If you’ve tried our cactus fries recipe, you already know that cactus pads, or nopales, have an amazing, lemony flavor. Here’s another way to enjoy them, stuffed or topped with your favorite Southwestern ingredients!
Traditionally, the pads are grilled outside, typically on a warm Summer evening! But they can be cooked on the stove as well, either in a cast iron or other skillet.
What you’ll need are:
3 – 5 cactus pads (Opuntia spp.)
Mozzarella, or another queso
2 – 3 medium sized avocados
1 – 2 pounds of ground beef (or turkey, chicken, carnitas, so on)
Assorted seasonings; camino, cayenne, salt, pepper, etc.
First, clean and de-spine your cactus pads in a sink, under running water. Then begin browning the ground beef (or other meat) and mix in the seasonings or sauces of your choice. While the meat is cooking, dice up the tomatoes and the onion and mix them together in a bowl. Skin and slice up your avocados.
For larger pads, you can slice into them, turning them into cactus pockets. For smaller pads, they’re just as good topped with all the ingredients instead of stuffed.
Once the meat is done cooking, take it off the heat and place your cheese either in or on top of your cactus pads. Add the warm meat quickly for gooey-cheese effect! Next add the tomatoes and onion and top with avocado slices.
Enjoy these with friends, in the beautiful twilight around a fire, and watch the stars come out!
Acorn flour is more complicated than mesquite or beautyberry flour, but still relatively simple. There’s no chemistry or special procedures needed, it can just take a little longer. That’s why it’s good to do in bulk and then store the flour for later use.
Before you do anything else, you have to gather up a bunch of acorns of course. And not all acorns are the same. Some are bigger, some are smaller. Some are sweeter, some are more bitter. Generally, but not always, the bigger the acorn, the less bitter it is (it also has to do with the species of oak tree). It’s this bitterness that we want to get out of the acorns before we make them into flour.
First you’ll want to crack them open and chop the meat up into smaller pieces. Then toss them into the blender, just like making mesquite flour, and grind them up. It helps to add some water to the blender, to ensure they grind up easier. Next take the slurry mix and pour it into a large glass jar; an old pickle jar will do perfectly. This jar is where making acorn flour takes the longest. Let your ground up acorns sit in the jar in your fridge and leach their bitterness into the water. Everyday, pour out the coffee colored water in the jar and re-fill with fresh water from the tap. Give the jar a good shake to mix things back up and stick back in the fridge.
This process, depending on the type of acorns, can take a few days to a week or more. The acorns are done leaching once the flour no longer tastes bitter. Generally, “white” oaks are less bitter and take much less time, while “red” oaks can take much longer. While technically a “white” oak, live oak acorns can be so bitter, as to not be even worth the trouble. We get all our acorns from burr oaks; a moist soil loving “white” oak variety with the biggest acorns you’ll ever see.
After the flour is done leaching, simply pour it through a cheese cloth or other clean rag to squeeze the water out and place in either a dehydrator or on a cookie sheet in the oven at the lowest temp to dry. Once dried, run back through a blender or other grinder to bring to a fine, floury consistency.
Although acorn flour can take some time, acorns are full of protein and healthy oils and fats. Preserving these oils into the final flour, by using this cold-leaching method, allows these oils to act like a binder when making acorn pancakes or pizza or muffins etc.
Stir fry has to be one of the most versatile methods of eating odd arrays of different ingredients. As such, it probably comes across as rather lazy most of the time. However, when the right ingredients are specifically chosen to compliment and enhance each other, a good stir fry can be a work of art.
Or perhaps I’m foolish enough to think so. Either way, here is a recipe for my own Spring Chicken! Especially during the early Spring, you can put together an amazing compliment of flavors and ingredients. So often, people assume wild greens will all taste bitter. While some do, there are a many that taste more mild and some that even taste sweet or tart!
This dish uses both rich starches and more citric tasting greens and flowers. The perfect dish to welcome back Spring!
Wood sorrel (Oxalis spp.)
Wild lettuce (Lactuca spp.)
Canna roots (Canna indica)
sliced Wine cup roots – outer skin removed (Callirhoe involucrata)
Red bud flowers (Cercis canadensis)
salt, pepper, other seasonings to taste
Yes, there is such a thing as wild lettuce, and believe it or not, it is native to North America. It’s loaded with vitamins and minerals though and has a somewhat bitter taste as a result. However, wood sorrel balances that perfectly with a lemony, almost tart flavor that you’ll never forget. Both of these plants can be found in early to mid Spring in moist woodlands, usually along the edges (or just inside) where bursts of sunlight still reach through.
Red bud is a special tree. Its flowers have a subtle, sweet flavor that makes them amazing as a garnish for many dishes or added to salads. It’s actually the state tree of Oklahoma, and like the dogwood, one of the first trees to come back into bloom in the Spring. You can usually glimpse it driving down wooded highways in late February or early March; its red blossoms a stark contrast to the barren limbs all around them. You can also find them commonly planted in city parks or commercial areas as an ornamental, and these are the easiest trees to gather from.
Canna lily is usually found growing in peoples’ gardens but, being a native, can also be seen returned feral to the local environment quite often. Its rhizomes have one of the highest starch contents in the world and it is a delicious vegetable similar to water chestnuts. Wine cups are a rather unknown phenomenon, however. To be sure, many gardeners have struggled with removing their spidery tendrils, and some may have even noticed their large, central tap roots. Few will have ever thought to try eating them however! With their brown outer skin removed, they have a rich, bland, fresh crunch that has a mildly nutty after taste.
In a medium sized skillet, pour the cooking oil, soy sauce, canna roots and cut up chicken breasts. Add a dash of salt and pepper or any other seasonings you prefer at this point. Once the chicken begins to cook thoroughly, lower the temperature and add all the leafy greens. Saute the chicken, canna roots and greens until the greens begin to wilt and add the sliced wine cup roots, then turn the stove off. Finally, add the red bud flowers as a garnish while residual heat is still present.
Cactus, or nopales, are one of the most unexpectedly delicious foods we’ve encountered. With a juicy, lemony tart flavor and a nice crunch, young cactus pads are a wonderful addition to any salsa or guacamole or salad.
There is, however, another way to enjoy these gifts of the arid, sandy savannah: FRIED!
Similar to okra in texture, once we’d tried wild nopales, we knew exactly what to do with these xeric delicacies. The ingredients you’ll need to whip up your own batch of cactus fries are as follows:
3 to 4 small or medium sized young cactus pads (Opuntia spp.)
3 cups flour
1 tblspoon garlic
2 tsp. salt and pepper
smallest dash of almond (or other) milk
Under a faucet, scrape/cut off any small hairs or glochids growing on the young cactus pads. Picked young and fresh enough in the Spring, your pads should have little to no hairs on them yet; these are the tastiest ones too! Cut the pads into strips about 1/4 inch wide. In one bowl mix the flour, salt, pepper and garlic. In a separate bowl, mix the eggs and whatever milk you prefer.
In a frying pan, heat up about 1/2 to 1 inch of cooking oil on medium high heat. As with frying most things, you may need to add more oil later on. As you’re frying, also watch the temperature; you may need to lower it if the cactus is browning too fast.
Working in small batches dredge your cactus slices in flour, then dip into the egg mixture, and then again in flour mixture. I like to do the process a few at a time, and then set on a jelly roll sheet, or any flat surface until i’m ready to fry one full batch. It’s also best to prep your next batch as you fry your first. Flip over cactus fries once they are browned and crisp on one side. It can take anywhere between 2-5 minutes depending on your stove top, just be patient and remember to keep checking, adjusting heat as needed.
We’ve found that they’re best served with honey mustard. We like to mix honey, with spicy or regular mustard, and the smallest splash of water.