Thursday, May 26, 2011

Prickly Pear Cactus and You

In my yard is a fantastic huge prickly pear cactus. If I didn't cut it back it would overtake the house! This spring has been plentiful with fruits and new growth. Spectacular yellow flowers are also in bloom. I decided to take advantage of the harvest and freeze some fruit and paddles away for our upcoming One Block Feast contest with Sunset Magazine.

First I harvested some young paddles to make nopales. When they are about 8 inches is the best time to harvest.

The paddles have less spines than the fruit. Nopales are a commonly used in Mexican cooking. They are often likened to okra because they can be slimy. Proper prepa
ration helps that though. Cutting away the spines is kind of like scaling a fish. Start at the base of the pad and scrape along. It's actually quite easy.

After the spines have been removed slice and dice.

For cooking bring a pot of water to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes. Drain the water then boil more and cook for another 5 minutes. This helps to draw out the sap so they are less slimy. Nopalitos keep well in the fridge and are great with eggs, in salsa, salad, or anything really.

Prickly pear cactus provides delicious fruits called tuna in Spanish as well as the nopale vegetables. It almost needs its own blog post! Said to be a magical elixer there are hundreds of varieties of prickly pears. Made into juice, jam, candy, and ice cream prickly pear is high in vitamins a & c, calcium, magnesium, potassium, taurine, antioxidents, flavenoids, and fiber. It helps lower glucose in diabetics. It's good for brain health with taurine, and heart health by managing cholesterol. Poultices help in healing faster and fighting off infections.

Working with these juicy fruits however can be a challenge. They have hundreds of tiny spines. Some people burn them off on the stove or over a campfire. I carefully cut off the bottom and top and slice them open. The skin then peels away leaving the flesh. I usually juice it because it is quite seedy. The flavor is mellow and slightly sweet, vaguely melon like. Prickly pear cactus provides us with a meal, a dessert, and a flowery bouquet!

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