I've been struggling with this post—for what feels like years. Although it's only been a day and a half. But when is a food adventure, ever just about the food?
The Tohono O'odham, is a Native American reservation, wedged between the US border of Arizona and the Republic of Mexico. My dear friend Jennifer Smith, who's an incredible stylist based in New York, (LA, and Tucson), had heard interesting things about a café based on the Tohono reservation. So we drove 2 hours South from Tucson, eager to check it out.
It's called Desert Rain, and it's in a small town called Sells. To say that there is no poverty in this town, would be to lie. To see some of it, is very emotionally distressing. Lean-to's, deserted streets, tumbleweeds and stray, mangy dogs and children with dark deep pools for eyes. Boredom. And the stifling, unshifting heat.
To say that this trip went smoothly for us too; would also be a lie. (Thelma and Louise, we ain't!) which brings us to a Policeman— who couldn't decide whether to leave us in the desert, alone, without our vehicle, in 107 degree heat. Or the perfectly pleasant but adamant Border Patrol, who do mandatory stops. (This is border area, and if you are not American, note; you will need to carry appropriate docs).
At the end of the day, though, we were thankful for the opportunity to meet the clever Desert Rain folk, who were knowledgable and passionate about cooking with, and educating people on centuries old ingredients, and grateful to try cool new tastes.
Top pic: PRICKLY PEAR GLAZED CHICKEN BREAST SANDWICH with CHOLLA BUD SALSA: The chicken breast is glazed with the ruby red fruit, found on the Prickly Pear Cactus. It's served on a simple, whole wheat roll. (The glaze tasted like Dijon with Pomegranate to my uneducated palette. Sweet but with a mustardy bite) The Cholla is a bud picked from the Buckhorn Cholla Cactus and is harvested by hand, in Spring. It's vibrant flavor is similar to an artichoke, or asparagus (which makes a bright, fresh tasting salsa).
To find out what a Cholla Bud is: Click here.
To see pics of the Tohono picking the Cholla Buds: click here.
Below pic: TEPARY BEAN and SHORT RIB STEW: Tepary beans are the most drought and heat proof bean in the world. They have a woody, natural flavor, and are hand picked from the farm. They are cooked in just water, not chicken stock, making the soup very unaffected, somewhat flat, but pure and earthy. It's served with corn bread which was hand made using whole sweet kernels of corn.
To find out what Tepary Beans are: Click here.
To order your own Tepary Beans, check out this great site called Rancho Gordo. They are a Napa, California based company with an impressive range of heirloom beans, as well as dried corn, chile's, grains, herbs and spices. Check out their story here.
Note: Desert Rain café is trying to open a outpost in Tucson. Please support them if you live in the region. (And do try the Mesquite Flour Cookies, they're amazing!)