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Nopales

Apr 03, 2017

A.k.a. prickly pear cactus paddles. They are delicious after you get past the spines.
  
Availability & Origin
You can get nopales year-round, but they peak in mid-spring. The largest growers are Mexico, Central America, the Middle East, India, and Africa. In the U.S., you'll see them most in the southwest where cacti flourish. 

Appearance & Flavor
When picking out your nopales, keep these tips in mind; look for rigid, medium-sized (about seven inches long) leaves that are not limp or wrinkled. The larger the leaf, the tougher it is, and the smaller ones can disintegrate when cooked. Nopales have a light, tart flavor and a crisp texture. 

Storage
Your grocery store will have de-spined nopales, but be careful with handling them in case they missed a spot. When whole, they will last a week when wrapped tightly in plastic and refrigerated. After being cut, they will last three to five days in an air-tight container in the fridge. If well-sealed in a freezer-tolerant bag or container, your nopales can be kept in the freezer for up to two months, regardless of if they've already been cooked. 

Ways to Enjoy
You can eat nopales raw, roasted, and grilled, or in your salads, soups, salsa, and stews. Plus, there's the ever-popular nopalitos with eggs. If you're looking for a unique recipe, you won't want to miss this cactus chili.   

History
The leaves are said to have been an everyday vegetable in Central Mexico, prior to the Spanish explorers arriving. Once they discovered it, the explorers took nopales back to Spain with them. This tasty cactus grew in popularity throughout North America after that.

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