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Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cooking the Wild Southwest--a cookbook review

My guest reviewer today is Beth Knudson, but before I share her review, I want to tell you a bit about this truly remarkable young woman. We first became acquainted when she was my work-study student at TCU Press, over 15 years ago. Beth and I hit it off from the start, but she was not truly happy with her life. Since then she has married, quit smoking, lost over 60 lbs., developed her own business as a yoga and wellness instructor, and, because her husband is pre-celiac, become an expert on experimenting with gluten-free, dairy-free cooking. Along the way she served as chair of the board of the Girls Club and for many years maintained a career in publishing.
In addition to being a longtime friend--we visit fairly often and frequently cook together--Beth taught me  yoga. When she began teaching, she tactfully didn't even suggest I try again after an unsuccessfu try several years ago. She waited--and I announced one day I thought I should be doing yoga. She taught me, in private lessons, a routine I can do at home.
Find Beth at or http:// or on Facebook or Twitter.
Because Beth is so good with alternative foods, I asked her to review this book when it landed on my desk, and here's what she wrote:

Cooking the Wild Southwest
Delicious Recipes for Desert Plans
By Carolyn Niethammer

How does Prickly Pear Syrup sound? What about Mesquite Ginger Cookies? Pinon Nut Butter? Carolyn Niethammer makes these and other dishes sound so delicious, they fascinate me.

Being a proponent of the slow-food and locavore or local food movement myself, I was intrigued by Niethammer’s book. Slow and local food seem easy in a place where familiar fruits and vegetables grow, but what about in the desert Southwest?

The book delivers a huge number of recipes that all use wild-gathered desert ingredients, including saguaro, mesquite, pinion nuts, acorns, and wild greens. Niethammer acknowledges that it would be time consuming and impractical to build your entire diet out of wild plants but encourages us to incorporate local or wild ingredients into at least one meal per week. As with everything, a little can make a big difference, both economically and environmentally.

If I lived where these ingredients are readily available, I would cook or at least try some of the featured ingredients, but they aren’t exactly abundant in North Texas.  Just a few hours’ drive, though, and I’d be in business. My palate is adventurous enough to think that Apache Acorn Stew (made from beef and acorn meal) sounds pretty good. I’m a little leery of grinding and processing the acorn meal myself, but the instructions in the book are very clear. You can also order such things as mesquite and acorn meal and tepary beans online or perhaps even find them in a health-food store.

I think the biggest value of Cooking the Wild Southwest is that it reminds us how important it is to eat locally, and that as much as we like our fancy restaurants and imported foods, the ingredients that are native to our area are just as special and more sustainable. Carolyn Niethammer not only knows her way around a desert before dawn, but she also knows good food and has a passion for teaching us all how to treat the earth gently, sustaining its resources as it sustains us.

Here’s a sample recipe:

Layered Tepary*Enchiladas

Oil for frying
6 corn tortillas
2 c. cooked tepary beans
1 c. cooked corn kernels
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
Chile power or paste, to taste
¼ tsp. cumin or to taste
½ c. shredded longhorn or jack cheese
½ c. chopped black or green olives
1 c. shredded lettuce

Heat ¼ inch oil in small frying pan and fry tortillas one by one, briefly, until limp but not crisp. Remove and pat each with paper towel to absorb excess oil. Drain and pat out excessive oil with paper towels.
In medium saucepan combine teparies, corn kernels, and tomato sauce; heat. Season to taste with chile and corn.
For each individual serving, place a tortilla on a plate, add a layer of bean and corn mixture, then repeat twice ending with beans. Top with shredded cheese and chopped olives and surround each tortilla with a stack of shredded lettuce.                                                                                                *Tepary beans are wild beans grown by native cultures for centuries. Today they are being cultivated because they are drought and disease resistant and higher in food value than most other beans. They come in black, white, tan and brown and are available online. They are cooked like any other dried bean.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

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