I’ve been to Arizona four times in my life. The first time was when I went on a cross country road trip with friends after high school and we made a point to visit the Grand Canyon. Second time was when I got married and moved from NYC to join D, who was stationed at Fort Huachuca in Sierra Vista, for six months before we moved to Germany. Then when I moved back to the east coast after Germany, for a year, I visited D over the 2008 holidays while he was once again at Fort Huachuca (this was after he graduated from OCS and before we moved to Colorado). So now we’re currently back in Sierra Vista, until sometime in the fall. Phew, that was a mouthful. Anyway, I never really thought about the regional, traditional, and local foods available here until now.
I don’t think I’d heard of ciolim before a few weeks ago, though I’ve eaten nopales (prickly pear cactus paddle). Ciolim (in the O’odham language) is basically harvested cholla cactus flower buds which are dried for long storage. I bought the bag of ciolim that I used this particular time from the Native Seeds SEARCH store in Tucson. I also purchased a second bag, that I haven’t used yet, from the San Xavier Co-op Farm (a Tohono O’odham tribe run farm), as they now have a booth at the Sierra Vista Farmers Market. The photo below is of the rehydrated buds that were cooked in simmering water until they were soft to the bite. Check out this video showing the harvesting of ciolim, if you’re interested.
The flavor is actually really mild and at first it sort of reminded me of asparagus, but I think it’s more of an okra flavor and maybe artichoke. Not exactly, but that’s what comes to mind. They seem to plump up even more, especially if you cook them in something saucy. The first thing I made with the cholla buds was a slightly spicy fried rice with parsley marinated salmon.
The second dish I used them in was a breakfast egg, raw goat cheese, and micro greens burrito. I also put them on homemade pizza for dinner recently. My plans for the next batch of ciolim will most likely be to put them in pupusas, a favorite that I grew up eating. I read that you can also grind the ciolim (without rehydrating) into a powder to thicken gravies, soups, and sauces. I may try that as well. Here is a video with cholla bud recipes.
I’ve been discovering and learning a lot about foods here, as I do wherever we go, and it’s been great having all sorts of fruits and vegetables available. If you’re not familiar with the Edible Communities publications, I highly recommend seeing if your area has one. They focus on local foods, drinks, restaurants, farms, community, and they usually have informative and educational articles. This publication has been my favorite for many years after discovering Edible Brooklyn, and I’m always on the look out whenever I’m in a different city. I also blogged a bit for Edible Front Range when we lived in Colorado and was lucky to be published in their Fall 2011 issue.
Before we moved to Arizona, I did a little research to see if Tucson had their own Edible publication and lo and behold, there was one in the works. Recently, Edible Baja Arizona launched their inaugural summer issue and I had been running around Sierra Vista and Bisbee trying to get my hands on it. My sweet husband, who puts up with so much of my craziness, was finally able to get one at the Sierra Vista Food Co-op. Tucson has a lot more places that have/had them, but it’s also an hour north of us and I’m not able to make it up there as often as I’d like.
We get a weekly farm box from Sunizona Farms and they had sent an email, right after I started reading Edible Baja, saying that they would be including the magazine in the farm boxes. How funny, now I have two copies. I’ll probably send it off to someone who is interested in seeing what southern Arizona food is all about. It’s an incredible inaugural issue and I look forward to at least seeing one more issue before we move away.