Don’t let the title of this entry fool you, I’m not saying that cactus is stuck up. I’m saying that when you eat it, it tastes like it’s squishing mucus onto your tongue. Apparently people don’t mind the sensation in places where cactus actually grows.
When I saw cactus paddles in the very fancy new Loblaws grocery store in the renovated Maple Leaf Gardens (where our dear hockey team used to play, in case you’re not local) I knew I had to take them home and figure out how to cook them. Just seeing them made me feel like I was a few degrees closer to Wil E Coyote.
I was a little concerned about how to get rid of the spines, but this website explained that it was very simple and straightforward to peel them off using a regular veggie peeler. Also, I had a backup plan, because my son had just gotten a sliver and I learned that the best way to remove anything very small and shard-shaped is to soak it in plain white vinegar. That piece of info has very little to do with cooking, but it was such a valuable life’s lesson that I couldn’t miss an opportunity to share it with you. Slicing the spines and “eyes,” off the cactus was actually very uneventful in the end, so you can save my bonus info for a run-in with a baby porcupine or something (not really).
Anyway, back to cooking. I cut the edges and ends from the paddles as the site above suggested, until I was left with what looked like two green beaver’s tails. I sliced these into bite-sized pieces, and it was at this point that they began to ooze.
I rinsed (and rinsed and rinsed) the clear snot from the cactus, and then sautéed it in olive oil for about 10 minutes, because I had read that more “babas,” or sticky liquid, would be released upon cooking, and I wanted to get rid of as much of it as I could before adding it to my beef stew, the recipe I had chosen to showcase my new veggie. After sautéing, I rinsed the diced cactus in a colander again. Then I cooked a fairly typical beef stew, based on this recipe:
Beef and Cactus (Nopales) Stew
- 2Tbsp olive oil
- 2lb stewing beef, cubed
- 2 med onions, diced
- 2 cactus pads, prepared as above
- 1 14oz can tomatoes, diced
- 1 14oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 4Tbsp chili powder
- 900mL beef stock
- 3Tbsp flour
Directions: Heat olive oil in stewing pot over med-high heat. Add onions and cook 2 minutes. Add beef and brown it, then sprinkle with flour and cook for another minute. Add remaining ingredients and bring to boil. Reduce to simmer and cover, stirring occasionally, for an hour or more.
Can you already guess how I felt about cactus? The stew tasted as expected (traditional), but I couldn’t get past the mucus-y squish of the cactus pieces. The flavour was nice, though, tasting a little like green pepper. I was surprised that my husband finished his entire bowl without complaint, although he said he wouldn’t go out of his way to eat cactus again.
Rating: 3 Gags. After I had already cooked this dish I read that boiling cactus with a pinch of baking soda would remove most of the babas. If only I had the courage to cook it again.
FYI: Apparently cactus is a good hangover remedy, calming the stomach, rehydrating the body, and improving liver function. Maybe it is worth a second look after all.