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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.

Apple peach pie

In response to my craving for chocolate, Chris helped me make a pie. We decided to use some of our oat groats, cooked until soft and blended until somewhat creamy, along with wheat flour and mesquite meal, for the bulk of the crust. The recipe is as follows:

Preheat oven to 350° F

Crust

  • 2 cups whole oats
  • 4 cups water
  • 30 pecans (shelled)
  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup mesquite flour
  • zest of one grapefruit
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  1. Cook the oats in water until grains are soft and chewy. Then blend until somewhat creamy.
  2. Crush the pecans and add them to the oats.
  3. Mix the whole wheat flour, mesquite flour, salt and grapefruit zest together and then add to the oats.
  4. Add the olive oil to the oats.
  5. Mix thoroughly.
  6. Put the dough into a pie dish and spread it along the bottom and sides until it is 1/4-1/2 inches thick.

Filling

  • 2 medium apples
  • 2 peaches
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1 tbsp wheat flour
  1. Cut up fruit into small chunks.
  2. Mix with the honey.
  3. Add flour to the fruit.
  4. Pour the fruit filling into the crust.
  5. Crumble additional crust mixture on the top so that the fruit is concealed, and pat this down lightly.
  6. Bake until done (1 hour)
  7. Drizzle honey on top

The resulting pie is very filling, somewhat tasty (Chris thought it was very tasty), and handsome. The crust held its shape surprisingly well, and we could actually serve nice wedge-shaped pieces of pie. It’s the dessert equivalent to Essene bread: It really sort of tastes good, it fulfills a need, and you know it’s good for you, but it’s not quite the same as the “real thing”. The pie was better the next day after the fruit soaked the crust a little bit more, making it softer and less dry. We think a few minor changes would make a huge difference: Add 1/2 cup (instead of 1/4 cup) of honey to the fruit; add more fruit; substitute wheat flour for some of the oats in the crust; and top it with homemade local ice cream!

June 2017
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