When I was a child, Mama always had domestic cactus growing in her garden along with corn, tomatoes, zucchini, chilis, and a multitude of other vegetables and herbs, not to mention a variety of fruit trees. It was a typical Mexican garden. We dined well.
From Mom’s cactus she would prepare nopales and oh, how I loved them, along with her homemade tortillas. I believe nopales are a vegetable; if you have not tried them, they are not like anything you have ever tasted.
To start at the beginning, my grandpa, Juan, would cut the new baby cactus leaves, called paddles, remove the little thorns and deliver them to Mom in the kitchen. The paddles would then be cut into little squares, prepared with tomatoes, onions and a bit of finely diced fresh jalapeno to add a little spice. The recipe below is the closest I came to her nopales recipe.
Another edible treat from the cactus is tunas (prickly pears). What a wonderful fruit, similar to pomegranates in that they are full of seeds. When ripe the fruit is a beautiful magenta color, almost neon. The flower of the cactus grows from the end of the fruit.
As kids we ate them raw, however the juice can be extracted by removing the outer peel and processing the insides in a blender or processor until liquified. Strain and discard pulp. Six to 12 pears makes about one cup. Mix with fresh lemonade, a great summer drink. Heck, throw in some vodka, mint and a couple of thin lemon slices. Yum.
They have recipes for prickly pear sorbet, fruit salad, — and I have to try this one — prickly pear cactus mojito.
I just went to amazon.com and typed in prickly pear. The site had prickly pear syrup, juice, extract, marmalade, etc, all rather pricey, but I will order anyway as the nutritional value is incredible.
Now for the recipe mostly from simplyrecipes.com.
Nopalitos with Tomatoes and Red Onion
• 1 lb. nopalitos, nopales prickly pear cactus paddles that have been stripped of spines (tiny thorns), cleaned, and chopped
• olive oil
• 2 large cloves of garlic, minced
• 1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
• 1 jalapeno pepper, stems and seeds removed, chopped*
• 1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
• salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat a tablespoon of olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pan — I use 2 tablespoons — in a large saute pan on medium-high heat. Add red onion, garlic and jalapeno. Cook for a minute, stirring occasionally, then add nopalitos. Cook for several more minutes. Add the chopped tomato. Continue cooking until all vegetables are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately. Yield: Serves 3-4
*I finely mince the jalapeno. The chopped jalapeno is a little too (ouch) spicy for my taste.
Note: Next time I may add a little bit of cooked chorizo to the dish for meat lovers. Enjoy.
Category: Lola's Kitchen