Either name you use doesn’t matter as they are commonly known as cactus. I’m sure you’ve seen them – flat cactus “pads” growing every which way, producing flowers that are brilliant in colours, yellow, red, purple, orange, some produce flowers and some produce fruit. Nopales is the plural word for nopal.
Today was my first experience consuming prickly pear cactus but it’s been on my mind for quite some time, back since I heard about using the pads in a burger. I planted a cactus in my front yard in the hopes that one day I would be able to use my cactus as a food source but it’s still quite small so one day while I was showing properties there was a prickly pear cactus in my journeys so I grabbed a couple of pads to bring home to try. It’s been here for a couple of weeks with little to no deterioration but I’m sure, given enough time, it will deteriorate to the point that it can’t be consumed.
Today I decided to cook it for breakfast and since I really have no clue as to what I’m doing with prickly pear pads I turned to a well-used resource – YouTube. I found some videos on how to cook them and of course after I got started on one recipe I lost track of the video and couldn’t find it again so found another one. The first video
has us cooking the nopales pads in water with vinegar. According to the woman recording the video the vinegar tenderizes the nopales so that is what I did. Then I lost this video and had to find another one which didn’t include cooking them first in water with vinegar. So I put the two together and came up with my own.
Nopales have a texture similar to green peppers, crunchy skin on the outside and crunchy “meat” on the inside, however the “meat” of the nopales has a slipperiness we usually associate with okra. Don’t worry if you don’t like this sliminess as the cooking process seemed to eliminate it.
After my nopales were cooked, I drained them, rinsed them then added back to the frying pan with a bit of olive oil, added more onion, more garlic, and cabbage, thinly sliced, and fried the whole mess together. It wasn’t bad for a first time, enough so that I will do something again with them. I only hope that I can find some with fruit because from what I saw the fruit looks pretty good too. And there are even more recipes available for sweet things made from the fruits.
The fried dish was quite mild in flavour and slightly crunchy and we had it as a side dish to scrambled eggs with toast.
According to the Mayo Clinic (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/expert-answers/prickly-pear-cactus/faq-20057771) the prickly pear cactus can be part of a healthy diet and is promoted to aid in treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. One cup of prickly pear pads is approximately 60 calories, and because it’s high in fibre you could have minor intestinal issues, like with other high fibre foods. Start slowly, which is what I did today, small bits just to see how we would respond to this food.
If you see prickly pear cactus pads in your local grocery store don’t be afraid to try them – you may be pleasantly surprised. We were.