Quick Recipes and Easy

How to Cook A Cactus Pear

Cactus pear, or prickly pear, grows in many places in the United States as well as throughout the Americas, and not just in the arid places where most cacti are at home. I know people who use cactus pear for landscaping in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia and other such places that are anything but dry.

Given its wide range and ease of growing, not to mention its abundance in the wild, I’m surprised that it doesn’t show up in more recipes than it does. Perhaps it’s the difficulty of harvesting the cactus pads that deters most would-be cooks.

You can find cactus pear pads in many Mexican specialty grocery stores, or tiendas, where you may find it under the name of “nopal.” When chopped up and added to dishes that you may find in a Mexican restaurant, the pieces may be referred to as “nopalitos.” The scientific genus name, covering some 250 species, is opuntia.

Even if you choose to harvest some prickly pear pads from a plant growing in your yard, it’s worth the extra effort. Truly, it is a versatile plant that can be prepared in a huge variety of tasty ways. Scientists are also learning that it has many health-giving properties.

When collecting cactus pads, whether from your yard or from the wild, be sure to wear thick gloves to protect your hands from the spines and from the hairlike growths called glochids, which can really irritate your skin. Try to pick only the young, tender pads, which will be glossier and greener than older ones.

Remove the spines and glochids by carefully peeling the pads. Once they’re peeled, you can even eat the pads raw if you want. Try chopping them into small pieces and adding them to salads, where their taste will be somewhat like that of green peppers.

To cook cactus pear, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Peel and slice a couple of excellent-sized cactus pads and drop the slices into the boiling water. Reduce heat and let cook for about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and drain. Now you can add butter and any favorite seasonings (powdered garlic is fantastic!) and serve.

You can also sautée cactus pear chunks in a skillet. With or without seasoning, they will make an fascinating side dish to any meal.

A well loved dish in the southwestern U.S. and parts of Mexico is an omelet made with cactus pear pads. Again, just cook the chopped cactus pads in a skillet and add it to the egg batter for the omelet.

As you can see, cooking with cactus is not as formidable as it might seem to those who are unfamiliar with this plant’s long history of use in cuisines from the south of the border. Try it!

Sarah Sandori is the food and entertaining columnist for the solid-gold.info/index.html Solid Gold Info Writers Consortium. Have you ever wanted to be able to exactly duplicate a favorite dish from a favorite restaurant? Check out Sarah’s article where she reveals her secret source for the most mouth-watering restaurant recipes in America: solid-gold.info/most-wanted-recipes.html solid-gold.info/most-wanted-recipes.html

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