The first time I worked up the nerve to taste nopales (prickly pear cactus pads) was in Dallas, over the holidays, at the Riverwalk Cantina in the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center. We’d gone there to see Ice!
Brrr! Supposedly, they keep the room at 9 degrees Fahrenheit! Fortunately, they supplied the winter coats. Anyway…
Nopale pads, when cooked, have a consistency like crunchy okra, but without seeds, fuzz, and most of the “slime.” They have a tart, almost lemony taste that’s enhanced with a bit of lemon juice. I rubbed a couple of the pads with olive oil and freshly sliced garlic cloves, added a dash of sea salt, pepper, and lemon and threw them on the griddle at 350 degrees, turning a couple of times until they were tender.
Then, I thought to check NutritionData to see if they were on my diet, and…wow.
They’re not only acceptable fare (low calorie, nutritious, gluten free, and free of added sweeteners) they’re awesome. “This food is very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Iron and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese.” And one pad is only about 4 calories.
I will warn you, now, though – be careful selecting them, cleaning them, and eating them. I felt like I’d gone a round with a small, distracted porcupine. Even after carefully cleaning and scraping all the little prickly bits I could see, I ended up with one stuck inside my cheek and another stuck in my finger. Keep tweezers handy. It probably would have helped if I’d read Cleaning and Cooking Cactus Paddles or Nopales, first, but honestly – I did it exactly as described. I just missed two little spines. At least I know it’s not something I did wrong. If you hate okra because of the “slime,” then read that article for suggestions on ways to cook nopale to extrude more of it. I don’t mind it, but I like okra.
While researching the nutrition facts, I learned that this is also one of the latest “superfood” fads – not only the pads, but the fruit of the prickly pear, as well. Anyone care to take bets on how long it is before I’m inundated with spam for “Nopalea”? Given how easy they are to cook, and how seemingly versatile they are, I’ll be adding more nopales to my diet, but I think I’ll just cook them myself!
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