I’ve been craving Tex-Mex food like nobody’s business. Portland is an amazingly rich food town, but we’re sorely lacking in the Mexican, Tex-Mex, and New Mexican departments. What’s up with that? You can tell me otherwise (Michael often does), but I won’t believe it until I see it.
I don’t know the first thing about Tex-Mex home cooking, but I’d like to find out more. I recently
trekked out into the desert with my machete to forage drove a few miles to Grower’s Outlet for some nopales.
Although they look like friendly, waving mittens, nopales are actually spiny cactus paddles. They’re surprisingly–and deliciously–tangy with a watery green flavor. This makes sense, because we all learned in grade school that cacti hold water. They’ve got a little bit of a slime factor when you cut them, similar to aloe. Get over it–these are worth it.
To prepare nopales, you need to first cut off the base, where it was attached to the plant. Next, with a small, sharp knife, cut off the very perimeter of the paddle. Then, carefully remove the spines with your small knife.
Once your nopales are rendered spineless and harmless, you can slice them up and cook them or use them raw in salad. We enjoyed ours in a very inauthentic migas one night, and cooked up with taco fillings for another dinner. I found I preferred to add them towards the end, after most of the other ingredients, so they didn’t cook too long; they retained a little snappy bite that way.
Aside from contributing a cheerful tang to your cooking, nopales are health superstars. They’re packed with vitamins and are supposedly great for diabetics. Get on this.