Monday, September 24, 2012

Exotic Ingredients: What is Cacti?

So what is Cacti?
Most of you know it as the plural "Cactus", but did you know you could eat it? 



"Most cacti live in habitats subject to at least some drought. Many live in extremely dry environments, even being found in the Atacama Desert, one of the driest places on earth. Cacti show many adaptations to conserve water. Most species of cacti have lost true leaves, retaining only spines, which are highly modified leaves. As well as defending against herbivores, spines help prevent water loss by reducing air flow close to the cactus and providing some shade. Cactus spines are produced from specialized structures called areoles, a kind of highly reduced branch. Areoles are an identifying feature of cacti. As well as spines, areoles give rise to flowers, which are usually tubular and multi-petaled."

"Edible cactus is also known as nopales (no-PAH-les), nopalitos or cactus pads. This vegetable is popular in Mexico and other Central American countries, parts of Europe, the Middle East, India, North Africa and Australia. Its popularity is increasing in the United States where it can be found at Mexican grocery stores, specialty produce markets and farmer's markets.
Edible cactus is characterized by its fleshy oval leaves (typically called pads or paddles) of the nopal (prickly pear) cactus.
With a soft but crunchy texture that also becomes a bit sticky (not unlike okra) when cooked, edible cactus tastes similar to a slightly tart green bean, asparagus, or green pepper.
Cactus pads contain beta carotene, iron, some B vitamins, and are good sources of both vitamin C and calcium."

"Cacti are members of the plant family Cactaceae, which is found naturally only in the Americas and on nearby islands. They range from southern Canada to southern Argentina and can be found coast to coast in both North America and South America."

Recipe:
Cactus Salad.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds fresh or prepared cactus paddles or nopales, needles removed
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 4 Italian Roma tomatoes, cored, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 to 2 medium serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
  • 2 bunches cilantro, leaves only, chopped
  • 1/2 cup finely grated Cotija or Anejo cheese
  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 to 6 lettuce leaves
  • avocado, peeled, seeded and sliced for garnish
  • 1/4 cup cracked black pepper garnish, recipe follows

Directions

Preheat grill or broiler. Place cactus paddles in a bowl and toss with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Grill or broil the paddles until grill marks appear on each side, or they turn dark green with black patches, about 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature. Cover and chill 2 to 4 hours or overnight. Cut cactus into 1/2-inch pieces. In a large bowl, combine the cactus, tomatoes,onions, chiles, cilantro and cheese with the remaining 1/2 cup oil, the vinegar, the remaining 1 teaspoon salt and pepper. Toss well. Serve on plates lined with lettuce leaves, and garnish with avocado slices sprinkled with cracked pepper garnish.
  • CRACKED BLACK PEPPER GARNISH
  • 2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon salt
In a small bowl, stir all the ingredients together. Spoon over vegetables or drizzle lightly over dressed salads as a garnish.

Sources:
health.discovery.com
wiki.answers.com
foodnetwork.com
wikipedia.org.



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