Chris and I went on a plant hike yesterday with Shrek. The wildflowers this year have been outrageously beautiful, so we wanted to see what was blooming since our last hike two weeks ago. We saw three different penstemons since we were there last and saw the Penstemon virens blooming. Here is Chris looking deep into the throat of a pink-purple penstemon flower as he went through the process of identification. This particular penstemon remains a mystery at this point because we didn’t have the better botanical key with us. Next time we go, we’ll take Weber’s book with us and I know we’ll be able to id this beauty with that key.
Two years ago our neighbors gave us a nopal cactus (which is an edible cactus used to cook nopolitos) originally from their home town in Mexico. Last year, they showed me how to cook it several different ways. It’s really delicious!
Some time back I posted on this blog how to propagate the nopal cactus, so that you could grow it as an indoor or patio plant and then harvest the pear-shaped pads to cook with. I never got around to posting up the directions of how to prepare the cactus pads for cooking. This past week we shared a plant with our brother, Rob, and I told him I’d tell him how to prepare it for cooking. That prompted me to just take some pictures as I was preparing some pads for my own cooking. So, here is how you do it…
The first step is to cut the pads carefully off the cactus plant using a very sharp knife. You’ll see where the pads are jointed at the connection point of each pad to the cactus, and that is the spot you cut at. Once you have cut the pads off, you need to soak them in clean cold water for about 10-15 minutes. This causes the spines, which are very tiny and the dark spots you see in the picture, to swell up from the water. That will make them easier to remove.
Next, carefully remove the pads from the water and place on a cutting board. Remember that those dark spots are cactus spines and if you are not mindful they will get stuck in your skin, which is not only painful, it’s difficult to remove them since they are quite small. Now that the cactus pad is on the cutting board, hold it securely and carefully with one hand and with a very sharp knife begin to peel off the dark spots where each the spines are. It is really only necessary to peel away the little dot of spines. You do not have to peel the whole pad. That said, my kitchen knives leave a lot to be desired in terms of being very sharp, so I have some trouble peeling off the spines and often end up peeling more than is necessary.
This is the pad once I’ve finished peeling off the spines, and as you can see I’m not expert at it. When Chalo peeled the pads that day to show me how to do it, he had a perfectly shaped pad with just little nicks where the spines had been removed. Oh well, one of these days I’ll buy a decently sharp knife and then I know I’ll end up with a much prettier end result. Once you have all the spines peeled off of both sides of the pad and along the outer edge, rinse both sides of the pad in cold water to remove any lingering debris that might still be clinging to the cactus pad.
Cacti are often filled with a mucilaginous gel, and these are no exception, so expect your peeled cactus to be oozing some slimy gel. No worries about that happening.
Take your rinsed pad back to the cutting board. FYI: Be sure to also rinse the cutting board you used for peeling the cactus on to remove any wondering spines that might have clung to the cutting board. Now, dice the pad up into small pieces.
Put the dices nopalitos into a sieve and rinse very well with cold water to remove a great amount of the slimy inside gel.
Put your rinsed dices nopalito pieces in a bowl in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.
How do you cook them? Well, there are a zillion ways from what I know about it. Sandra and Chalo cook them with scrambled eggs often and we have done that too and it is really tasty. Another way is to cook some pork, chicken or beef until tender, then add the nopalitos and cook some more until tender and serve as tacos. You can prepare a mexican red sauce to cook the nopolitos in if you want and then add the meat to that, serve with beans on tortillas. I’ve also fried them with potatoes, onions and peppers at the suggestion of another friend, Blanca, who long ago told me that was her family’s favorite way to eat them. No matter how you prepare them, I think you will really enjoy them. They are delicious!!
Last week was my first really significant garden harvest and things have been steamrolling since. This was my first real harvest. Since them I’ve been picking cucumbers, tomatoes, squash ,peppers and peas every other day. The strawberries are starting to fruit more heavily now too, and tonight I’ll be putting my first batch of those in the freezer. The crock pots and dehydrators will be running nearly 24/7 from now through the rest of the gardening season. That’s usually nearly Thanksgiving in November for us before we get a killing frost. Yippee. So, now we have lots of fresh produce to eat each day and produce stored away for winter groceries after the garden is done.