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Desert Harvesters is having its final two mesquite milling events this week. The first event will be at the Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market on Thursday from 3 to 6 PM, and the second event will be at the Dunbar/Spring Organic Community Garden on Saturday from 9 AM to 2 PM. The hammermill will be available at both events, so bring your mesquite pods to grind if you haven’t already done so! Both events will also feature mesquite pancakes (a donation of $3 is requested), and the Dunbar/Spring event will also feature live music. More information is available from the Desert Harvesters website. Come to either (or both) events and help support the great work being done by Desert Harvesters!

As a side note, this week’s Santa Cruz River Farmers’ Market is the last of the season. After this week we’re going to have to adjust our shopping schedule a little bit, since we’ve come to rely on this market to provide us with much of our food for the latter half of the week.

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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.

It’s the time of year when Desert Harvesters has their annual mesquite millings. Desert Harvesters is dedicated to promoting the use of mesquite and other native wild foods in the Sonoran Desert. I helped staff the first milling event this weekend at Colossal Cave, but there are several more in the coming weeks. Bring your mesquite pods to one of the events and have them ground into flour!

Mesquite pods are an abundant, nutritious and delicious food source which sadly is barely utilized. We must make mesquite flour one of our staple foods, as it once was for the native peoples of the region, if we are to have any hope of developing a sustainable local food economy in the Tucson area.

There is a full list of milling events, and instructions for how to prepare your pods, at the Desert Harvesters website. I also added the events to our own Events page.

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!

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