Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Nopales: What Are They and How Do I Cook Them?
Nopales are cactus leaves, called paddles (calling to mind ping pong paddles without handles). They are various shades of green and have bumps and thorns, which must be removed. I often see nopales in Latino grocery stores in Southern California, where I live. Curious about their taste, I decided to buy some at the bargain price of 3 pounds for 99 cents.
The first person I consulted about how to cook nopales was the young woman at the checkout. She told me that her mother boiled them to get all the ‘liquid’ out.
I next consulted the blog of Mexican food expert Pati Jinich:
http://patijinich.com/recipe/cleaning_cactus_paddles_or_nopales/. It told me how to clean and cook fresh nopales. It’s simple but time-consuming, and unless you wear rubber gloves you are likely to impale your fingers on the thorns.
Basically you need to use a potato peeler to dig out/peel away the bumps and thorns from both sides of the nopales. Then cut away about 1/4 inch of the edges and 1/2-inch of the stem. After that, cut each nopale into 1-inch squares and fry the squares in a tablespoon of oil in a frying pan for 2-3 minutes. Then lower the heat to medium-low, cover the pan and let the pieces cook for about 10 minutes. During that time the ‘liquid,’ which is similar to the goo that comes out of okra, will appear on the bottom of the pan. Remove the lid and continue cooking for a few more minutes until this ‘liquid’ evaporates.
You are left with a pan full of soft, spicy green squares that make an excellent addition to stuffed tortillas, salads and soups.
If all this seems like too much trouble, you can buy jars of pre-cleaned and cut up nopales in some grocery stores. But where’s your sense of adventure?