Contrary to what most history books state, Native Americans were not exactly primitive hunter gatherers that just cooked meat on a stick over an open fire. The Native American way of life is much more complex and so is the food! Each tribe has their own flavor preferences and cooking styles. Many Aztec and Mayan recipes have been discovered in printed tablet form and the food of these civilizations was gourmet by any standard.
When learning something about Southwestern cuisine, realizing that Southwestern tribes were not merely scraping together a meager existence in a harsh environment is a good place to start. The average European outsider would assume that no civilization could possibly flourish in the Desert Southwest, because they only picture European style agricultural. The truth is that there are many microclimate zones in the desert that produce enough food to sustain an entire civilization and more. For example, the "Anasazi" and Paiute farmed the Moapa Valley near Las Vegas for thousands of years. In Arizona, the Chaco Canyon microclimate enabled agricultural yields that fed the Navaho since ancient times. Archeological excavations prove that the Southwestern Tribal Cultures were in fact flourishing with culinary expertise.
The Native American barter and trade system flourished in Southwestern microclimate agriculture areas, which promoted diversity. Bear lard from the northern tribes was a trade commodity that commanded value in the Southwest. Dried food and medicinal plants from the Southwest were a trade commodity that northern tribes placed value on. Mayans traded cocoa beans with Aztecs. Incan runners delivered hybrid seed-stock to Central America and beyond. Trade was not always easy, because of tribal feuds and the hijacking of goods, but the trade system did expand the culinary horizons of Southwestern tribes.
Studying the agricultural and culinary expertise of Southwestern Native cultures does help modern cooks to understand the roots of Southwestern Cuisine. This knowledge also helps when trying to create a modern Southwestern style recipe. For example, when making a Mojave Desert style pasta, researching the native agricultural practices of Mojave Desert Tribes will give a clue as to which ingredients should be chosen.
Today's recipe is departure from mainstream Southwestern style pastas. This recipe is made with Prickly Pear Cactus flavored Cut Noodles, Prickly Pear Fruit, Blue Speckled Maize, Honey, Hibiscus Flower, Mint and Smoked Bacon. The flavors are savory, with a hint of natural sweetness. The Prickly Pear adds a refreshingly light cactus fruit flavor and a captivating bright hot pink cactus flower color!
Prickly Pear Cactus flourishes in the Desert Southwest. Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit is the seed pod beneath the flower. The seed pod fruit turns a dark purplish red color when ripe. Prickly Pear Fruit has a refreshingly light wild strawberry flavor. Prickly Pear is the strongest cholesterol reducing food that there is, so it is very healthy to eat!
Most of the ingredients for today's recipe are available at Latin food markets and Korean food markets. Flora de Jamaica (Dried Wild Hibiscus Flower) is available in Latin food markets. The Heirloom Blue Tip Maize and Prickly Pear flavored Fresh Korean Cut Noodles were purchased at the Greenland Market in Korea Town, Las Vegas. You can make the noodles yourself by adding dried ground Prickly Pear Fruit to a regular pasta dough recipe.
Heirloom Blue Speckled Maize Preparation:
This recipe yields about 3/4 cup. (1 portion)
If no Heirloom Blue Speckled Maize is available, try to select another native heirloom maize varietal.
Step 1: Heat a small sauce pot over medium heat.
Add 1 1/2 cups of water.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
Add 3/4 cup of Heirloom Blue Speckled Maize kernels that were freshly trimmed off of the cob.
Add 1 pinch of sea salt and black pepper.
Step 3: Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
Rapidly simmer and reduce till the liquid evaporates.
Step 4: Sauté the maize in the butter that remains in the pan, till a few light golden brown highlights appear.
Step 5: Remove the pot from the heat.
Keep the prepared Heirloom Blue Speckled Maize warm on a stove top.
Mojave Cactus Rose Pasta:
This recipe yields 1 pasta entrée.
Step 1: Place a pot of water on a burner set to high heat, so the fresh Prickly Pear Cactus Noodles can be cooked later in the recipe.
Step 2: Heat a wide sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
Add 2 strips of smoked bacon that is small chopped .
Sauté till the bacon is almost crisp and most of the grease has rendered out of the bacon.
*There should be about 1 tablespoon of bacon grease in the pan. If there is not enough, then add a little bit of vegetable oil.
Step 3: Add 1/4 cup of small chopped onion.
Sauté till the onions turn clear in color.
Step 4: Add 2 cups of water.
Add 2 tablespoons of honey.
Add 1/2 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar.
Add 1 finely chopped peeled prickly pear cactus fruit.
Add 2 pinches of ancho chile powder.
Add 1 crumbled dried hibiscus flower.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of minced fresh mint leaves.
Add sea salt and black pepper to taste.
Step 5: Bring the sauce to a gentle boil.
Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
Simmer and reduce till most of the liquid evaporates.
Step 6: Add 2 cups of water.
Simmer and reduce till the sauce is a very thin consistency that can barely glaze a spoon.
Step 7: Add 1 peeled prickly pear fruit that is cut into 1/4" thick slices.
Keep the sauce warm over very low heat.
Step 8: Add 1 portion of Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit flavored Korean style fresh Cut Noodles to the pot of boiling water.
Boil the noodles till they float and are fully cooked.
Drain the water off of the Prickly Pear Cactus Cut Noodles.
Step 9: Add the prickly pear noodles to the prickly pear sauce in the sauté pan.
Toss the sauce and pasta together.
Step 10: Remove the pan from the heat.
Mound the pasta on a plate.
*Use a carving fork to twist a decorative peak of pasta on top.
Step 11: Sprinkle the prepared Blue Speckled Maize over the pasta.
Garnish with a few cilantro leaves.
This is a tasty healthy Southwestern pasta that looks as pretty as a cactus flower too!