On Sunday, March 7, I hosted a Native Foods Cooking Class with Abe Sanchez, master basketweaver and native foods aficionado. Here is a photo of some of the foods students from CSUSM prepared with Abe’s guidance. The tepary beans on the lower right are from the Tohono O’odham Reservation in Arizona.

TOCA, the Tohono O’odham Community Action, a non-profit dedicated to revitalizing a healthy, sustainable, and culturally viable Tohono O’odham community, packages and distributes the tepary beans. According to TOCA, they’re one of the most heat and drought tolerant crops in the world. Tepary beans are also extraordinarily healthy—high in protein and very low on the glycemic index (29). The beans help regulate blood sugar levels and are particularly good for diabetics.

They’re also incredibly delicious! The students added some onion and watercress.

The students gathered both mustard and stinging nettle in my yard to prepare for the feast. Above, they’re washing the mustard greens. In the top photo in the lower right, cooked mustard  is prepared with tomotoes, onions, and garlic. I was disappointed that I didn’t love it. Damon Adamo, one of my former students who has lived in the South and eaten lots of mustard greens, suggested cooking it much longer to remove more of the bitterness.

What better way to help out the ecology of our region than by eating the invasives.

Above, Diane Gephart washes the stinging nettle. The red gloves she’s wearing, called True Blues, are from World Market, great not only for harvesting nettles but for prickly pear tunas as well. I love the gloves and have several pairs.

Above, Abe and CSUSM students remove the roots from the stinging nettle and mustard plants before cooking. A neighbor who heard I was hosting a cooking class brought over white sage, also on the table, and pumpkin bread for our feast.

In the photo at the top of this post, chia cornbread sits between the tepary beans and mustard greens. The students added a couple of cans of creamed corn to the mix to moisten the cornbread. The chia makes it extra healthy, and we topped off the cornbread with prickly pear jelly.

In the photo above, Tishmall Turner, CSUSM Tribal Liaison, is busy chopping onions that will be added to  just about everything. Tishmall is a member of the Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians.

Vegetable pods.

The students prepared cactus salad with the pads Abe had purchased at a Mexican market near his home. It’s not quite the right season to wild-gather new pads. The students added tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and some of the cooked tepary beans. For me, the nopales salad is the heart of the feast. Those are de-spined cactus pads on the side of the yellow dish.


Chop and boil cactus pads
Chopped white onion and cilantro, about 1 cup each
2 chopped jalapeno peppers
1 chopped serrano chile
4 handfuls chopped Roma tomatoes
6 to 8 spoonfuls of Tepary beans
Juice from 4 squeezed lemons or limes
Fresh queso blanco, about 1 cup
Add salt to taste

Combine all vegetable, beans, and fruit ingredients in a large bowl. Top salad with crumbled queso blanco, or white cheese. (Note: Abe says the cultivated cactus, Opuntia ficus-indica, is less spiny/prickly).

According to Abe, all parts of the cactus can be eaten. One of the highlights of the day, and there were many, was the cactus shots. Professor Small and a friend picked the prickly pear cactus fruits themselves. Deborah then removed the spines and juiced the fruits, also called tuna, skin and all. and froze the juice. Once thawed, we each got a shot of cactus juice as a treat. It was really good; it tasted somewhat like strawberry and watermelon mixed together. (Note: Abe says to remove cactus spines one can rub the cactus fruit in blades of grass to get the prickles off). —Teresa Eilertson, CSUSM student

Posted by deborah small


  1. If you want great mustard greens, pick the thick stemmed tops with florets before the flowers bloom. They should snap off very easily. Wash and cook in a little water to boil, drain and toss this first water which removes the bitterness, and replace with fresh water, then boil about 15 minutes if you like them soft. Serve with lemon juice and olive oil. They are not bitter, but very sweet. A number of my Greek friends prepare them this way, as they did with a very similar mustard at home in Greece many years ago. Their mothers would send them out to pick weeds and when they came to America they realized they were the only ones that did this. I have to pick bags of weeds every year for my friends because they know I have a lot of it here.



  2. Native Seeds | SEARCH http://www.nativeseeds.org/ is great place for finding tepary beans and other indigenous crops for growing in the home garden.



  3. Theresa Gregor, PhD March 10, 2010 at 9:11 am

    Looks delicious! Do you and Abe post the recipes anywhere? I am curious b/c I am organizing a Gala and am looking for a few tasty recipes using indigenous foods.




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