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Since my Prickly Pear has come on I can begin to harvest the paddles -- the nopales -- for eating.

This is a plant we KNOW grows in Queensland. Indeed there are twenty PP species that have naturalised into Australia. Of these all but one species -- Opuntia  ficus-indica-- are classed as weeds.

In Melbourne the  Opuntia  ficus-indica  fruits (called 'Tuna' in Spanish)are sold in fruit and veg shops...as any fool (like me) soon knows  after they touch them without the tongs provided..

But you also eat the paddles -- 'leaves' -- and that was my main interest in growing the cactus.

Pick the paddles at the size of your hand.

 

As for taste:

Nopales are a severely under-appreciated vegetable. They are what a green pepper could only hope to be (well, if it was not allowed to turn red, that is). Nopales have a bright, refreshingly clean green taste. Maybe like green beans spritzed with kiwi. But subtler. And they are quite nutritious, too, being a good source of Vitamin C, manganese, and calcium. It is most commonly stir-fried / sautéed with onions and served alongside meat. It is great for fajitas, tacos, and even in egg dishes. (Indeed, huevos con nopales [eggs with nopales] is a common dish in Mexican cuisine). The only drawback for some (the spines notwithstanding) is that cactus is a succulent, meaning it stores quite a bit of mucilage (aka slimy goo). So if you don't like slimy foods, you may not like nopales. But if cooked at a high heat, the mucilage dissipates some. And like okra, you can use the mucilage to your advantage, giving your dishes a more moist mouthfeel.

I can't speak from any great experience from Nopales cuisine (my last harvest was Xmas day) but I strongly recommend this  cooking means:

This is my preferred size. I've tried grilling the paddles whole on a bbq and I've seen recipes that suggest that, but I'm not a fan of the slime. Oh yeah, did I mention that nopales are naturally slimy? I guess I should have before you got this far! There's an easy way to reduce the natural babas though; get a pot of water boiling and throw in the nopalitos. After about 5-6 minutes of cooking you'll notice the water is thick and gooey. Dump all of it in a colander, rinse the nopalitos, bring some more water to boil and repeat. By the time you're done the nopales will be cooked and much of their natural "slime" will have been released in the boiling water. Drain well.

For the curious, this is what ensalada de nopal looks like (Nopal salad) and for DIY cooking try this link: How to Cook Cactus Paddles (Nopales) / Cómo Cocinar Nopales.

And another: Cactus Tacos.

However, since I just munched my way through half a raw paddle, I point out that they can be eaten raw. My nopal was a  young one that did not even require trimming of spines. I thought it a surprising taste so did some research.

Nopalitos are slices or strips of nopales, the pad-like leaves of the nopal, or prickly pear, cactus that is native to Mexico. While nopalitos are typically boiled or grilled and used in salads, soups, chili or egg dishes, University of Nevada professor emeritus Robert Morris says that raw nopalitos are a specialty often eaten in the Sonoran region of Mexico. Nopalitos are similar to green beans, bell peppers and asparagus in taste. The key to enjoying them raw is to prepare them correctly and to combine them with seasonings that accentuate their delicate flavor and texture....

  • Serve the raw nopalitos as a simple appetizer by putting the strips into a shallow bowl and covering them with freshly squeezed lime juice. Top with a sprinkling of paprika and let sit at room temperature for a few minutes before serving to allow the flavors to mingle.
  • Cut the strips of raw nopalitos into small squares. Toss with chopped cilantro, ripe tomatoes, avocado, red onion and a minced chili pepper, such as a serrano pepper. Mix gently with a dressing prepared from olive oil and lime juice and serve as a salad at room temperature.
  • Combine raw nopalito slices with the traditional ceviche ingredients tomatoes, tomato juice, lemon juice, white onions and seasonings like garlic and coriander. Let rest at room temperature for three to five minutes and serve as a nopalito ceviche. Add seafood like shrimp, clams or squid, if desired.[REF]

Other DIY:

To avoid the slippery texture, rinse cooked nopales and drain in a colander, cover with a damp towel to keep the pads from drying out, and let stand about 30 minutes before slicing or serving.

  • Sauté nopalitos in butter or oil and serve.
  • Grill until slightly browned, slice into strips and toss with a squeeze of lime and a little bit of olive oil.
  • Dice and cook in an ungreased pan with chunks of onions, one or two cloves of garlic until no longer slippery, about 5 minutes, then rinse.
  • Grill or boil, dice, and add to salsa or salads.
  • Sauté with scrambled eggs, diced onion, chiles, and tomatoes.
  • Sauté bite sized pieces in butter for about 5 minutes then add eggs and cheese to scramble.
  • Cool for 15 to 20 minutes in boiling salted water; pour off the water and rinse in cold water; use in salads, stews, or as a vegetable.
  • Boil, drain and wash with cold water; serve with finely diced tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and jalapeños, season with vinegar, salt and lime juice.
  • Grill and serve with grilled Portobello mushrooms.
  • Dice and sauté bits with chili pepper and sausage or grated cheese in tortillas.
  • Cut boiled, cooled strips and combined in a salad of tomatoes, onion, oregano, cilantro, chilies, oil and vinegar.
  • Stir squares into soups, about 10 minutes.
  • Stir diced into chili or beans in last the 15 minutes.
  • Slice the pad and sandwich to enclose cheese, then dip in a light egg-flour batter and deep fry.
  • Steam, dice and add to scrambled eggs.
  • Toss with tomato, onion and vinaigrette.[LINK]

And for those wondering about other attributes (and this is an extension of my interest in aloe vera utility): Nopales has some health benefits (see here) --but I've seen research that argues that taking the capsules/powder is not effective. But the markers are: (a)Nopal may help Type 2 diabetics in more ways than one; (b)Nopal can alleviate digestive problems and bring cholesterol levels down

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Just as a matter of interest: the spines are the leaves and the green parts which look like leaves, are the stems. Applies to all cacti even the what-used-to-be-called Zygocactus that soft rainforest cactus which flowers in winter. They have no spines but the flat 'leaves' must be stems since flowers don't happen on the ends of leaves.

The Nopales tasted rather 'lemony' (to be kind) aka 'acidic' and had enough spines to make it mandatory to remove them before eating.

Easiest way to cook some for the first time is to slice it bean like and fry it up with your bacon and eggs.

Very pleasant tangy slightly lemony taste. The mucilaginous aspect is fried out.

yes that is how we cook ours - bacon eggs and fried beans yum !

I have a fairly good collection of opuntia, including the only variety ever produced by Luther burbanks for fruit quality ( the others were bred as  cattle fodder, and are spineless).

I have O. Engelmanii, O. Linguiformis, O. Gigantea, as well as the burbanks and torrance 1.

The Americans have bred a yellow fruiting variety that is seedless.

In Mexico, the fruit are known as Tuna and are graded by colour ( Tuna blanca, Tuna Verde, Tuna Roja). The green fleshed types are rated the highest. They are all considered inferior to columnar cereus fruits, especially Stenocereus queretaroensis and Stencoereus gummosus. Cereus peruvianus is a good fruit too, I rate it over prickly pear. Have never tried nopales, supposedly they taste like green beans mixed with asparagus.

Your collection is more for the fruit DM? They would be interesting to try.

The one I grow is a (mainly) thornless Nopales for pad eating. The fruit proved worthless.

I know the fruits are grown commercially for the Melbourne market and have been for decades. 

I suspect that it was the Southern Italians who embraced the fruits' delights (as they are also invasive in Italy)and before gentrification the inner city suburbs of Carlton, Fitzroy, et al all had many Prickly Pear rising above their fence lines...as well as figs and grape vines. They are a Italian backyard garden standard. 

you can also see the same around Brisbane...New Farm, for instance.

But the Nopales weren't sold or -- as far as I recall -- eaten. 

Example:  Lizio's Prickly Pear and Cherry Orchard.

And an article on the farm: Prickly by name and by nature

Priced around $1 each for fruits.

They're not a fresh eating out of hand fruit. The seeds are insanely hard, you could probably fill shotgun shells with then. People have been hospitalised with constipation from eating too many prickly pear seeds.

The best way to deal with them is by using a chef's blow torch. Just cook off all the hairs ( glochids) while the fruit is still on the plant.

They're best made into syrups/jellies/candies.

Prickly Pear fruit jam is sensational. It has so much pectin it's tough to spread and kind of rolls up chasing the knife.

opuntia is probably the most useful plant in existence....it's actually amazing how many uses there are for opuntia. You can even purify water with the pads.

http://www.fao.org/docrep/005/y2808e/y2808e05.htm

They are spectacularly invasive in Australia and were an ecological disaster until the introduction of the cactoblastis cactorum moth, which sounds like a spell from the Harry Potter films, but absolutely decimated the Australian population of opuntia.

Ccatoblastis cactorum will kill your dragonfruit, too. 

I was driving clients around Kenmore today and saw a big stand of cactus. As in Opuntia. Bit surprising in suburbia these days.

Since I now have around 10 Prickly Pears growing in a soon-to-be succulent forest, I am appreciating the ready harvest and the increasing number of opportunities  to experiment in the kitchen.

Last night i made avery quick Nopal and Choko salsa which I enjoyed immensely.

  • Equal quantities of Nopales (Prickly pear paddles) and very young chokoes.
  • Chop raw Nopales into short narrow lengths and score the chokoes with a fork before doing the same. 
  • Toss with apple cider vinegar; chopped spring onions, smashed garlic and chilli (if you like) and a slurp of olive oil (if your preference). Dash of salt and fresh ground pepper.

This refreshing salsa offers a crisp tasty lemony hit. You could add herbs if you want...but simple works. 

Unlike lettuces, i find nopales keep well in the fridge -- so they are easily on hand to add to any day's menu. I assume they would also serve as a substitute for Okra in soups and gumbos. Given some of their health benefits, that may be a good idea:[LINK]

  • Nopales are one of very low calorie vegetables. 100 g of fresh leaves carry just 16 calories. Nonetheless, its modified leaves (paddles) have many vital phytochemicals, fiber, anti-oxidants, vitamins, and minerals that can immensely benefit health.

  • The succulent paddles are rich sources of dietary fiber, especially non-carbohydrate polysaccharides, such aspectin, mucilage and hemicellulose. Together, these substances help bring reduction in body weight, LDL-cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. This rich fiber and mucilaginous content in cactus pads aid in smooth passage of digested food particles through the gut and help relieve constipation problems.

  • In addition, the juice extracted from the noples has been suggested to have immune-booster, and anti-inflammatory properties.

  • Cactus pads feature moderate amounts of vitamin A with 100 g fresh pads carrying about 457 IU of vitamin A, and 250 µg of ß-carotene. ß-carotene converted into vitamin-A inside the body. Studies found that vitamin A and flavonoid compounds in vegetables help protect from skin, lung and oral cavity cancers.

  • Further, nopal pads contain small levels of B-complex group of vitamins such as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin B-6 (pyridoxine), and pantothenic acid. These vitamins are essential for optimum cellular enzymatic and metabolic functions inside the human body.

  • Fresh pads contain average levels of vitamin-C. 100 g provides 9.3 mg or 15% of this vitamin. Vitamin C is a water-soluble, natural anti-oxidant, which helps the body protect from scurvy and offer resistance against infectious agents (boost immunity), and help scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the body.

  • They contain small amounts of minerals, especially calcium, potassium, magnesium and iron.

ALSO:[LINK] --Medicinal Use Of The Latin Food Staple Nopales: The Prickly Pear Cactus

Why do you prick your choko before cutting Dave?

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