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Cooking with Cacti

By Cheryl Forberg, RD
Image of Cactus Leaves (Nopales)
Many gorgeous succulent and cacti plants are edible – but you need to be sure which ones. Some are very poisonous. The prickly pear is my favorite, because I have an abundance of them on our farm. Not only are the cactus pads (or paddles as they are sometimes called) edible, but you can also eat the fruit of this plant, which are called pears or tuna. The paddles themselves are also known as Nopales. The best edible paddles or nopales are the younger ones – bright green and firm. These young pads are usually picked in the spring, and because of their age, they have fewer spines (or thorns) and they are more tender and flavorful.

While it’s much easier to buy them already prepared for you (thanks Melissa’s!), it is possible to pick and clean them yourself. But you must be sure to wear thick gloves (I wear leather garden gloves). Break the paddles off at their natural separation. Rinse them carefully (still wearing gloves!!) and peel away the spines with a vegetable peeler. Rinse well in cool water. At this point, I usually cut them in strips before cooking.

While they are absolutely delicious when grilled, I tend to simply boil them, as I did before adding to this flavorful salad recipe. Cleaned, prepped nopales can be stored in the fridge for about a week before using. In addition to the fact that they’re low in calories, they’re also high in vitamins, antioxidants and soluble fiber.

Cactus Paddle Salad (Nopales Salad)
Makes five cups or ten ½ cup servings

Ingredients:
1 pound Nopales, trimmed, scraped, and cut into ½ inch dice
1 cup canned Diced Fire-Roasted Tomatoes or 1 large Tomato, cored, peeled, diced
½ cup Red Onion, diced
½ cup Jicama, cut in thin julienne
¼ cup Cilantro, chopped
3 Tablespoons Grapeseed Oil
1 Tablespoon Cider Vinegar
½ teaspoon Chili Powder
½ teaspoon Ground Mustard
½ teaspoon Oregano, chopped
¼ teaspoon Ground Black Pepper
1/8 teaspoon Ground Cumin
1/8 teaspoon Ground Coriander
1/8 teaspoon Salt

Garnish:
2 Tablespoons Green Onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons Crumbled Queso Fresco or Feta Cheese

Directions:
Heat water and ½ teaspoon salt in a 3 quart saucepan.
Image of Add nopales and boil, uncovered, until just tender, about 5 minutes
Add nopales and boil, uncovered, until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Image of Drain the cactus and transfer it to a medium mixing bowl
Drain the cactus and transfer it to a medium mixing bowl. Cool.

Add tomato, onion, jicama and cilantro; set aside.
Image of In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and spices; pour over the vegetables and toss
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, and spices; pour over the vegetables and toss.
Image of Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with cheese and green onions
Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with cheese and green onions.

Serve cold or at room temperature.

Nutrient Analysis for 1 ½ cup serving:

Calories 60
Fat Calories 40
Total Fat 4.5g
Saturated Fat 1g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 0mg
Sodium 65mg
Total Carb 4g
Dietary Fiber 2g
Sugars 2g
Protein 1g
Vitamin A 10%
Vitamin C 20%
Calcium 10%
Iron 4%
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