Nopales: I’m Gonna Eat CACTUS?

The prickly pear cactus is nothing to laugh at. It has both long and small spines, and the small ones hurt just as much as the long ones. In some areas around Phoenix, the cactus serves as a natural fence–better than razor wire–to protect road-building equipment.prickly pear cactus

And then I read that people eat this stuff. “Right,” I muttered, “and they wash it down with nice broken glass. Prickly Pear, when prepared, creates something wonderful called “Nopales” (which means cactus in Spanish), or more often, Nopalitos, a great snack food.

The broad flat leaves of the prickly pear cactus and the stems are edible. So is the fruit, which is often turned into jelly and a gum-drop like candy.

The leaves are cut and the spines pulled out. Then the eyes of spines are removed. After that, the cactus is cut into small, regular pieces. Most people cook them. Ugh. Not me. There is a strong okra-reactions when cooked. When left raw, they taste almost exactly like raw green beans sprinkled with lemon juice. Much better. No slime. You can also grill them, which avoids the problem and adds a nice smoky taste.

nopales in panThe best news is that nopales are sold in Mexican markets, cut up, cleaned and ready to use.

Yesterday, I experimented with some preparation ideas. I found the best way to prepare them raw was to marinate them. Use any of the marinates below, soak them for about an hour, drain the marinade (don’t rinse) and serve with toothpicks for stabbing and eating.

Marinades for Nopales

  • The easiest (though not the best) is bottled Italian dressing. Cover, soak for an hour or 2, drain, serve.
  • Mix dark sesame oil and rice wine vinegar (twice as much vinegar) to make a tart marinate. Cover, etc.
  • Drain a jar of pickles, use the juice as a marinade. Cover, etc.
  • Pour a jar of sweet pickle relish (hot dog relish) over the nopales. Cover, etc.
  • Mix a cup of raspberry vinegar with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add a dollop of raspberry jam, and a shot of hot pepper sauce or a few grinds of tellicherry pepper.
  • Pour a bottle of salsa (Spicy is good) over the nopales and marinate. Do not drain. Eat with chips.

Don’t miss this great treat. Enjoy!

Imagees: prickly pear cactus: http://www.moplants.com nopales in pan:http://www.ranchogordo.com,

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who likes to cook. She’s married to a personal chef, and together they make great calories together. Quinn is also a writer and artist. See her work at QuinnCreative.com

Steel Cut Oats: Worth the Time?

Oatmeal has always been a favorite breakfast food in my house. Not the instant, which always tastes as if it had been made in the Play-Doh factory, the old-fashioned. Yes, they took a little longer to cook, but it could be done in five minutes. I cook oatmeal in milk, it gives a much richer taste. But milk means you have to stir, so 5 minutes is about all I could handle.

steel-cut oatsMy niece introduced me to steel-cut oats. I was astonished to find that they were not flat or flaked. These oats are still grain-shaped.  (You can see both flakes and steel-cut in the photo.)

The taste was completely different–sort of nutty, like wheat berries, and an incredible taste treat. They also filled me up completely for three hours, making it easy to pass up the donuts, eclairs and other breakfast goodies in my clients’ kitchens.

Steel-cut oats take forever to cook. The package I have said “about 10 minutes.” Only if you need to break out a few annoying molars. It takes a full 20 minutes to cook steel-cut oats. If you are cooking more than one serving, you can count on 30. I just don’t have 30 extra minutes in the morning, so I began to experiment with shortcuts.

Here are two that work really well:

1. Stir and run method. Put the milk (or water) into a deep saucepan, add the oats (follow directions on the can) and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once they have boiled for 30 seconds, you can turn the burner to warm (if you have an annoying electric stove) or the lowest gas setting. Then go take a shower or get dressed. Do not desert the oats. Check in once in a while to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. You probably will have to add more. I add water, even when cooking with milk, give it a quick stir, and go put on my makeup. By the time I’m ready for breakfast, the oats are done perfectly.

2. Cook two servings at once, following the instructions above. Eat one serving, and put the other one in a covered container. If you are covering the container with plastic wrap, make sure the wrap touches the top of the oatmeal to prevent milk skin from forming. The next morning, you simply pour a little milk or water into a pan and warm up the oatmeal. You cannot tell the difference in taste or texture.

Update: There are more than 95 comments so far with excellent suggestions, please browse them to learn so much more!

From the comment sent in by Jan: Before you got to bed, put a half cup of steel cut oats and cover with water. The next morning, drain the water, add milk (or cook in water) and bring to a gentle boil. Takes about 5 minutes to cook. Best suggestion yet!

Don’t reheat in the microwave, you will be eating dense, chewy little rubber bullets. Mix in dried cherries, fresh raspberries, or cut up crystalized ginger. Add sugar, honey, or syrup. Or just eat it plain.

You might also enjoy: Bulgur Wheat: Side dish, Main dish, Salad

–Image: Quinn McDonald.

Quinn is a writer and certified creativity coach.
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