Today I went to the Webster Flea Market to get our weekly supply of veggies. I took the motorcycle as the parking situation is really tight. I thought I might be able to get a closer parking spot with a smaller vehicle. It worked ! I parked right up by the entrance where I go in near the veggie buildings.
While checking out some green beans with one vendor, I overheard the customer next to me talking to the young lady running the booth. Seems she was asking what the container of cactus pads were used for that were on display in the booth. She said "I know I've heard that if you're stranded in the desert, you can cut them open and get fluid out of them to drink." That was also the extent of my cactus knowledge as far as uses goes. The young lady said no, they actually were edible but kind of left it at that. With that, my culinary curiosity was piqued so I did some research.
Seems that Nopal cactus, also known as "Prickly Pear" is a medicinal and food plant with a 12,000 year track record. Young tender pads (or leaves)are a vegetable source and the fruit of the prickly pear is another crop. The health benefits are extensive and information can be found here
As a food source it can be peeled and sliced and used in stir fry dishes, diced up and used in salsa, grilled with olive oil, pickled, tossed into soup or used in other dishes where texture, zest and color are desired. Nopal juice is also available and is in concentrated form (to be added to water for the proper dilution). They also make a powder which can be reconstituted. Cactus juice cocktail, anyone ?!?
Here is a recipe I found that sounds interesting:
* 6 large nopal cactus paddles, cleaned
* 1/4 medium white onion
* 1 large garlic clove, peeled and halved
* salt to taste
* 6 slices manchego, jack or gouda cheese
* 1/4-1/2 cup flour
* 3 eggs, separated, at room temperature
* 1/2 cup corn oil
Place the whole cactus paddles, onion and garlic in a large pot with water to cover and salt to taste. Bring to a boil and cook for 15 minutes, or until the nopales are tender but still firm. Drain and rinse.
Starting at the wide, curved end, carefully slice each paddle horizontally, as if butterflying a chop for stuffing. Do not cut all the way through to the narrow end (the thicker part where the pad is attached to the main plant) but leave approximately 1 1/2" uncut. Place a slice of cheese between the two sections and press flat.
Dredge the paddles in flour. Beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks, and fold in the lightly beaten egg yolks.
Heat the oil in a large skillet until a few drops of water sprinkled into it bounce around. Dip the stuffed nopales in the egg batter to coat and fry in the hot oil until golden brown on each side. Serve immediately with red salsa.
Kinda sounds like a veggie quesadilla.....Let me know if you've eaten them in one form or another.