The world is full of cactus, but we don’t have to sit on it. ~ Will Foley
Let’s eat it instead.
Cody Lundin of Dual Survival. Mykel Hawke and Ruth England of Man Woman Wild.
After years of watching these TV survival experts hydrate with pine tree sap and feast on creatures I’d sooner stomp with my shoe, you’d think I wouldn’t be surprised how good cooked cactus can taste.
But I was.
Nopales, the paddle-shaped stems some refer to as “cactus leaves,” are a staple in Mexican and southwestern cooking. They’re harvested from the prickly-pear cactus, of which there are beaucoup varieties. The same kind you see when hiking Baylor Canyon.
Come nopales season, almost every grocery store stocking Mexican goods carries them.
Nopalitos (Little Nopales)
Kitchen divas in Mexico and here in New Mexico carry them home where they de-spine and slice the nopales into nopalitos ~ literally “little nopales.”
Then they cook them up in ways that make family members and honored guests smile.
This is that season. And, at a recent dinner party, I was one of those “honored guests.”
The nopalitos, at first glance, looked similar to diced chile. However, the taste is unlike chile or anything else I’ve tasted. Spicy, yes, but not too spicy. Seasoned with red pepper, cilantro, and onion, I thought the nopalitos a tasty side dish. And that is how it is traditionally served.
But it’s as seasoning to other foods that nopalitos shine and “tasty” becomes magnificent.
I mixed them with the beans, rice, beef brisket, and chopped chile ~ also on my plate ~ and made those already delicious things even better.
What food have you heard is tasty but have yet to try because it looks . . . dangerous?
For more information about eating cactus, check out this cool article.
Featured image, nopalitos, by megan.