There are times when I watch Chopped and see a far-out ingredient emerge from the secret basket and think one of many things including, “ohh I need to try that,” “hmm that looks interesting,” “oh my gosh EW” and “WTF.”
I was recently presented with the opportunity to try one of these far-out foods on a trip to Phoenix. When I opened the menu at Los Reyes De La Torta my eyes lit up as I saw cactus on the menu. I decided to dive right in, ordering the jugo verde, made with cactus juice, and the grilled cactus tacos. Let me tell you, it was certainly love and first bite. My tastebuds were blushing.
The cooked cactus had the texture of a flat, cooked green bean, the taste of a pickle and it looked like grilled green pepper slices. I felt it, I smelled it, I tasted little pieces of it, chewing slowly, in awe of this magical ingredient.
Now for cactus’ elevator speech: Its official name is nopal, it’s native to Mexico and found frequently in Mexican cuisine. You can eat it raw or cooked (after the spines have been taken off of course). It is a very versatile ingredient, it can be used in juices, salads, salsas, and it can be sautéed, grilled, boiled or baked. To top it all off, nopal is very low in calories, helps to boost the immune system, is a good source of dietary fiber and provides anti-inflammatory properties.
Basically, cactus is a superstar waiting to be discovered by you. Where can you get it RIGHT NOW you ask? I would suggest checking some menus for local Mexican restaurants or stopping by your local grocery store to see if they carry it, if not, ask them if they can order it.
Back in Boston I am still on the hunt for this delicacy in a restaurant, but it can be purchased at Wegman’s grocery store; so it looks like I may be cooking some myself. If you find yourself in a similar situation, check out these awesome cactus recipes to make at home.
My heart is filled with prickly joy as I await my next plate of cactus. Now go find yours!
For more far out foods, check these out: