Mesquite in the kitchen - The Explorer: El Sol

Mesquite in the kitchen

Wow dinner guests with an authentic desert ingredient

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Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 11:00 pm | Updated: 8:04 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Would you like to give your out-of-town visitors a taste of the Sonoran Desert?

Few foods do it like mesquite pods.

Brew them, grind them or throw a handful of wet ones into the coals for the same flavor you get from mesquite wood chips. Whichever way you choose, give it a try.

“Experiment,” said Jo Falls, who teaches cooking with native foods at Tohono Chul Park. “If it doesn’t taste good, throw it out and start over.”

Mesquite pods add needed nutrients to a diet. They’re a good source of calcium, fiber, manganese, iron and zinc, and their seeds are 40-percent protein. Also, like many desert foods, they help control blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.

When ground into flour, the pods jazz up old recipes with a distinct mesquite flavor.

“I think it gives food a kind of graham cracker taste,” Falls said.

The flour contains no gluten, so most recipes include other flours, as well, to provide the elastic, chewy goodness of modern bread.

Also, the dilution is a good idea, Falls said, due to intense flavor. Just as cooks generally mix barley with more mild grains, mesquite on its own can overwhelm.

“Generally, you can take any recipe with flour and substitute a quarter to a half with mesquite,” Falls said.

Mesquite flour is available readymade at Tohono Chul Park and the Native Seeds/SEARCH store, 526 N. Fourth Ave., which promotes desert-adapted food sources. Or, for the more industrious cooks, there’s plenty of opportunity to harvest pods in the desert and turn them into flour at one of Tucson’s fall milling events.

Those cooking the flour should know that it contains more sugars than regular flour — thus the sweetness — which means it can burn easily. It requires a watchful eye and sometimes a lower cooking temperature than unrevised recipes calls for.

But modifying favorite recipes to include mesquite is fairly easy, Falls said, and worth the effort.

“Everybody gets in a rut and eats the same stuff because they’re familiar with it,” she said. “Sometimes it really pays to go out on a limb.”

She had this to add: “So go out on a mesquite limb.”

Desert recipes

Classic mesquite cookies

1 cup butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 egg

2 tablespoons vanilla

2 cups masa harina (corn tortilla mix)

1 cup mesquite flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons baking soda

Cream softened butter until fluffy; add sugar, egg, vanilla and whip until well combined. Sift dry ingredients and add to butter mixture, beating until smooth. Roll into 2-inch balls, pressing slightly onto cookie sheet. Sprinkle with sugar. Bake in 375-degree oven 15 to 20 minutes or until done. Do not overbake.

Mesquite cornbread

¾ cups each cornmeal and flour

½ cup mesquite meal

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoons each baking soda and salt

1 cup buttermilk or yogurt

1 egg

3 tablespoons syrup or honey

3 tablespoons oil

Combine dry ingredients in medium-size bowl. Combine wet ingredients and stir into the dry ingredients just until combined. Spread into greased 8-by-8 inch pan. Bake 20 to 25 minutes at 350 degrees. Optional: mix in with dry ingredients 1 cup fresh or frozen corn, ¾ cups grated jack cheese, 3 tablespoons minced onion, 1 tablespoon chipotle flakes

Mesquite flour tortillas

1 ½ cups unbleached flour

 ½ cup mesquite meal

½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons canola oil

½ cup warm water

Mix together flour, meal and salt. Drizzle on oil and stir with fork. Stir in warm water and make into a ball. Knead 2 minutes on floured board. Cover and let rest 20 minutes. Divide into 12 balls. Roll each into 1/8 inch thick circle. Cook in dry skillet over medium heat. When slightly browned on one side (about 1 minute) flip over and cook 10 to 15 seconds more. Stack in plastic bag immediately and let steam. May store at room temperature 2 to 3 days. For longer storage, keep in refrigerator.

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