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I have not tried these recipes personally, as cactus (Opuntia sp.) pads are not generally available in U.K. supermarkets. However, Opuntia species have been introduced and grow in many countries. Do be careful to remove the spines and glochids completely before eating any Opuntia pads. These recipes are only for Opuntia pads and should not be adapted for other species of cacti, some of which are poisonous. Some of these recipes were sent by Dr. Andreas Laras.
Cactus Pads - also called: Nopalitos and Cactus Leaves
All opuntia species are edible (non-toxic) but some species are easier to use than others. Two parts of the plant are edible, the pads (nopalitos) and the pear (tuna). The pads are vegetable and the pear is fruit. The State of Texas named the prickly pear cactus as the state fruit/vegetable in 1995. Texas A&M in Kingsville, TX has done extensive work on a cultivar designated as the 1308 which is spineless, resists cold weather and contains less mucilage.
While young opuntia pads contain less mucillage, some work has been done on cactus mucilage as a possible dietary supplement to increase soluble fiber intake which has various health benefits.
This is an interesting treat for a cookout. Scrub cactus leaves well with a vegetable scrubber to remove any spines that may be on them. With the end of a potato peeler cut around the spiney nodules and remove them. Make sure that all are removed. Grill the leaves over charcoal or wood fire for 10 to 12 minutes on each side. Thicker leaves may take slightly longer to grill. Brush leaves with oil occasionally while grilling. Serve hot.
Scrub cactus leaves and remove spines. Use a potato peeler to cut around spiney nodules and remove. Slice cactus leaves into bite-size pieces. Saute cactus leaves in a small amount of butter for 5 minutes. Remove. Beat eggs in a mixing bowl and add shredded cheese and cooked cactus leaves. Pour in heated skillet and scramble. Serve warm.
Simmer pork in salted water for 2 hours or until cooked and tender. About 30 minutes before pork is finished add prepared nopales sliced into bite-size pieces. Meanwhile, in a blender combine the garlic, jalapenos and some water. Puree until smooth. Peel the tomatoes, remove seeds and chop. In a large pot place the tomatoes, puree, pork and nopales. Add chicken stock and simmer for about 1 1/2 or 2 hours until tender. Salt and peper to taste.
Preheat the broiler. Carefully trim edges and cut the spines from cactus paddles; brush the paddles with 1/2 tsp. oil. Broil the paddles, 4" from the heat source, turning occasionally, until limp, 10-15 minutes. Cool, cut in half lengthwise, then cut each half into 1/4" wide slices. Set aside.
Jalea De Cacto (Cactus Jelly)
This is the best recipe that I have been able to find for cactus jelly / jam. However,
it does not appear to be wholly satisfactory and some notes on possible improvements are appended.
2. Peel prickly pears, cut into pieces, and place in a medium-sized saucepan. Cover prickly pears with water and boil at high heat for 5 minutes.
3. Pour boiled mixture through cheesecloth. Drain as much juice as possible and discard seeds.
4. Measure juice. Combine 3 cups of cactus juice, sugar, and lemon juice in a large saucepan or kettle.
5. Bring mixture to a rolling boil. Reduce heat to medium-high, add liquid pectin, and cook mixture for 8-12 minutes, or until the mixture begins to thicken. Skim off any foam that may have formed.
6. Pour mixture into hot, sterilized, half-pint canning jars and seal according to manufacturer's directions.
7. Process jars immersed in a Boiling Water Bath for five minutes to seal the lids. Test seal when cooled.****
* Prickly pears are fruit from the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia sp.) and may range in color from yellow-green to deep purple-red and in colour in size from that of an apricot to 6-inches long. For this reason, there is no accurate way of judging how many pears it may take to obtain a given amount.
** The acidity of the lemon juice is needed to promote setting of the pectin which combines with the sugar to set when cold.
*** Liquid pectin is added because, presumably cactus fruit does not contain sufficient pectin to set. Even so, cactus jelly made in this way may "jell" soon after processing or can take as long as 2 to 3 weeks. Clearly native American people making cactus jam did not traditionally have access to liquid pectin and probably sufficient pectin was obtained either by stewing the peel of the fruit which in this recipe is discarded, for a longer time with the fruit pulp before straining, or from another type of fruit containing pectin. A modern equivalent could be to use green cooking apples, and as a starting point I suggest about an equal weight of cooking apples to the weight of cactus fruit.
To test for pectin, put 1 teaspoon of juice into a small glass, allow to cool and add 3 teaspoons of methylated spirit. Shake gently and leave for 1 minute. A jelly like lump indicates that plenty of pectin is present. Lots of small lumps indicate that little pectin is present and that the jelly is unlikely to set unless more pectin or another high pectin fruit is added.
**** This step should not really be necessary as a well-made jam / jelly should keep well for months without further sterilisation.
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