Nopalitos, a Pantry Special (Recipe: cactus salad)
Pantry Specials are great ingredients that find their way into my pantry from time to time, but not all the time.
Try finding nopales (fresh cactus pads) in Rhode Island. Not an easy thing to do, though an upscale market in Providence did special-order them once when my cooking group wanted to make cactus soup. More often, nopalitos -- strips of prickly pear cactus, spiny bits removed, cooked and ready to use -- find their way into my pantry. Cactus tastes somewhat like green beans or asparagus, with a gelatinous center and a slightly citrus undertone. High in fiber and extremely low in calories, nopalitos are believed to be a natural aid in the management of diabetes and cholesterol. Rinse and dry the nopalitos from the jar, and you're ready to cook or add them to a salad.
Is this Pantry Special new to you?
A popular salad in Mexico and in Mexican restaurants everywhere, ensalada de nopalitos is light, healthy, and filling. Ted took the photo above at Chilangos, a restaurant in Providence's Olneyville neighborhood. The salad is almost always served on a platter instead of in a bowl. Adapted from a recipe on Gourmetsleuth.com, this recipe serves 4 as a vegetarian main course.
3 cups nopalitos
1 tsp canola or vegetable oil
3 Tbsp chopped sweet onion
3/4 cup chopped cilantro, divided
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Romaine lettuce for the base of the salad
3 ripe tomatoes, sliced
1/3 cup crumbled queso fresco, Monterey Jack or feta cheese
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
Rinse and dry the nopalitos, and place in a bowl. In a small saute pan, heat canola or vegetable oil, and saute the onions for 2-3 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Add to the nopalitos along with 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus the oregano and lime juice. Toss to combine, and set aside for 30 minutes.
Line a platter with lettuce leaves. Spread the nopalitos on top, and arrange tomatoes, cheese and avocado here and there on top. Sprinkle with remaining chopped cilantro.