Nopales, two ways

Nopales? What’s that?

It’s a food staple in Mexico, coming from the leaves or the ‘paddles’ of the prickly pear plant. The plant is a noxious weed in Australia. Often you see it by the side of the road or in uncared for bits of pasture.

So one day when retreating bushwalking, I thought that I would see what it tasted like as a food.

It was a bit of an effort to harvest: I didn’t have gloves, so I used two flat rocks as my “gloves” and twisted the paddle around and around until it tore off. I wrapped it up in newspaper and took it home.

Now I know that before I returned the 1000 Mexican Recipes book to the library, I took some photos of the recipes on how to prepare nopales. I have misplaced that photo, so instead Mexico in my Kitchen was my guide.

Here is the ‘raw’ paddle:

Cactus paddle

Oh my goodness. I managed to pick a paddle that tiny feathery prickles on it. When disturbed, these prickles scatter all over your chopping board, knife, kitchen bench. If you want to try this at home, don’t pick a paddle like this. Pick one with giant vicious single spikes that hurt like blazes when you trip and fall and land on one.

Yes, I really have done that.

It was quite hard scraping all the prickles off. A sticky gooey substance oozes out when you cut off the spines, then the knife gets coated in it. Of course, since I only had one paddle, I was trying to maximise the amount of green left.

Here is the paddle, deburred, prior to washing:

Cactus deburred

During the washing process, the thing dripped sticky mucilaginous liquid everywhere.

I had one paddle, so I prepared it two ways:

1. Boiled, As per the Mexico in my Kitchen’s instructions
2. Raw, after salting; as per the comment from Fiamma Culinaria in Mexico in my kitchen’s post (8th comment).

Boiled with a pinch of salt. I did not do this for the suggested 15 minutes, I only let it got for about 5 minutes whereupon it turned brown, and I took it off the heat.

Salted for 5 minutes, then washed again. They were sticky.

Nopales two ways

Boiled is on the left, raw is on the right.

I made a salad using the nopales two ways. Mesclun lettuce mix, tomatoes, avocado, coriander, marinated fetta. I used bottled lemon juice (ethics of using bottled lemon juice versus imported lemons: discuss), and almond oil for the dressing.

Nopales Salad

The salad was nice. I didn’t emulsify the lemon juice and almond oil together first, which contributed to the ‘sharpness’ of the salad dressing.

But the nopales? Ever so salty. It appears that the nopales are just a carrier for salt. If I tried this again, I would probably try the raw washed paddle, without the pre-salting. Or only 1 minutes worth of salting.

It was a lot of effort deburring the paddle. I think perhaps the eating of the prickly pear paddle originated from famine, which then became a tradition.


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