Monday, June 17, 2013

Desert Foraging, Foods of the Native Peoples of the Southwest Deserts

I've lived in the deserts here in Arizona most of my life.  Yeah, 6 years in Austin, just east of the great Southwestern desert sort of counts, I mean it was hotter than all get out there.  And there were cactus.  And certainly, Mesquite.  That's one of the things that this entry to my blog is about today.  Mesquite.  Certainly we all pretty much know that the wood makes for great barbecue, and is the wood of choice for smoking meats everywhere.  But most people have no idea that the little bean pods are also considered to be a superfood.  The little annoying pods that drop onto the yards of anyone that planted a mesquite tree for its beautiful foliage and drought resistance; is one of the things that for centuries kept native Americans of the southwest free from diabetes.  It is a super food in every way, high in protein, low glycemic index, and packed with minerals, soluble fiber, tannins, inulin, and mucilaginous polysaccharide gums that help to prevent and improve diabetes. All in all, a great product, and it grows everywhere and it is free for the taking. 

Anyway, the best way to make mesquite flour for baking is to buy yourself a flour mill.  You need one to grind your own whole wheat berries into whole wheat flour, so it will be there in your kitchen anyway.  But for those of you out there that are not nuts like I am and have had a wheat mill for the last forty years or so, then there are alternatives.  These guys for one,  have events where they grind mesquite pods for local people and it is a great alternative.  Then there is this method, it works, and will give you a satisfactory product.  Take a bunch of bean pods you picked and put in the sun to make sure they are good and dry.  Break them up a bit and fill the container on your blender.  Blend until most of the stuff in there is a powder.  Sift it, and bag it to store.  You will get a fairly fine meal and it works great for making things like mesquite biscuits. 

Take a cup of Mesquite meal and one cup of whole wheat flour and sift together with a teaspoon and a half of baking powder, a half teaspoon of sea salt and a teaspoon of baking soda.  Cut into the mixture a stick of butter.  Then mix together an egg and a cup of buttermilk, and toss together with a fork into the dry ingredients.  Mix with hands when well incorporated, and press together.  Roll out on hard counter using extra Mesquite meal to keep from sticking.  Cut rounds and place on baking sheet and bake at 350 until puffed and browned. 

What do mesquite biscuits taste like?  Sort of a cross between graham crackers and cracker jacks.  Sweet, and nutty, and pretty good. 

Get out and do something fun with the kids, fun with friends, or fun with the love of your life.  Pick beans.  I think you will be surprised at how cool these things are, and you might go nuts and pick your own prickly pear fruits, the pads (Nopales) Devils Claws, Saguaro Fruit, jojoba, agave fruits, and some other interesting and unique goodies out there in the desert and ready for you to taste. 

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