Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sping is here and so are nopales!

Last weekend, DC and I found the Jacksonville Farmer's Market just a bit north of our office. Along with some late winter citrus, early strawberries, and other bargains, we found a basket of nopales - prickly pear cactus pads. The young Hispanic man minding the stall looked at us quizzically and asked, "you eat these?" Then he scrunched up his face when I said "Yes!" Maybe he only knows abuelas who eat them or maybe his family does something non-edible with them. Who knows? Anyway, I've been hooked on nopales after visiting Sian Ka'an near Tulum, Mexico. There were also a few places in Tucson that would reliably serve nopales (or nopalitos) with enchilada sauce and tortillas, namely Tonia's 33 and La Indita - oh man I miss those!

One word of advice: don't want to do the cactus too far ahead of time. Like okra, it gets a little slimy. That's not a bad thing, in fact, it's the slimy substance that has been found to help regulate blood sugar. Be sure to check out this episode of Scientific American if you want to learn more about the regulating properties of desert plants.

Tonight I seared the nopales on top of the stove and paired them with a spicy jalapeno mango salsa since mangoes were on sale and a little Daiya cheddar-style in whole-grain tortillas.  I served this with my "amazing" black beans and Brazilian orange rice on the side. At the last minute I remembered the ultra-ripe plaintain and made muduros (fried sweet plaintains) which couldn't be easier.  Finally, no Latin American meal (or any meal for that matter) is complete without some chocolate, so I'm baking up a batch of No Meat Athlete's Black Bean Brownies. However, after this filling meal, I think the brownies will make a better dessert throughout the week. Well, maybe just a little piece be sure they're OK :P

First I de-spined the nopales. I don't think I did a beautiful job, but we didn't get any spines in our mouths either! This, of course, is essential if your nopales are fresh and not already de-spined (sometimes they are or if you buy your nopales in a can, it's that much easier). Then I rinsed them thoroughly and put them aside to cook later. Next I made the salsa, the beans, and the rice in that order. When the rice and beans were cooked, I grilled the nopales, warmed the torillas and made the plantains. The recipes below reflect the order in which I made them, however, since I'm opposed to giving away recipes that others spend their time creating and put into cookbooks, you'll have to check out Viva Vegan to get the rice recipe. Buy the book, it's totally worth it! You can also check out No Meat Athlete's Black Bean Brownies on the website which has TONS of other great recipes as well!

Amazing Black Beans

1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 Tablespoons sofrito (or 2-4 cloves garlic, chopped)
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano, crushed
1 bay leaf
1/2 can chopped tomatoes with habenero peppers (use plain tomatoes for something a little less hot)
1/4 c. water
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
salt and hot sauce to taste
2 Tablespoons to 1/4 c fresh cilantro, chopped

Use a little non-stick cooking spray in a 2 quart saucepan. Add the onions, pepper, and sofrito (or garlic) and steam-fry until the onions are clear and the pepper is soft. Add a little water if you need to keep it from sticking. When the onions are cooked, add the spices and continue cooking for another minute or two until it's really fragrant. Add the tomatoes and the water and stir everything together well. Finally add the beans and cook for 30 to 45 minutes. Adjust the salt and heat. These can wait on the back burner while you do everything else. Add the cilantro just before serving.

Spicy Mango Salsa

1 small onion, chopped fine
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped fine
1-2 fresh jalapenos, chopped fine
2 very ripe fresh mangoes, peeled and chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
juice of 1 lime

I used my small food processor to chop everything up, but you can do it by hand if you like. Mix it all together in a bowl and try to avoid eating it all before dinner!

Grilled Nopal Burritos

2 prickly pear pads (nopales), de-spined and rinsed
1 Tablespoons cheddar-style Daiya
2 Tablespoons spicy mango salsa
1 tortilla

Lightly spray a griddle pan with oil and until very hot. Sear the nopales until brown on both sides. remove from heat and cut into thin strips (about 1/2" x 2").

Warm the tortilla on the hot pan turning to warm both sides. Remove from heat. Place the nopales on the tortilla and top with Daiya and salsa. Roll, cut and enjoy!

Here's how the nopales looked on the griddle:

 And then a little browner:

Here's how the burrito looks before it's rolled up:

And one last picture of the whole enchilada, I mean burrito!

Let me know if you try this!