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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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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!

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.

October 2017
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