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Phone: 520.907.9471
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Cholla Cactus Flower Buds

It is not every day that you can try this amazing food of the desert--truly a superfood. It has incredible nutritional properties (click on nutritional panel). This is a food that traditional Native People of the desert know is VERY important to eat--as well as being delicious!! High available calcium. Great for young children, nursing mothers, elders for warding off osteoporosis. High complex carbohydrates. Balances blood sugar. Important for diabetics! Sustained energy. No salt.--You can't get much better than that!

Cholla cactus only blooms in April, sometimes into May, in the hot low plant communities of the Desert Southwest. That is when the buds--just before the flowers open--must be harvested, de-spined, prepared and dried carefully. It is a labor-intensive process that requires at least a week of preparation. When the buds are dried they shrink way down and look crinkled, but that is how the Desert People traditionally stored them safely for long periods of time. Then, when the buds are reconstituted, they cook up with their original delicious flavor and nutrient-richness.

A fabulous book to read for traditional Tohono O'odahm cholla bud (chiolim) recipes is: From I'itoi's Garden, Tohono O'odham Food Traditions by Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA) and Mary Paganelli Votto and Frances Manuel, published by TOCA. You can find it online at www.tocaonline.org.

Scroll down for instructions on reconstituting the dry cholla buds and for tasty recipe ideas for this rare and wonderful food. YOU too can learn to harvest from the desert and enjoy FRESH cholla cactus buds in April! Watch for announcements under Workshops/Events on this website for scheduled dates, times, and locations throughout the Sonoran Desert taught by Flor de Mayo Ethnobotanist Martha Ames Burgess.

Here are some great recipe ideas:

Hints for Preparing to Cook with your
Dried Cholla Cactus Buds-- Chiolim

Fully dried Cholla Cactus Flower Buds (known as “chiolim” in O’odham language) will last indefinitely—Drying is the way Native People stored them traditionally, to last through the next winter and beyond. Store your cholla buds in glass jars or other sealed container. Paper bags, sufficient for short term, may invite bugs.

Preparing to Cook your Dry Cholla Buds:

Plan ahead to RECONSTITUTE your dry buds!
Alert: Unless you grind dry buds to use as thickening powder, most recipes are written with quantities for FRESH whole buds. You will need to pre-soak and simmer (reconstitute) your dry buds BEFORE MEASURING for your recipe. A good estimate is ½ cup of dry buds will yield about 2 cups when fully reconstituted to cook with. Dry buds are so hard they will take several hours of soaking before you begin cooking.

Step #1—The night before, place dry buds in a bowl or saucepan and cover with ample drinking water (at least 4 times the amount of buds).
Step #2---Simmer your soaked buds until soft—allowing at least 45 minutes and adding more water as needed to keep them covered. Some Native cooks say to simmer up to 3 hours. (Great time to use a crock pot or solar oven!)

Caution: Cholla buds are harvested from the desert, processed carefully outdoors, and are considered a wild product. Even after de-spining, there may be little hidden spines still imbedded in the buds. Once buds are reconstituted to full size, check again for stray stickers—like checking for little fish bones!
Do a Taste test: determine if all parts of the bud are soft through. If so, they are ready to eat or to use in many delicious recipes.

Try your prepared cholla buds steamed as a tangy vegetable, or in pasta salad, stir fry, omelettes, quiches, stews, with mole, or pickled. Enjoy this exceptionally nutritious and tasty treat from the desert Southwest! Reconstituted buds can be kept safely in the refrigerator for 3-6 days ready for eating or cooking.
©2011 M.A.Burgess

Cholla Cactus Bud Recipe Ideas

After your fresh-picked cholla cactus flower buds have been de-spined and prepared by boiling or roasting,
OR after your dry cholla buds are totally reconstituted, here are some great ideas for serving these delicious, super-nutritious, and rare treats of the Sonoran Desert:

Use fresh as appetizers:  Add a dash of sea salt or lemon pepper or balsamic vinegar, and serve cholla buds with toothpicks for an off-the-wall Southwest delight.

Use as Dippers:  use cholla buds with dipping sauces like BBQ sauce, Mexican sauces or Oriental sauces.

Use in Salads:  toss cholla buds in pasta salads or fresh salad for a new flavor note!

Pickled:  place fresh or reconstituted cholla buds in your favorite pickle juice to marinate for a few days, then serve as an hors d’oeuvre, or as a garnish, or toss them  with other veggies in green salad or pasta salad.

Stir-fried: in olive oil, stir-fry buds with other leafy veggies such as cabbage, kale, and celery or with root foods like carrots, and top with soy sauce for an Oriental flavor.

Stir-fried: in olive oil, stir fry cholla buds with onions, garlic, green chiles for a Southwestern flair.

As a tangy vegetable:  cholla buds taste great just steamed and served with butter and salt, or sauteed onions.  They are a little like asparagus tips with a tang!

In  Quiches:  add cholla buds to your favorite baked quiche dish.  They combine delectably with cheese quiche or green chile quiche.

In scrambled eggs:  scramble your buds with eggs, and a dash of parmesan for an elegant breakfast.

In  Stews:  Toss in cholla buds into your favorite meat stews for extra thickening and flavor.

In casseroles:  Bake buds into your lasagnas; vegetable, meat or cheese casseroles.

Soups:  In vegetable soup, chicken, meat soups cholla buds add great texture & flavor.

With roasts:  Add cholla buds to your roasts with carrots, celery, onions and potatoes!

In Cornbread:  Add cholla buds to your cornbread batter and find delectable surprises.

As gravy or sauce thickener:  Grind dried cholla buds in mortar or coffee mill and use powdered buds as a healthy thickening agent for your gravy or sauces.

Get creative—you can put cholla buds most anywhere in your meal and you will be adding fun flavor, innovation, and super-nutrition.
©2011 M.A.Burgess