You really can’t eat that!! Oh yes you can and you will love it, too.
Yes, this is a cactus plant. Kinda pretty isn’t it but would you be the first person to eat one? I’m always curious what prompts someone to eat a plant or fruit for the first time. Fruits are a little easier to understand but why in the world would you risk bodily injury to eat a cactus?? These things have serious spines and they hurt when you accidentally bump into one. Obviously, no one would bump into one of these on purpose. 😮
This is what we call nopal cactus. Nopal is the Mexican name for the Opuntia cacti, what most people know as Prickly Pear. It refers to both the plant and the paddles. They are everywhere in the Southwest and West United States and is a very invasive species, kinda like a weed. Because of their hardiness and low maintenance, it’s not uncommon to see them in landscaping. In fact, the nopal in the photos is an 8 year old nopal at a business 1/2 mile from the house. When I requested permission to take photos they also told me I could come harvest the fruit later this summer. SCORE!!!!! 🙂
In Mexico, there are over one hundred known species of Nopal. In fact, it’s a common ingredient in numerous Mexican cuisine dishes. Previously, I posted a Sorbete de Tuna Roja (Red Prickly Pear Sorbet) to show you one means of cooking nopal. Nopal, however can be cooked in other ways and not just the fruit. Indeed, the paddles themselves are edible as are the flowers. The nopal pads can be eaten raw or cooked, used in marmalades, soups stews and salads. This post is for my blogging buddy Conor who was curious if you really could eat the paddles. Well, Conor (and the rest of you) you absolutely can. Not surprisingly, it has chiles 😉 and this is what we did.
- 3 Tbsp oil, split
- 3 lbs fresh nopales, rinsed, cleaned and diced
- 1 sea salt, or to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup white onion, diced
- 2 oz red chiles, seeded and diced
- 2 cups fresh corn (roughly 3 ears)
- 1/2 lime, juiced
First thing first, clean the cactus paddles of their spines.
Once the paddles are cleaned, cut them into squares. Add 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet over medium-high heat.
Add the diced nopales.
Notice the nopales are slimy kinda like okra? The trick to nopales is to cook them long enough to get rid of the slime. This is done one of a couple of ways. You can boil them or you can sauté them like in this recipe. Stir the nopales for a couple of minutes and let them sauté.
Place the lid on
reduce the heat to medium and let the nopales cook and sweat for about 20 minutes, stirring once or twice. You will notice the nopales’ slimy liquid will have begun to dry out.
Take off the lid, add salt,
stir and make sure most of the liquid has dried up; if it hasn’t, let them cook for a couple more minutes until it does.
When the slimy liquid has dried, pour in the rest of the oil.
Now, add the onion
the red chiles
Mix well and let it cook for about 3 to 4 minutes.
Add the lime juice.
Stir and cook covered for another 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and adjust for salt, if needed.
Put in a nice serving bowl.
Serve and enjoy. We most definitely did and you will, too. 🙂