Saturday, September 08, 2007
N is for Nopales
“If you want to know where nopales come from,imagine the cacti in cartoons. They are like the ones with the huge Bugs Bunny ears.”
My nopales therapy session took place on the telephone with a Mexican food wholesaler. There I was kneeling on the kitchen floor, surrounded by an array of phone directories pursuing an edible cactus. I hadn’t even got dressed yet. Finally I had found someone kind enough to give me a free thumbnail sketch of nopales.
Nopales have been giving me a lot of trouble.
I have marched round countless supermarkets. I have scoured the Mexican food aisles.Store managers have looked at me as if I am one nacho short of a full mexican picnic. In the end, it is the phone book that rescued me. But my Mexican food wholesaler had saved me from failure. “I’m afraid we can’t sell you any fresh nopales. We used to stock it but no one was buying it. But you can come along and buy some pickled nopalitos in jars.”
So on the way back from work I picked up my jar of nopalitos. Nopal means cactus in Spanish and nopales (no-PAH-les) are cactus stems. Getting ever more diminutive, the nopalitos are the cactus pads once they have been cut up and prepared. And that is what I brought home.
“What are we having for supper?” asked Freddie.
“A bit of cactus," I replied.
Freddie, who has eaten nettles, horseradish and seaweed was impressed. I reassured him that there would be no thorns to remove. Not knowing quite what to do with our nopalitos, I made Tacos with Mexican chilli beef, on which we scattered our nopalitos. I can’t help thinking it would be more exciting to try it fresh but until then we can recommend trying them from a jar. They have a firm succulent texture and are mild tasting. Freddie rated this meal 8 out of 10.
MEXICAN CHILLI BEEF TACOS WITH NOPALITOS
500g lean minced beef
400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 green pepper, finely chopped
3 tbsp tomato paste
1.5 tsp of smoky sweet mild Spanish chilli powder or mexican spice mix
2 small pieces of dark chocolate
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
To fill Taco
Finely chop the onion. Cut off the stalk of the green pepper, cut in half, deseed and finely cut. In a large pan heat a tbsp of oil and fry the pepper and onion for 2 minutes. Add the beef and the mild chilli powder. We buy something called “Smoky Sweet Chilli Powder” but you can use a mexican spice mix. Stir the beef with the onion and pepper on a medium hot heat for 8 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and tomato puree and stir. Lower the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add two small pieces of dark chocolate. The liquid from the tomatoes should reduce, leaving you with a lovely rich filling for Tacos.
Follow the packet instructions to heat Taco shells in the oven. Fill with the meat and add some shredded lettuce,a little sour cream and of course the nopalitos.
DO ANY OF YOU ENJOY NOPALES? IF SO - WHAT DO YOU DO WITH THEM? WE WOULD LOVE TO KNOW.