Prickly pear cactus are found in all of the deserts of the American Southwest. The flavor of prickly pears has been compared to kiwifruit, but not as acidic.
The pads of the prickly pear cactus are high in iron, beta carotene, vitamin C, and calcium. The method used to prepare the prickly pear cactus has a lot to do with the nutritional analysis on a prickly pear cactus. If the pads are heated to a high temperature as in frying, then many of the nutrients will be lost.
About the Prickly Pear
The prickly pear plant has two different edible sections: the pad of the cactus (nopal), which can be treated like a vegetable, and the pear (tuna), which can be treated like a fruit. The flesh of the prickly pear can be used to make jam, jelly, sorbet, wine, and " cactus candy ." Some people eat the seeds in soup or dry them to be ground into flour.
Boiled nopales are drained, washed off with cold water and served as a salad with finely diced tomatoes, onion, cilantro and jalapenos and seasoned with vinegar, salt and lime juice. You can also grill the nopales; coat generously with pepper, salt, and season with other spices of choice. The nopales are ready when they're tender and slightly browned.
Try stirring your cooked nopales into soup, mixing them in a salad or omelet, pickling them, or even eating them alone.
Tunas or prickly pear fruit should be picked using tong or a piece of heavy paper. To prepare tunas, rub with a heavy cloth or peel with a paring knife. To make juice, unpeeled whole fruit can be cooked with just enough water to cover in a sauce pan. Mash with potato masher and let cook 30 minutes. Strain through several layers of cheese cloth or cotton muslin dish towel.
In addition to aiding in weight loss, prickly pear may have other health benefits. Currently, prickly pear is under going studies for:
- Some studies have shown that the pectin contained in the Prickly Pear pulp lowers levels of "bad" cholesterol while leaving "good" cholesterol levels unchanged.
- Another study found that the fibrous pectin in the fruit may lowers diabetics' need for insulin.
- Both fruits and pads of the prickly pear cactus are rich in slowly absorbed soluble fibers that help keep blood sugar stable.
How about some prickly pear in your next healthy salad? Or a sweet tropical mousse?
Southwest Cactus Salad
2 cups Nopalitos, diced 1/2-inch pieces
4 green onions
1/2 pound tomatoes peeled
1/4 cup lime juice
2 tablespoons minced cilantro
1 bell pepper, chopped
Combine nopalitos, onions, lime juice and cilantro. Mix and season with salt. Serve or cover and chill. Recipe makes 8 servings.
Tropical Prickly Pear Mousse
1 envelope (1/4 ounce) non-flavored gelatin (1 tablespoon)
3/4 cup canned pineapple juice or water
4 prickly pears
1/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup whipping cream, whipped
In medium saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over pineapple juice or water; let stand 5 minutes. To peel prickly pears, wear protective gloves. Using tongs to hold fruit, slice off both ends of fruit. Slit fruit lengthwise and lift out pulp. Chop pulp. In blender or food processor fitted with metal blade, process pulp until liquified. Strain out seeds. Stir liquid into gelatin mixture with sugar, almond extract and salt.
Cook and stir 5 minutes over medium heat to dissolve gelatin. Place in refrigerator; chill 1 hour until mixture mounds when dropped from spoon. With rubber spatula or whisk, fold in whipped cream until blended (do not stir). Spoon into four dessert dishes or long-stemmed goblets; chill several hours or until firm. Recipe makes four servings.
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