April 19, 2012

Cactus Salsa

I think we forget a lot about the food that is already around us to begin with. To eat locally is a sort of a dual concept. There’s an idea about how far food travels to reach your plate. Then there is this other idea, one we think of less, of eating something that is native and indigenous to the area that you live in. It doesn’t get any more local than that.

Arizona doesn’t grow much without a little help. The things that it does grow, however, are extraordinary. Here are plants that can survive 120 degree days, months without rain, unrelenting sun, and still produce something that can sustain you. Tepary beans, agave, and, of course, the ubiquitous cactus.

The prickly pear cactus in particular is a hallmark of the desert landscape. And not just my desert, but deserts all over the world. They are known here as nopales, in Israel as tzabar, in Egypt as teen shouky, and in various places as some play on a ‘thorned fig’. Which is about right, because inside the paddle of the prickly pear is a juicy, sticky, and sweet flesh that’s maybe just a little bit sour. It makes your mouth water. It tastes like the color green and spring. It’s totally a fig. And we’re going to make salsa with it.

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Have you ever had a bad reputation? Did an event or a name or a connotation ever just stick to you, no matter how hard you tried to change it?  I have a reputation. It’s the kind I’d like to get rid of, but also the kind that drives me to do even better. Kind of like how I imagine brussel sprouts feel.

I have a little reputation for not following through. Not following through on projects that I start, commitments that I make, my education. It’s not true, it’s a perception of me. And while I don’t especially care what people think, I sure do love proving them wrong.

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Swiss chard. It’s probably the most beautiful leaf. The way yellow, white, and fuschia veins spread throughout the thick leaves and color the spine. It’s stunning and eye-catching and every time I pass by it in the farmer’s market I do just that… pass by it. Okay, I’ve used swiss chard a couple of times. Wilted it with garlic and wine, used it in salad. But I wanted something different. Something that showcased it’s super rich and deep flavor. Something that made me want to eat swiss chard with a spoon, which is really the preferable vehicle for chard, as it turns out. That or a chip.

Enter chard pesto. Chard dip. The way to make your spoon swoon, your chip weak at the knees, your pasta better than all the rest. I ate it all, still warm, right out of the food processor. Yes, all of it. With a spoon and a couple of chips. That isn’t to say you couldn’t save some for your friends. You could put it on pasta. Spread it on a taco. Mix it in with salad. But sometimes, it’s just good to eat something the way it is. And with a spoon.

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It’s Spring. There’s a green mist on the trees, the crocuses and tulips have bloomed, and it’s time for spring-weather food. The kind that tastes like outside looks; crisp, colorful, and fresh. This is where it is. Inject color into your Monday.

1.  It’s totally time to take spring to the next level with this salad. These carrots are out of control pretty.

2. I love radishes. It’s pretty serious.

3. This kale is going make your Monday feel like Friday.

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