Cooking the Southwest

Cooking the Southwest

Cooking the Southwest


When traveling, chefs love to explore the local markets and find new ingredients to cook with or to find inspiration. Since moving to Southern Arizona from the Northeast a few years ago, I have been hungrily doing the same.


No longer surrounded by cement, pine trees and hydrangea, I now look out my window onto mesquite trees, prickly pear, cholla and palo verde trees. Always curious about foraging, I started to research what delicious foods this desert provided. It is no surprise that the Native American cultures who have been here for thousands of years have a deep knowledge of desert plants.


Not far from where I live is the San Xavier Co-op Farm store, run by members of the Tohono O'odham nation. There I have found local Sonoran wheat, mesquite flour and dried cholla buds to try. Altho the cholla buds did not agree with me, I fell in love with the lovely Sonoran wheat and especially the mesquite flour.

 Mesquite seed pods



Mesquite flour is made from the toasted seed pods of the tree and has a wonderful sweet aroma. I have been substituting it for about 25% of wheat flour in my baking recipes. It adds a toasty color and absorbs a bit more liquid. I have been using the same biscotti recipe for years but now I will only make them with mesquite flour. I hoard it and have to negotiate the supply with my husband who likes to add it to his sourdough bread.



Prickly pear cactus are everywhere and late summer/early fall is the time to pick the red ripe fruit. Made into syrup, juice or jelly, this fruit has a special taste all it's own. It is like a combination of strawberry and delicate rose to me. The syrup goes into margaritas everywhere down here and I recently mixed it with bbq sauce for a shrimp glaze. I'm kind of obsessed with it!


Prickly Pear Margarita


Another fun find for me was the chiltepin chili. I have been accused of 'putting chilies into everything'. The chiltepin is indigenous to this area and is a tiny, round chili found dried in local markets, especially Mexican markets. It is very spicy and just crushing a few into a stew will spice up the whole thing.

Dried chiltepin chilies


A friend just turned me onto New Mexican blue corn flour and now I am trying that in all kinds of things – stay tuned for my next blog post!


This all just goes to prove you can teach an old chef new tricks!


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