Nopales Nachos

(posted by Emily)

One of the best parts of my job here in LA has been learning more about the Hispanic culture. The kids and parents at my school take so much pride in their heritage, and it has been fun to learn about their food, traditions, and values. The moms would help out with lunch everyday have become great friends, and they are always sure to encourage me to step out of my comfort zone. When Rick and I made tamales in the fall, they were so proud of us--hilarious, and endearing.

One mom in particular has been very supportive of our love of food, always buying kale chips from REfoods, and bringing in food items she thinks we would like to try. On Friday, she showed up to school with a bag of nopal or prickly pear cactus pads and was sharing with everyone. I was excited to try something new, and got 4 pads to take home.

I have known about eating nopales for a while, having first seen something about grilling them on a Man vs. Wild-type TV show. We've gotten a few at the farmers market before to use in smoothies, but have never really embraced them as the star of the show. Yesterday was the perfect opportunity to do so--we had picked up some El Tarasco salsa on Saturday, and hadn't finished all of it or the bag of chips yet. So, I put some black beans in the rice cooker in the morning, before we headed off to teach a little drum corps, and when we got home, dinner was only a few steps away!

**If you don't have your own Mexican Mama to bring cactus to you, it should be available at your local Mexican or "ethnic" foods grocery store. In California, it is most likely available in our regular grocery stores, too. 

Here is what went in to our Nopales Nachos:
1-2 cups cooked black beans (I buy bulk and cook them in the rice cooker with a bay leaf and some thyme)
~1 cup guacamole
4 pads of nopal cactus, seasoned, grilled, and chopped
1 batch of cashew crema (you could use Daiya or another store-bought brand if you wanted shredded "cheese"--I had all of the ingredients for the crema on hand)
corn tortilla chips

Preparing the cactus:
Clearly, the trickiest thing about the cactus is the thorns. I read a few posts online about how to clean cactus, and it was relatively straight forward.

Over the sink, I scraped down the sides of the cactus with a knife. I used an older, large knife and scraped in both directions. You want to remove all of the little dark nubs that usually house the spikes.

Trim off the edges and bottom of the cactus.

Once all of my cactus was clean, I sprayed it with a bit of olive oil, and rubbed in a taco seasoning mix (paprika, black pepper, oregano, cumin, chili powder, and salt).

I grilled the cactus for probably 20 minutes total--it will depend on the heat of your grill, but you want to just start blackening each side of the cactus.

When they were done, I brought the cactus in off of the grill, and chopped it up into smaller pieces.

Once all of our elements were done, I set the table with our toppings, and Rick and I each topped our own plate of nachos.

The nopales has a bright, almost citrus-y flavor, but a hint of grassiness as well. It didn't over power the nachos, and the texture wasn't slimy or sticky, because I had chosen to grill it. If you boil the cactus, my Mexican Mama says to put a metal spoon in the pot--that is what her mother did to keep the texture from getting slimy :)

The nachos were great! An easy dinner to put together, and nearly as good as the ones you might get at Native Foods :)

We capped off the evening by trying out our new firepit!

Hope you had a great weekend!


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