2/01/2014

Western Flavors

Every region in the U.S. has its own unique flora and flavors, and the Southwest is no exception. You won't find strawberries and tomatoes growing without a lot of assistance in the high desert. But there are native fruits and vegetables that are surprisingly tasty and have the stamina to thrive in tough Arizona soil.

Tomatillos (pronounced toe-ma-tee-yos) are small green fruits that look like little tomatoes--hence their Spanish name tomatillo. A member of the nightshade family, it's a near relative of the Cape gooseberry. It's also called a husk tomato because the fruit is wrapped in an inedible husk that browns as the fruit ripens. The tomatillo has a high pectin content making it suitable for preserves. The fruit has a bright, rather sour flavor and is used in salsa verde. Tomatillos grow wild on the roadsides near Casa Wallace. I haven't harvested any since wild plants produce tiny fruits but salsa verde is great. Here's a link to a recipe for making your own with fresh tomatillos: Salsa Verde

Jicama (pronounced he-ka-ma), is a tuber and another native of the Southwest. It's also called the Mexican yam or potato. A large whitish root vegetable that's delicious raw, it has a somewhat sweet flavor and a nice crunch. The jicama vine is poisonous as are the seed pods. You'll find jicama used as extra crunch in salads, or in soups. The vegetable is also used in Asian cooking, showing up in stir-fries.

Prickly Pear - Cactus abound in the Southwest as everyone knows. The fruit of the ubiquitous prickly pear makes a wonderful jewel-colored jelly. It's a ton of work, and fortunately a co-worker gifted a jar to me, so I was spared the labor. The jelly has a clean citrusy flavor that's great on toast or with peanut butter. The "pears" are called tunas in Mexico and the link below will show you the process of preparing them.  Gloves are involved since the tunas have thorns. The paddles and juice of the cactus are edible too, making it an all purpose plant. Click here for more on the prickly pear.

Mesquite (pronounced mess-keet) trees are everywhere in Arizona. The tree is as tough as nails and can withstand just about anything. I'm sure the roots of the mesquite go all the way to China. Not only can you smoke meats with the wood, but the seed pods can be ground into flour. We harvested the pods from several of our trees last summer and had them ground into flour at the local farmers market in October. The flour is gluten-free and has a high sugar content. Used sparing in your baking, it adds a nutty flavor to muffins and pancakes. If you use too much, baked goods will burn before they're done. The flavor is strong and can overpower other flavors easily, so the less is more approach is wise. Check out my blog from October to see the process.

Chile peppers come in all sizes and heat variations. Poblanos are fairly mild and roast up great on the grill. Cheese and chiles were made for each other. While bell peppers can wither in the heat, chiles tolerate it and we even had a few volunteer chiles appear by our front door in November. They actually produced a couple of peppers in the cold of January. There's nothing like the smell of roasting chiles in the huge drums rotated over the fire at the farmers market. Chile rellenos are one of my favorites. Here's the link to The Pioneer Woman's easy recipe.

If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, a Southwest culinary adventure might be just the ticket.



2 comments:

Rose Ciccarelli said...

This time I'm hungry. :)

Robyn McMaster, PhD said...

It's interesting how different regions of this country as wellas others globally offer such unique taste treats. Here in WNY, I enjoy picking wild blackberries or finding elderberries to make pies.

Positively encouraging

2/01/2014

Western Flavors

Every region in the U.S. has its own unique flora and flavors, and the Southwest is no exception. You won't find strawberries and tomatoes growing without a lot of assistance in the high desert. But there are native fruits and vegetables that are surprisingly tasty and have the stamina to thrive in tough Arizona soil.

Tomatillos (pronounced toe-ma-tee-yos) are small green fruits that look like little tomatoes--hence their Spanish name tomatillo. A member of the nightshade family, it's a near relative of the Cape gooseberry. It's also called a husk tomato because the fruit is wrapped in an inedible husk that browns as the fruit ripens. The tomatillo has a high pectin content making it suitable for preserves. The fruit has a bright, rather sour flavor and is used in salsa verde. Tomatillos grow wild on the roadsides near Casa Wallace. I haven't harvested any since wild plants produce tiny fruits but salsa verde is great. Here's a link to a recipe for making your own with fresh tomatillos: Salsa Verde

Jicama (pronounced he-ka-ma), is a tuber and another native of the Southwest. It's also called the Mexican yam or potato. A large whitish root vegetable that's delicious raw, it has a somewhat sweet flavor and a nice crunch. The jicama vine is poisonous as are the seed pods. You'll find jicama used as extra crunch in salads, or in soups. The vegetable is also used in Asian cooking, showing up in stir-fries.

Prickly Pear - Cactus abound in the Southwest as everyone knows. The fruit of the ubiquitous prickly pear makes a wonderful jewel-colored jelly. It's a ton of work, and fortunately a co-worker gifted a jar to me, so I was spared the labor. The jelly has a clean citrusy flavor that's great on toast or with peanut butter. The "pears" are called tunas in Mexico and the link below will show you the process of preparing them.  Gloves are involved since the tunas have thorns. The paddles and juice of the cactus are edible too, making it an all purpose plant. Click here for more on the prickly pear.

Mesquite (pronounced mess-keet) trees are everywhere in Arizona. The tree is as tough as nails and can withstand just about anything. I'm sure the roots of the mesquite go all the way to China. Not only can you smoke meats with the wood, but the seed pods can be ground into flour. We harvested the pods from several of our trees last summer and had them ground into flour at the local farmers market in October. The flour is gluten-free and has a high sugar content. Used sparing in your baking, it adds a nutty flavor to muffins and pancakes. If you use too much, baked goods will burn before they're done. The flavor is strong and can overpower other flavors easily, so the less is more approach is wise. Check out my blog from October to see the process.

Chile peppers come in all sizes and heat variations. Poblanos are fairly mild and roast up great on the grill. Cheese and chiles were made for each other. While bell peppers can wither in the heat, chiles tolerate it and we even had a few volunteer chiles appear by our front door in November. They actually produced a couple of peppers in the cold of January. There's nothing like the smell of roasting chiles in the huge drums rotated over the fire at the farmers market. Chile rellenos are one of my favorites. Here's the link to The Pioneer Woman's easy recipe.

If you're looking for something a little out of the ordinary, a Southwest culinary adventure might be just the ticket.



2 comments:

Rose Ciccarelli said...

This time I'm hungry. :)

Robyn McMaster, PhD said...

It's interesting how different regions of this country as wellas others globally offer such unique taste treats. Here in WNY, I enjoy picking wild blackberries or finding elderberries to make pies.