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I Can't Believe I Ate a Cactus

I Can't Believe I Ate a Cactus

After gazing at a mound of de-spined cactus pads in the Produce Department or glancing curiously at bags and jars that say "nopalitos," you may have wondered, How on earth are you supposed to cook that?

Nopalitos QuicheVery carefully; after all, it's cactus! Just kidding. Actually, nopales, the edible leaves of the prickly pear cactus, are surprisingly easy to prepare once you know how to do two things: de-spine them (usually already done for you) and de-"slime" them. Although the cactus' slime supposedly has beneficial medicinal properties, it's aesthetically unappealing -- par for the course when it comes to any kind of slime. Ewww, gross.

Don't be deterred! Nopalitos are a traditional part of Mexican cuisine for a good reason. They're incredibly versatile, as splendid with scrambled eggs for breakfast as with cotija or feta cheese in a salad.

Although we offer (de-spined) nopales in their entirety to please old-school cooks who prefer to slice 'n' prep the cactus pads themselves, there are more convenient alternatives, too: The pre-cut/bagged nopalitos in the Produce Department and the jarred variety in the grocery aisles provide time-saving shortcuts that take you straight to the prep stage.

The prep work... The most challenging aspect of handling nopalitos is slime removal. Fortunately, the solutions are simple: First, rinse them thoroughly with cold water, and then toss them with a wee bit of an acidic food, i.e., a splash of lemon or vinegar or chopped tomatoes. (A useful side note: You can take similar steps to de-slime okra.)

Is the gunk gone? If so, do your happy dance, 'cause you're almost done! The nopalitos are now ready for use in your favorite recipe.

Don't have a favorite nopalitos recipe yet? Travel the pages of our Recipe Corner and learn to do a classic Mexican nopalitos salad, or perhaps something more contemporary, such as a nopalito quiche.

Have your cactus and eat it, too. Enjoy!

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