Stump the Chef Challenge: Try Cooking with Prickly Pears!

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We’ve all been there. Standing in the farmers market or the grocery store, gazing at a beautiful piece of produce, but intimidated to take it home. How do I cook it? What would it pair with?

Last month, we asked our newsletter subscribers to send us fruits or vegetables they have wanted to use, but weren’t quite sure how. One of our favorite submissions, underrated and somewhat mysterious, is the prickly pear.

You may have seen this fruit at a farmers market, well stocked grocery or a natural foods market. Prickly pear are the fruit of the nopales cactus.

The cactus actually has three edible sections. The pad of the cactus can be treated like a vegetable (they’re great on pizza), the petals can be added to salads among other things, and the pear can be treated like a fruit, and then there’s the juice from the pear that is believed to have many health benefits!

Prickly pears are quite versatile. The juice and fruit can be used in anything from candies and dessert flavorings to vinaigrettes, and sauces.

Important note: Most prickly pears in markets have been scrubbed clean of glochids (tiny hair-thin spines, which can really hurt if there is contact with your skin). Prickly pears fresh off the cactus are covered with them, so be sure to use heavy work gloves if dealing with fresh prickly pears. It’s best to handle them carefully either way.

Tips for dealing with prickly pears



  • Wear when handling the fruit prior to peeling, if glochids are present.

  • Wear an apron when dealing with the fruit. It contains antioxidant pigments which can stain hands and clothing.

  • Removing glochids: To remove glochids, place pear with tongs over open flame and slowly turn until black spots appear where the spines of the cactus would be. You may here popping noises and this is fine. When the black spots appear the glochids will be removed. The glochids will be incinerated much faster than it takes for the skin of the fruit to char or scorch. Though it’s a little extra effort the glochids should be removed (if not done so already) prior to ingesting the fruit. Then simply rinses the fruit and it’s ready to use!

  • Juice from the prickly pear: If you want to use the juice of the prickly pear, peel the fruit, discard the skin and seeds and process the fruit in a food processor until it is liquefied. You will need to use a sieve to remove any remaining pulp and seeds from the juice.

  • Use the juice as you like. Depending on the size of the prickly pears, 6 to 12 prickly pears will get you about 1 cup of juice. It's great as a mixer with other juices.


We’ve included a recipe here for a prickly pear sauce that is fairly easy and adds great flavor to proteins. This sauce has a cinnamon flavor and pairs wonderfully with grilled pork chops, grilled or roasted chicken and halibut.




Mace Prickly Pear Sauce


Ingredients



  • 1 ounce butter

  • 3 ounces brown sugar

  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

  • ½ tablespoon mace

  • ¼ teaspoon allspice, ground

  • 15 prickly pears, glochids removed, peeled, small ¼” dice


Directions


In a sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat. Add brown sugar, vinegar, mace and allspice.  Cook until sugar melts. Add prickly pears and cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat.