Traditional Indigenous Recipes

Prickly Pear Cactus Pads

Prickly pear cactus Prickly pear cactus sautéed
Prickly pear cactus in the wild and sautéed with salt, pepper and Cajun spices.

Prickly pear cactus pads are the stems of the cactus. These vegetables are high in fiber, vitamins A, C and calcium. The cooked pads (or paddles) have been used in Mexican cooking for hundreds of years. There are a variety of ways to prepare the pads: boiling, sautéing, pickling, grilled or chopped up and mixed raw in salads. I think they taste like a combination of okra and green pepper. The brightly colored “pears” at the top of the paddles can be peeled and eaten raw or made into jelly. This is a very easy recipe.

prickly pear cactus pads

Tosh cleans spines off prickly pear cactus pads.

Ingredients:

3-4 prickly pear paddles. You can buy these at many grocery stores but be careful of spines when you pick them up. You also can pick them in the wild, but don’t take too many. Chose the greenest, most unblemished pads. Watch out the long spines; grocery stores often get rid of those, but the smaller, almost fuzzy spines will remain. If you manage to get a spine in your finger, tweezers are helpful. But if they are too small, spread some Elmer’s glue over the area and peel off after it dries. You also can try tape.

2 T vegetable oil
Salt, pepper, garlic, onion powder to taste

Use a fork to keep one end of the pad still while you use a knife or potato peeler to scrape off the spines and “eyes.” I usually trim off the rough edges.

After peeling, chop or slice the pads into stripes or into small chunks. If you don't like the slimy texture, you can boil the cactus in heavily salted water for about 15 minutes or until tender. Rinse with cold water.

Put in a sauté pan with the oil, and then add spices you like. Sauté at medium/low heat for about five minutes. If you don't boil the cactus, then you will need to cook them in the pan until tender.

You can serve this as a side dish, or mix with scrambled eggs, blend into salsas, top on a baked potato, add to tacos, or any number of possibilities.