Nopales con Huevos

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Anyone living in California has seen nopales before, even if they don’t realize it. Those cactus with the big oval paddles topped with spiky red fruit you see on the side of the road or invading your neighbor’s yard? Yup, that’s a nopal, also known as a prickly pear cactus. But unless you are from a Mexican family or are a Mexican-food aficionado, you may be shocked to hear that these spine-riddled cactus go down the throats of eager eaters every day. Sans spines, of course.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpgmyberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

Nopal has earned its popularity not only because it’s delicious (more on that in a second), but also because it’s an incredibly healthy, medicinal plant. Long used in traditional herbal medicine, modern “western” medicine is even getting with the program. Research has shown that nopal may be effective at decreasing glucose, cholesterol, inflammation, and even hangover symptoms. And even if you don’t suffer from these afflictions, there is no doubt that its high fiber, vitamin C and antioxidant content make it a healthy part of any diet.

These are some nopales I found (and "foraged"!) yesterday on the Lafayette Rim Trail. I've been picking spines out of my fingers all day... but so worth it.

These are some nopales I found (and “foraged”!) yesterday on the Lafayette Rim Trail. I’ve been picking spines out of my fingers all day… but so worth it.

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If I had it my way, the nopal cactus would be a regular headliner in every kitchen, as go-to a veggie as broccoli or lettuce. I’ve already posted a ROCKIN’ recipe (if I may say so myself) for prickly pear sorbet using the magenta-colored fruit on top of the nopal cactus. But the cactus leaves… oh the cactus leaves… how delicious they are! Once you get the spines off, each cactus leaf is amazingly juicy, tangy, and exquisite in so many different preparations — raw, boiled, blended or, my favorite, broiled. If you let it snuggle up close to a broiler and char a bit like you would bell peppers, you end up with a complex, caramelized flavor that really compliments the tangy undertone of the nopal.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

I do nutrition counseling at a clinic in a Latino neighborhood of Oakland, so nopales come up in conversation at least five times a day. Many of my patients prepare nopal for breakfast — either blended/juiced with other veggies for a quick shot of vitality, or cooked with eggs for heartier fare. While the nopales are traditionally boiled before combining them with the eggs, my version of nopales con huevos brings the nopales even more into the limelight with a bit of smokiness and texture.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

I hope you’re already running out of the house donned with gloves and a garden saw to steal some from your neighbor’s yard. Or if you are lucky enough to live close to a market like Berkeley Bowl or a Latino market, the small price you pay for store-bought, de-spined nopales more than makes up for itself.

Nopales con Huevos

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 25 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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3-4 nopal cactus leaves
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
6-8 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1.5 cups crushed tortilla chips (preferably homemade from corn tortillas fried in a little oil)
Radish and avocado for garnish
Salsa or hot sauce of choice

Use a large, flat-bladed knife to scrape off any spines or rough spots remaining on the nopales. Rub both sides of the nopales with a teaspoon of oil. Mix the paprika with the salt and sprinkle over the nopales. Place on a pan under the broiler very close to the flame, about 8 minutes each side, until slightly bubbled and browned in places and tender inside. Chop into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk the eggs with the milk and a pinch of salt and add to the pan. Reduce the heat to low and scramble gently for 1-2 minutes until almost no liquid egg remains but eggs are still moist.

Fold in the chopped nopales and tortilla pieces and serve immediately on a warm plate garnished with shaved radish, avocado slices and your favorite hot sauce or salsa.


 

Taming of the Squash: Chayote and Tomato Tart

Okay, I have two apologies to get out of the way:

#1 – I’m sorry I have been MIA . The craziness of summer caught up with me and I’ve fallen behind. Roaming the aisles of Berkeley Bowl looking for exotic produce inspiration takes quite a bit of time, which I haven’t had any extra of as of late. But I’m back now, and just in time for my favorite time of the year: tomato season. Which brings me to my second apology…

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#2 – I’m sorry that I’m shamelessly using chayote as an excuse to make a tomato tart. The truth is chayote is a stand-out veggie that deserves to star in its own dish. But on this freakishly hot September day in Berkeley — my first free Saturday in weeks and thus my one chance to cook up something exotic for my blog — all I was craving was an heirloom tomato tart. But how could a tomato tart be exotic enough for My Berkeley Bowl? After featuring cherimoya, barlauch, and milpero, I couldn’t just plop some tomatoes on a pie crust and call it exotic. So I had to use that chayote squash sitting in my fruit bowl to get to what I really had my eye on — luscious, juicy, heirloom tomatoes.

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I can’t help but feel like I’m acting out the plot of 10 Things I Hate About You (the teen movie version of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew) in my kitchen: Cameron (me) is smitten with the beautiful Bianca (tomatoes) but in order to get around her father’s strict rules around dating (my blog’s strict rules around only posting recipes with exotic produce) he has to set up a date for Bianca’s shrewd, less popular sister, Kat (chayote squash).

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But just as Kat ultimately finds love (I would say “spoiler alert,” but you’ve had 15 years to see the movie and 425 years to read the Shakespear play…), so too did the chayote squash find love in this stunning, scrumptious, Summer tart. In fact, it turns out that the chayote didn’t just act as a neutral bystander, but actually improved the dish. The chayote doesn’t have much flavor on its own (as Specialty Produce puts it, it’s a “carrier sponge of other accompanying ingredient’s flavors”), but its crisp, firmer texture helped save the tart from being overly wet and mushy from the supple, ripe tomatoes.

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If you’re still wondering what chayote is, let me shed some light. Also known as a “vegetable pear,” it’s a type of gourd with thin skin (no peeling necessary!), lime green color, and a pear shape. It comes in both smooth and spiny varieties, but all have a crisp white flesh with a mildly sweet flavor. It can be eaten raw or cooked, taking on whatever flavors you combine it with. It’s delicious grated on salads or sliced thinly in a Mexican-inspired Carpaccio, roasted with other veggies, or cooked in stews, curries and soups. It has a very high water content, very low sodium content, and lots of vitamins and minerals, so it’s definitely on the list for people looking to manage heart health, weight, diabetes, blood pressure, etc.

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Back to the tart, if you have time to make your crust from scratch, I highly recommend this wonderful “How to Make a Pie Crust” tutorial by Melissa Clark from NYT. But if you’re like me with very limited time and an intense desire to stuff your face with tart within the hour, keep some frozen pie dough on hand (I like Trader Joe’s).

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Even more important than choosing or making a perfect crust is choosing the perfect tomatoes. This tart will taste like crap if you use mealy run-of-the-mill tomatoes from your blah grocery store. Don’t bother making this unless you go carefully select the perfect heirloom tomatoes from your local farmers’ market or organic grocery store or, better yet, your garden. Promise me!

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Last but not least, I topped my tart with a fresh, gooey burrata. There are thousands of food bloggers declaring their deep, passionate love affair with this cheese– even writing an occasional ode to burrata — so I’ll spare you from one more. But just know that, albeit trendy and “so San Francisco” to put burrata on something these days, it went exquisitely well with this tart. If you are avoiding trends or avoiding spending $10 on a ball of oozing, cream filled mozarella, then you could grate a bit of good old-fashioned Parmesan cheese and call it a day.

Chayote Tomato Tart

  • Servings: 6
  • Time: 50 minutes
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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  • 1 pie crust (frozen or homemade) rolled out 1/8″ thick to cover tart pan
  • 1 Tablespoon very good olive oil
  • 1 chayote squash, seed removed and sliced thinly
  • 3-4 perfect heirloom tomatoes, sliced into 1/3″ slices
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary plus a sprig to garnish
  • Sea salt and fresh cracked pepper
  • 1 ball of burrata cheese (or may use mozzarella or cheese of your choosing)

Press pie crust into 10 or 12″ tart pan and trim off any excess hanging over the sides. Refrigerate for 10 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 450 degrees and slice the vegetables.

Brush the crust with half the olive oil and line the bottom with one layer of thinly sliced chayote. Arrange the sliced tomatoes and the rest of the chayote on top and sprinkle with the freshly chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with sea salt and freshly cracked pepper. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and bake 25-35 minutes more or until the tops of the tomatoes are slightly browned and shriveled.

Remove the tart from the oven and let cool to room temperature. When ready to serve, top with slices of burrata, drizzle with the remaining olive oil, and garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary.