Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Poor Man's Food: Cactus, Cacti Salad

How Mexcians figured out how to harvest and eat cactus you got me but it shines as a testament to their ingenuity over the centuries. Not only do cactus give water to quench one's thirst in the desert, but they are edible and part of the Mexican/Indigenous cuisine. In summer, the Tunas (cactus pears will be ripening and if you have never tasted one you are missing out on one of life's delicacies. How to peel the skin and avoid the disastrous spines, and get to the sweet pulply fruit inside, is another of life's mysteries and a credit to Mexicans. (I can tell you how on another espisode or if you simply ask).
The Aztecs would carefully peel back the thin layer of the cactus shoots, dry it and use it as paper to draw and paint on. The needles were carefully removed one at a time so that a long strand of skin would remain attached. Then they could sew with it.
Finally, they discovered that by drying the fibrous cores (skeleton of the plants) they would burn long and hot for fires. Strong ropes and cords were also woven from the tough fibers.

Ferocactus pilosus (Mexican Lime Cactus) growi...Image via Wikipedia



If you want to blow people away at your next party with something "ethnic" try making some Cactus Salad (Nopales). If you just happen to have a cactus plant in your back yard, cut slice off 4-6 new shoots, usually in spring, when they are bright green and tender. My mom insisted they must be cut before 10 AM or they will not keep that nice tart flavor.
Otherwise, you can buy the shoots whole or diced at many local super markets. If they are whole, you have to slice off the spines with a sharp knife. Danger: be careful not to stab yourself! Make sure the knife is sharp and that you get all of them! You can trim about 1/4 inch all the way around to get the ones on the edges. When done, cut into 1/2 inch strips, or dice into 1/2 inch squares. (Of course, you can cheat and buy some cactus in a can already cooked! Then skip the cooking part.)
Heat some water in a medium pan and toss in the diced cactus, with some garlic cloves, onions, and a dash of salt and boil (15 minutes?) until tender. Remove the cooked cactus and place them in a strainer and wash thoroughly with cold water until all the "slime" is removed. Then place in a large bowl to cool, while you dice fresh cilantro, avocado and tomatoes. When done, stir in and mix with the cactus. You can also squirt a little lime juice into the mix. Mmmmm. Chokes me up just thinking about it!
Serve as a side dish with any food and wait for "what's this?" reactions and some unexpected compliments. Some never acquire a taste for cactus but that is to be expected. There are still deadheads around that don't like onions, garlic, spinach, artichokes or even mustard! Imagine that.

6 comments:

#167 Dad said...

Happy belated birthday. I've been away from the blog world. Hope all is well...

Rick Rivers said...

Thanks. Me too - not much inspiration lately.

*AnairA* said...

i LOVE nopales, thanks for the receta! i've never tried them with avacado and lime

Rick Rivers said...

AnairA: Wow! Haven't heard from you for a while. How was your trip down south? Yes, nopales a real down home treat.

*AnairA* said...

Can you believe they don't eat nopales in Peru?! I couldn't either. According to our traveling buddies-they only eat the tunas. Peru is a beautiful country. I pushed myself beyond what I thought were my limits on the 4 day trek to Machu Picchu- click on the link below to see some of my pictures. I visited Lima, Cuzco, El Valle Sagrado, Machu Picchu & Aguas Calientes
http://www.slide.com/r/EGwHqe367z_qqGA9mh1YXq1O4txfmCop?previous_view=lt_embedded_url

Nain said...

I have to try this sometime.