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.


 

Prickly Pear Sorbet

Nothing screams summer like frozen treats. So in honor of the first week of summer, I am introducing you to my life-changing sorbet. Yeah, that’s right, LIFE-CHANGING.

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This sorbet is so lusciously and luxuriously magenta, you won’t be able to stop staring at it. And when you take your first bite, you won’t be able to stop eating it. And when it’s all gone, you won’t be able to stop talking about it. It is just that good.

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Who would have thought that the source of all this goodness could be the little prickly fruits that sit on top of the prickly pear cactus? This unsuspecting fruit is a nutritional powerhouse, as are the pads of the cactus plant itself (also called nopales). Both the fruit and the cactus pads have been shown to have many health benefits, including lowering blood sugar, cholesterol, and even preventing hangovers. And the fruit is packed with fiber (over 5 grams per cup!) and impressive amounts of copper and magnesium, two harder-to-come-by minerals that are important in immunity and enzyme function. And of course, a fruit so richly colored is super high in antioxidants like betalains and Vitamin C.

Prickly pear cactus: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/df/Prickly_Pear_Closeup.jpg/640px-Prickly_Pear_Closeup.jpg

But obviously, the prickly pear doesn’t make this sorbet all on its own. What’s the secret? A good ice cream maker, ripe prickly pears, tangy lime juice, and… drum-roll please… just the tiniest hint of serrano chili that will have your friends thinking, “I think it’s there… no, maybe not…but it sort of tastes like… hell, give me another scoop because this is damn good.”

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I can’t stress enough the importance of making this in a real ice cream maker. Do NOT make this “granita style” by freezing it solid and scraping it or blending it later — the ice crystals that form will be way to big and clunky and you’ll miss out on the velvety, luxurious texture of this sorbet. I can’t think of a better way to spend money this summer than on an ice cream maker…

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Prickly Pear Sorbet

  • Servings: 4
  • Time: 20 minutes plus chilling and freezing time
  • Difficulty: medium
  • Print

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  • 7-8 ripe prickly pears (should make 1 2/3 – 2 cups puree)
  • 1 cup water
  • Juice from one juicy lemon
  • Juice from one juicy lime
  • 1/2 – 2/3 cup sugar (depending on desired sweetness)
  • 1 serrano chili

To make the puree, slice the prickly pears in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a blender, getting as close to the skin as possible. (Caution: prickly pears can have invisible spines/fibers that are really annoying little buggers, so I recommend wearing gloves when you do this). Pulse the prickly pear pulp in the blender for a few seconds to make a puree and separate the flesh from the seeds. Strain out the seeds with a sieve and set aside the puree for later (you should have about 1 2/3 to 1 3/4 cup of puree).

In a small saucepan, heat the water and sugar until the sugar completely dissolves. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon and lime juice. Stir in the prickly pear puree. Next, use a fine grater or microplane to grate the sides of the serrano chili all the way around, avoiding the seeds in the middle. Taste the mixture when you are partway through grating the chili to see if you want to add more or stop there. Once the mixture is to your liking, put it in the fridge to chill completely.

Once the mixture is chilled, set up your ice cream maker and pour in the mixture, following your factory settings. Mine took about 20 minutes to set to a perfectly frozen yet velvety consistency. Serve immediately or put in the freezer for later. If you put it in the freezer, take it out of the freezer before serving to let it soften enough to be able to stir it with  spatula and bring back the smooth, velvety consistency.