For this Cinco de Mayo, we’re skipping the carne asada and enchiladas and swapping them for a more traditional ingredient: cactus.
The nopal cactus, also known as “prickly pear,” is a plant native to the mountains of Mexico. It has been used as both a food and for its medicinal benefits by the native peoples of that region since ancient times. It has been widely valued for its nutrition and vitamin content, which includes riboflavin, vitamin B6, copper, iron, fiber, vitamin-A, C, K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. It’s high content of dietary fiber makes it widely used to aid in digestion.
If your grocery store or farmers market doesn’t sell cactus, you can find it at most Latin grocery stores in the produce aisle, either whole or already prepped and chopped. (My local Whole Foods is selling bags of already chopped cactus for Cino de Mayo).
This homesick Texan decided to transform the traditional US Family Gathering meal of Green Bean Casserole by substituting the green beans with slices of cactus.
"Have you ever eaten cactus? Edible cactus, which in Spanish is known as nopal, comes from the prickly pear cactus, a beautiful plant that dots the landscape of West Texas. The plant has wide paddles that resemble a beaver’s tail and with a little care (yes, you remove the thorns) the paddles make for a delicious vegetable. It’s also extremely nutritious, as some studies have noted that eating cactus helps treat diabetes and lower cholesterol levels. Though health benefits aside, I simply like to eat it because it tastes so darn good. Eating cactus is pretty common in Texas, especially in San Antonio and along the border. The most frequent application is cactus scrambled with eggs, which makes for a fine breakfast taco filling. But you can also make cactus salad, cactus soup, cactus relleno or simply grill it and serve it with roasted meat.
When people ask, “What does cactus taste like,” the best answer is that it’s similar to green beans. And so with this in mind, I decided to make a cactus casserole to replace the green-bean casserole we won’t be eating this year."
Sure, it's been a long time, but it's a coup to be featured on national radio. Sadly the audio-portion is not stored. The interview was just short of ten minutes!
Cactus Recipes Courtesy of John and Victoria Dicus of the Rivenrock Gardens Cactus Farm in Nipomo, California
More recipes may be found at Rivenrock Gardens' Web site.
Cactus Leaf Preparation One should harvest the nopal cactus when the individual leaf is young and fresh. The leaves will generally be hand sized, they must have a glossy green sheen and be of minimum thickness, about 3/8" thick.
The family that cooks together stays together. Even decades from now, this grandmother will be connected to her granddaughters children when they cook this nopales cactus meal, handed down for generations.
Many of our customers say they take cactus as a medicine. It does not take much to regulate blood sugar. It is said to slow the absorption of sugar into the body and reduces the spikes in sugar levels. This is an endorsement of a prepared cactus juice that is marketed nationally.
People can buy our fresh organic edible cactus and see if they get the same benefits.