A few days ago, my friend Maryellen (aka @yogacowgirls) asked me to make a salsa from the Prickly Pear Cacti that she grows. In addition to hosting the Association of Professional Landscape Design folks on their tour of Portland gardens, she is also having a plant sale for the Hardy Plant Society of Portland. We decided she did not have near enough leaves for these tribes...so we supplemented by ordering three pounds.
Now, nopales are the round, succulent leaves of the prickly pear. And, as you might suspect, are quite prickly...
And thankfully, the pads I received were already stripped of most of their needles. (Note that I say most of their needles...I recommend plastic gloves because there are always a few left and they are really annoying).
Before you use these plump little fellows, the little nubs (previously held the spines) have to be removed and the leaf trimmed. I grabbed my trusty Santuko knife and my favorite veggie peeler and went to hacking. Here's what I learned: believe it or not, these leaves are not that sturdy. So handling them requires a gentle touch.
Take the leaf and lightly scrape the knobs to remove. Use a knife to trim the outer edges, then keep the leaf in tact and slice into segments like this:
Add a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and you are ready for step two...grilling. The Nopales have a bit of a slime factor (like okra), so grilling is an important step for this recipe. Cook over a medium hot grill for about 15 minutes until browned and reduced in volume. Since I already had the grill out, I cleaned and grilled a pineapple or two, as well as ears of corn. I just find that the grill really concentrates the flavor.
Once grilled, (don't be alarmed because they are pretty damn ugly looking at this point) chop into salsa size pieces. I have to say, I was really worried, thinking there was no way I was eating this stuff. But really, they are absolutely delicious! To me, they have a flavor similar to tomatillos. Tart, zingy, fresh, verdant....an excellent component for a summer meal.
I made a huge batch of salsa, so I am going to approximate the proportions for something a bit smaller. For a small batch, I would say 1 pineapple to 1 to 1.5 lbs of Nopales is a good start. But hey, it's salsa, not brain surgery...so don't worry too much about it.
You will need:
1 pineapple, cleaned, quartered, grilled, chopped
1.5 lbs Nopales, cleaned, quartered, grilled, chopped
2 fresh ears of corn, grilled, removed from cobb
1 red onion, chopped
4-6 really tasty tomatoes
2 bell peppers (yellow, red or orange), chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 bunch of fresh basil, chopped
sea salt and pepper
dried Chipotle pepper flakes
In a fridge friendly container, zest and squeeze the juice of three limes, add a healthy dose of sea salt and pepper, then whisk in enough olive oil to create a nice marinade. Add Nopales and pineapple, let stand for 2-3 hours or overnight.
Prepare the tomatoes by cutting in half and removing the "guts", chop and add to a big bowl. Add onion, bell peppers, corn, and jalapeno. Add a generous amount of sea salt and black pepper. Add Chipotle pepper flakes to taste. Zest and add one lime.
Grab Nopales mixture from the fridge. Using a slotted spoon, add contents to the salsa. Stir to combine. Add fresh basil, stir to combine. Let the flavors develop by refrigerating for a couple of hours or so. Serve with chips or as an accompaniment to fish, chicken or pork.
Yes this salsa is a bit more work than you might want to do every evening, but man, it is fantastic! The balance of the tart Nopales and the tart and sweet of the pineapple is so yummy...but the depth of flavor brought by the grilling and Chipotle peppers.
I hope you will give this dish a try and let me know how it worked out for you!**For more information on Nopales, including where to buy, check out: