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).
We now have enough of the young and new cactus leaves of the springtime growing to begin picking and packing them into the nopal shipment boxes. Until this week we've been harvesting nopal leaves grown through the winter, they are tougher.. nothing like the springtime cactus leaves, which are the best nopal of the year.... the most precious, the most succulent, the most dear. The highest quality cactus you are likely to have ever seen. The springtime cactus harvest of 2016 has begun!
The highest quality, soft, tender baby-cactus leaves. The most sought-after cactus of the year.
Ahora tenemos suficiente de los jóvenes y las nuevas hojas de nopal de la primavera creciendo para comenzar la recogida y empaquetado en cajas de envío del nopal. Hasta esta semana hemos estado cosechando hojas de nopal cultivado durante el invierno, que son más resistentes.. Nada como la primavera hojas de cactus, que son el mejor nopal del año.... la más preciosa, la más suculenta, el más querido. La más alta calidad cactus es probable que haya visto nunca.
La primavera cactus cosecha de 2016 ha comenzado!
Client build #3
La más alta calidad, suaves, tiernas hojas de cactus de bebé. Los más buscados después de cactus del año.
This recipe shows the versatility of cactus. Cactus can substitute for many other vegetables, and makes a stunning change in flavor.
This recipe calls for taco seasoning mix, tortillas, cactus, refried beans, queso tresco, enchilada sauce and ground beef. It is in essence the Mexicanization of a traditional Italian recipe.... and it sure sounds like a great way to eat cactus!
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."
Art has been referred to as “food for the soul” but later this year one of America’s most influential living artists is to go one better and bring art for the stomach to London.
Ed Ruscha, one of the leading lights of pop art, is to contribute to a 30-day festival held at the Barbican with his own brand of food art: omelette with cactus, which will be served to hungry visitors.
People who practice a healthy, natural lifestyle often promote prickly pear cactus as a superfood. They cite the antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anti-clotting properties of the plant. In Mexican folk medicine, the cactus pulp and juice are used to treat skin wounds, stomach swelling, digestive problems and urinary tract infections.
Medical Research and Scientific Studies
According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, preliminary studies indicate that prickly pear extract may decrease blood glucose levels in patients with type 2 diabetes. The fiber and pectin found within the cactus appears to lower blood sugar by decreasing sugar absorption in the stomach and intestines. The plant extract improves insulin sensitivity, and it also protects the liver from oxidation.
The Nutritional Value of Prickly Pear Cactus
While doctors of traditional medicine hesitate to call prickly pear cactus a superfood, they believe that it can supplement a healthy diet. The high-fiber cactus is rich in antioxidants and carotenoids. Practically the entire plant is edible and nutritious, from the flowers and fruits to the stems and leaves.
"The International Journal of Food Science and Nutrition" reports that prickly pear cactus is a good source of several important minerals. Calcium, potassium, magnesium and phosphorus are among them. The prickly pear seed contains linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid with numerous health benefits. Read more about Prickly Pear Cactus as a Superfood
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.
This is a pretty standard syrup recipe, but using the brilliant magenta fruits of the prickly pear cactus as the fruit. Commercial versions of this syrup are used for fancy margaritas or are poured over pancakes; two excellent ideas.
I strongly advise you to buy citric acid for this recipe. You can often find it in the canning aisle of the supermarket under names like “Fruit Fresh” and the like. You can also buy it at homebrew supply stores. Most prickly pears lack any sort of acid tang and need something to keep them from being insipid. Lemons work fine, but I want base ingredients like a syrup to be pure in flavor.
This recipe is a guide: Prickly pears come in all sizes and sweetness levels, so use your taste buds and common sense. My pears were small, mostly about the size of limes. And they were sweet, but not overly so.