Nopal (cactus), commonly known as Prickly Pear Cactus ( Genus: Opuntia) is a popular vegetable in Mexican cuisine. Nopales (cacti) are available fresh in some U.S. markets in three ways:
- their natural state with spines intact (in which case tongs are provided for selecting your purchase)
- whole pads with the spines removed
- precut into strips (nopalitos) ready to cook.
My preference is to purchase the whole cactus pads with the spines removed because most of the work is done and because I like to remove a little more of the skin. It is too late for that when already cut up into little pieces.
Prepared nopalitos are available in cans or jars for quick use. This time I made my my own pickled nopalitos from scratch.
The de-spined cactus pads I bought the other day were already starting to get rust colored spots from (I presume) oxidation. My skiving tool is perfect for removing very thin layers of skin.
I submerged the newly skinned cactus pads in water to prevent oxidization.
Cactus, when cut, exudes copious amounts of clear slimy sap (visualize 37 drooling St. Bernards). Soaking the cactus leaves in water did nothing to stop it. It was a slimy mess transferring them from bowl of water to cutting board and then the cut strips into the cooking pot. Cooking seems to be the only way to stop the drooling.
I covered the nopalitos, chunks of onion, halved garlic cloves and deseeded Serrano chiles with water and boiled them with a little salt for about 20 minutes, after which time they had lost their brilliant green color.
I rinsed the cooked nopalitos in cold water and left them to drain for several minutes, then I rinsed them again.
At this point they could be sautéed and served as a side dish, cooked with eggs or used as any other vegetable. I went on to pickle mine.
I transferred the cooked, rinsed and drained cactus, including the onion, garlic and Serrano chiles, into a jar. Meanwhile I had heated equal amounts of white vinegar and water with whole cumin seeds, turbinado sugar and kosher salt. I poured the hot liquid into the jar over the nopalitos.
The pickled nopalitos will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks, by which time I’m sure they will be consumed in salads, on pizza or nachos, in burritos or in omelets.