In Texas, cactus is as local as it gets! This time of year it’s a great local food. Now I know I have a lifelong job digging prickly pears off this property. The interesting thing is I grow the thornless variety in my yard. When the new pads start coming on, I harvest them and make some dishes. Nopales (nopalitos, cactus) are nutrient packed and help prevent and control diabetes.
One of the doctors speaking at University of California talked about the benefit of indigenous foods, and said in Mexico virtually every home had a cactus growing in the yard because it’s part of their diet. I planted mine because I like the way they look, it just so happens I like them for food also.
Even though the variety of cactus I grow has very few thorny parts, there are still some small hairy stickers around some of the eyes. I use tongs to handle them. Choose the new pads coming on this time of year, because they are really tender. I wait until they are almost the size of my hand. Break them off of the main plant, then with tongs, hold the pad on a flat surface and scrape with a knife until the little eyes pop off. Then I just trim off the edges and slice into bean like strips. You’ll have some mucilage forming like okra does. Next all the strips go into a pan of boiling salted water for 10 to 15 minutes. Lately I’ve been putting a little apple cider vinegar in with the water. Drain the cactus well and you’re ready to make a recipe. Of course you could always use the jarred variety, but fresh is so much better. For more information and some additional recipes, try these sites: Mother Earth News – How to Eat Cactus and Pati’s Mexican Table.