Sunday, March 29, 2009

Cooking with cactus

This cactus has had its thorns scraped off and is ready for the grill>

While watching a movie about an Hispanic chef the other night ("Tortilla Soup") I watched as some truly intriguing dishes were created, one of them grilled cactus. I studied the chef as he scraped the thorns from the cactus and prepared it for the grill, then saw it blister, soften and look appetizing.

I pledged to find some cactus and cook and today I did.

Happy's Flea Market in Roanoke has become something of a Central American gathering place and today I spotted at least three Hispanic vegetable stands, each with a cache of foods I wouldn't know what to do with if you handed them to me in the kitchen. But I knew what to do with cactus. I asked for cooking instructions anyway and the pleasant Mexican woman selling the vegetables suggested I boil it, cut it into strips and serve it with tomatoes, peppers and cilantro ("It tastes like green beans," she said) or simply salt it and lay it on the grill for a few minutes per side.

I chose the latter recipe with a few modifications: garlic, olive oil and light sea salt and a brisk grilling on each side. I put it in a grilling basket with green and white beans, ramps, mushrooms and carrots and served it decorated with a spicy salsa and plenty of cilantro. It was delightful.

The cactus doesn't really taste like green beans (the green beans did, though) and it has a texture close to okra (oh, that luscious slime). Pretty good stuff. My wife loved it and I recommend it.

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