Spring Vegetable Challenge - Cactus

Sara K. Larsen - Tuesday, March 25, 2014
For the next Spring vegetable I decided to make nopal cactus, also well known as prickly pear cactus, which has been a staple part of Mexican cuisine for centuries. The large green pads of the nopal cactus can be cooked and added to tacos, egg dishes, and Mexican salads.

The idea of cooking and eating cactus sounded intimidating, but it was much simpler than I thought. All you have to do is cut off their thorns, and cook them in a pan or grill them – it’s that easy. 

To prepare prickly pear, the spines are cut off and the skin is removed. This leaves the flesh and seeds of the cactus. Both are edible raw as is, or can be added to a recipe.

Nopal cactus is extremely healthy because it contains the richest source of betalains. Betalains are phytochemicals which are unique to nopal cactus, beets, and Swiss chard. Betalains are glycosides, which means they help to reduce blood glucose levels. Medical research performed has shown the benefits of nopal cactus for diabetes.

After learning all about the nopal cactus I decided to make cactus tacos. 

Makes 6 servings

2 cups rinsed and drained strips of cactus
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 white onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
ground pepper, to taste
6 whole wheat tortillas (5 inches)
1 tomato diced
low-fat cheese or queso
fresh salsa

Cut the cactus strips into 1/4-inch dice and set aside. 

In a medium skillet, heat the oil and cook the onion, stirring, until it starts to brown, 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the reserved diced cactus and heat through completely. Set aside. 

Heat a small nonstick skillet and warm the tortillas, 1 at a time, until soft and pliable. 

To assemble, put a portion of the cactus filling on half of each warm tortilla. Top with cheese or queso, tomato and salsa. Fold in half and serve at once.

Nutrition: calories: 132, fat: 5g, carbs: 19 grams, protein: 4g

The final product was pretty good! It tasted a little like green beans, but slightly more acidic and had an earthy flavor. 

Have you ever eaten cactus? How was it prepared?