Nondesert tribes may not know that cacti have many edible parts once the eater has outmaneuvered the prickly spines. There are buds, blossoms, and fruits to turn into juice, jelly, and preserves. There are also seeds and sometimes pads, when the cactus grows by disk-like joints instead of stalks. Almost everything about the prickly pear cactus is edible, from its purplish fruits called, confusingly, “tunas,” to its prickly pads, or nopales.
I find the pads more interesting than jelly or juice and, fortunately, you no longer have to go armed with tongs and asbestos gloves to stalk the wild pads in their lair. Nor do you have to devote hours to scraping the pads clean of their stickers and hair-fine thorns. Now you can buy nopales fresh and cleaned in markets which carry exotic fruits and vegetables and you can also buy nopales cooked and canned. Canned is easiest, but fresh is best.
If using fresh pads, trim around the edges with a pair of scissors or a sharp knife to remove the base of the thorns. Wash well and examine each pad to make sure all tiny thorns are removed. Cut each pad into dice, cover with salted water in a saucepan, and simmer gently until tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain in a sieve and rinse under cold water to rid pads of their sticky, okra-like juice.
In a large skillet, sauté the onion in butter until soft. Add the nopales and Red Chili Sauce and mix well. Break the eggs gently on top of the mixture, cover tightly, and steam until the egg whites are set, 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve directly from the frying pan.
Instead of cooking the eggs whole, scramble them, stirring them into the onion-nopal-chili sauce and continuing to stir until the eggs are cooked but still moist. Add
© 1986 Betty Fussell. All rights reserved.