Nopales en Mole

nopal photo by riverdell.comAs I was making progress towards eating solid foods I suddenly and inexplicably developed a craving for nopales, known to gringos as prickly pear cactus, and not widely eaten by them. Nopales is not really one of my favorite foods, mine or anyone else’s: It is often eaten during Lent in Mexico as a form of penance. I had a jar of canned nopales in the pantry but I wanted fresh. So I sent my long suffering husband out to get some. He probably thought oh no she’s pregnant again.

It happened that the Mexican guy who works at our local market couldn’t help noticing this big gringo buying nopales.  It’s a bit unusual. He asked my husband how he was going to prepare them. My husband conjured up memories of boiled nopales and said, “Um… I guess my wife boils them?”

“Well that works, but we do them on the tortilla press, with a bit of carne asada and limon and cilantro.”

I haven’t worked my way back up to meat yet, and that’s OK. I don’t make a habit of eating great chunks of meat anyway. But the limon and cilantro sounded just fine. I thought I would just put mole sauce on the grilled nopales.

Here is the thing about nopales that people really hate: They are very slimy unless you do a multiboil and change the water several times. The problem is, the slime is very very good for you and in some way my body was calling for it. I couldn’t remember exactly what nopal is supposed to do, but I since looked it up:

nopal (nō·pälˑ)

n Latin name:

Opuntia streptacantha Lemaire, Opuntia ficus indica; parts used: cactus pads; uses: diabetes mellitus, hyperglycemia, hyperlipidemia, constipation, and gastrointestinal conditions; precautions: none known.

Tortilla PressAHA! I certainly need whatever gastrointestinal help I can get at this point, and probably half the USA adult population has hyperlipidemia to some extent. I thought I wonder if a hot grill with pressure will seal in the slime. I also wondered if the tortilla press was even meant to be heated. The normal use for it is to press cold tortilla masa into the familiar circles that you then pan-fry very lightly just to toast the corn a bit. I so rarely make tortillas because we can get good fresh ones here and they are a lot of work.

Not that preparing fresh nopales isn’t work. These ones came with most of the spines rubbed off, either that or it’s a not-very-spiny-to-begin with hybrid. You still have to prep though, and the way I was taught was to make sure to remove all the little black “warts” that the spines grow from. Like a fishbone, you do not want to ingest a cactus spine!!

Now… about this tortilla press idea… nothing to do but try it. I placed the press upon the cooktop and cranked up the heat. I put some grapeseed oil on the hot side, laid an even layer of nopal, closed the top and let it sizzle. You can tell when they are done as they get a cooked color and look clear on the inside.

I then smothered them in mole sauce and ate them. Was it delicious? Ummmm….. not really. But did it satisfy that craving I had? Absolutely. The grilling process seems to cut dramatically on the slime in your eating experience. All that wonderful slime got inside me where it can do some good.

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