Prickly Pear Cactus Salad (Ensalada de Nopal)

I’m at the fruit & vegetable stand, and I come across fresh diced cactus. Of course, I whip out my iPhone and start to look up recipes for using this interesting ingredient, which seems to be primarily in a salad.  We did have a very large (and I do mean very large) prickly pear cactus in our front yard at one time, and we did eat the prickly pears, but I never was brave enough to try cleaning the pads

Once home, I found there are SO many different thoughts about preparation.  Boil in water for 6 minutes, for 20 minutes, for 30 minutes.  Just boil it and drain.  Or boil and keep scooping the slime off (eww! what did I get myself into?).  Don’t boil, just saute.  Of course, I took the easy way and decided to saute.  While there are so many differences in preparation, the dish’s ingredients were all pretty much the same as salsa.  Instead of onion, tomato and peppers, I decided I would do something completely different.

I sauteed the cactus with shredded carrots in olive oil and some balsamic vinegar, then added some chopped red peppers, cherry tomatoes, salt, pepper and chili powder. While sauteeing, the cactus does release a lot of juice, and I just kept cooking it till it evaporated, the balsamic began to thicken to a syrup, and the cactus was tender.  Really, there isn’t a distinct flavor to it, and the texture is like an under-ripe peach, a little juicy but still firm.

Served on a bed of greens with a broiled chicken breast, this makes a substantial meal. The health benefits:  low calorie yet high in fiber, vitamins (A, B complex, C) and minerals (calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron)

While they can be eaten raw, I didn’t try it.  In the future, I think I might try adding it to a chili, or grill whole pads as a side dish.

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