive oil, Queen Creek Olive Mill (in Phoenix), and even more pleased this afternoon to learn that the AJ’s Fine Foods market in Tucson carried their olive oil. We promptly drove up to get some. Our other discoveries today included local limes (from the Co-op on 4th Ave.) and local goat cheese (from Fiore di Capra, in Pomerene; this was also for sale at the Co-op). Olive oil, limes and goat cheese: not a shabby bunch of discoveries for one day!

Our CSA share yesterday included a canary melon, tomatillos, cherry tomatoes, roasted Anaheim chiles, an onion, wheatberries, red La Soda potatoes, okra, and bell peppers.

In preparation for the start of our experiment we picked prickly pear fruit (from native Opuntia engelmannii) with friends on Sunday morning. We simply took a bucket and tongs out to the foothills of the Catalina Mountains and plucked ripe fruit from the cactus pads.

Prickly pear fruit

Closeup of prickly pear fruit

At home, we processed the fruit by slicing each one in half and scooping out the insides with a spoon. We then blended all of the pulp briefly and strained it to separate the seeds from the edible portion of the fruit. The end result was about half a gallon of beautiful, thick, crimson-red juice (we had picked about 2 gallons of whole fruit) that tastes like nothing I’ve ever had before except other cactus fruit juice. We used some of this juice in our first local meal (see below) and stashed the rest in our fridge for future treats.

Prickly pear fruit cut in half

Bowl of processed prickly pear fruit

We also went to the local farmer’s market to stock up on fresh veggies, and to buy some meat and honey for the coming weeks or months of local eating. We found tomatoes, green beans, onions, garlic, eggplant, shallots, plums, chiles, zucchini, and yellow squash from Willcox, ground beef from Cochise and agave honey from Freddy Terry, the singing apiculturist from Oracle.

We had invited 6 friends over to a potluck dinner on Monday evening to send us off on our adventure. We decided to bake a chicken and make beans, and everyone else was to bring a side-dish. One of our friends generously gave us the local, free-range, natural (no antibiotics or hormones added) chicken she had bought from our CSA (community supported agriculture).

We prepared the chicken by placing it in a baking dish, pouring about 3/4 cup of prickly pear juice over it, lightly salting it, and then spooning about 3 or 4 tablespoons of honey into the baking dish. As the chicken cooked the honey melted and we basted the chicken with honey-cactus-chicken juice frequently. We also cut up some sweet potatoes from last week’s CSA share and put them in the baking dish around the chicken. The oven was set for 350 degrees, and the chicken cooked for just under 2 hours. The chicken turned out to be absolutely delicious- I’d cook it again this way in a heartbeat! The honey acted as a glaze, so the chicken not only tasted good, it looked pretty too.

Chicken glazed in prickly pear juice and honey

We decided to cook tepary beans as another main course. The beans are very slow-cooking, so they had to be soaked overnight. Even so, they took over 3 hours to fully cook! We cooked the beans with onion, garlic, purslane (picked from our organic community garden), cholla buds (the flower buds of another local cactus species- we had harvested, processed and dried these a few months ago), roasted green chiles and a pinch of salt. The beans were very tasty, but more salt would have made them tastier.

As a side-dish, we prepared wheat groats, also from our CSA. These are simply the whole, unprocessed seeds of wheat. We cooked them as if they were rice- 2 cups of water to one cup of grains. They were chewy and tasty, and were great for soaking up beans and/or prickly-pear honey sauce from the chicken.

One of our friends brought a veggie dish. She had chopped and baked sweet potatoes, green beans, bok choy, bell peppers, red onion and a pinch of salt. It was a colorful, delicious addition to the meal.

Our first local dinner

Other friends (the ones we picked prickly pear fruit with) contributed a prickly pear “refresca”, or refreshing beverage. They simply mixed prickly pear juice with spearmint leaves, grapefruit juice (from a grapefruit they picked in downtown Tucson), honey (from bees that they raise) and water. It was surprisingly subtle tasting, and very refreshing.

Prickly pear refresca

Our dessert was fruit salad- local apples, nectarines, and watermelon mixed with a bit of honey (also from the singing apiculturist)- made by our other friends.

As an appetizer we had pecans (from the CSA) still in the shell, and watermelon.

Watermelon and pecans

Dinner was served at 6pm with red wine from Elgin and lots of good conversation. We were off to a grand start on our local journey.

Assembled to eat

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