May 5, 2014
Author: Tracy Des Jardin
My earliest memories of nopales are of my grandmother’s giant cactus in the backyard which was a big obstacle in our racing around the backyard- one didn’t want to have a mishap and land in that sinister plant. I knew grandma used to make something with the nopales, but I wanted nothing to do with the actual eating of it- I’m guessing I tried it once or twice and there was too great a slime factor for me. But I was an intrepid little prep cook and would spend hours with her in the kitchen carefully peeling the young succulent paddles- and then she would spend hours removing thorns from my little hands.
A few years ago I went down to Mexico to Diana Kennedy’s to cook with her and some of my dear friends. She taught us how to make a delightful Nopales salad- so this recipe is an adaptation of that one. Earlier this year I had occasion to make it for my 11 year old son, much to my surprise he loved it!
2 pounds young cactus, cut into ½ inch by 2 1/2 inch strips
½ pound tomatoes
1 small white onion
½ cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
1 serrano chile
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 beautiful avocados
Place 1 tablespoon of the oil into a sauté pan and begin to sweat the cactus- add a ¼ cup of water- cover and let cook on medium heat for about 7 minutes, the cactus should have turned dark green- cook for another 5 minutes until the liquid has absorbed back into the cactus- place in a bowl and chill.
Dice the tomato, finely dice the white onion, you’ll need ¼ to ½ cup- reserve the remainder for another use. Finely chop the Serrano chile- mix all together in a bowl along with the cilantro, the lime juice and the remaining olive oil, season well with salt and pepper. When the cactus is cool- add to the bowl, mix well and again adjust the seasoning as needed.
When ready to serve- place in a bowl or platter and place the sliced avocado on top- season the avocado with a squeeze of lime juice and a little coarse salt (Maldon or fleur de sel or any tasty sea salt). Garnish with a few cilantro sprigs.