If you've ever been to Mexico, you'll have seen all manner of tortillas, enchiladas, tacos, tortas, toastadas, etc, etc filled with long green strips of Opuntia ficus-indica. Or, cactus. I LOVED eating the stuff almost every day during my time travelling there, especially with the spicy street foods.
However, it's not something I expected to crop up in Australian weedy field guides. What a pleasant surprise when I found it in “The Weed Forager's Handbook, A Guide to Edible and Medicinal Weeds in Australia".
The PRICKLY PEAR - the colourful fruit of the cactus plant - and the NOPAL - the green leaf pads - are both very common ingredients in Mexican cooking. There are approximately one hundred and fourteen known species endemic to Mexico. Nopal can be eaten raw (salad) or cooked (boiled, grilled, fried). Nopales are generally sold fresh in Mexico. A nopalito is a vegetable made from the young cladode (pad) segments of prickly pear, carefully peeled to remove the spines. These fleshy pads are flat, about hand-sized, and can be purple or green.
The nopales are beneficial for lowering blood sugar/treating diabetes, preventing cancer and are high in Vitamins A and C and include calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium and phosphorous. The fruits are very high in antioxidants, as you can tell by the deep purple colour. Though adding cactus leaf to your diet is beneficial, you may need to look for it at a specialty grocery or health food store unless you live in an area where it grows wild.
I’ve noticed them growing in several locations around my local area as I’ve been out and about on urban foraging expeditions. The trick is to go for the fresh, young pads and the colourful fruits (prickly pear - in season in Summer) and to WEAR GLOVES throughout BOTH the harvesting and preparation phases. The fruits also pop up in my local fruit and vege shops when in season. In one, the lovely Pakistani lady gave me a prickly pear fruit to try and said her husband picked them from the garden. In another shop, the lady said they come from a big farm where they just grow wild and the owner lets them take what they want to sell for free. So it’s safe to assume bought ones are generally not sprayed. Prickly pear fruits are great with good quality cream.
I foraged mine from the side of a train track and made a lovely nopalita pizza in memory of my time in Mexico. I then enjoyed the just picked prickly pear fruits with raw Cleopatra’s Cream for dessert. Both parts of the cactus are extremely tasty. The nopales have a really unique salty/sourish flavour. I actually LOVE the taste, and would go as far to say the spines are worth it!
BROCCOLI BASE PIZZA WITH PESTO LAMB AND CACTUS
Blitz a large head of broccoli in the food processor until cauliflower rice consistency.
Mix with 6 pastured eggs and a generous amount of chia seeds (you could also add grated cheese).
Sit in fridge 30-60mins so chia can congeal the mixture.
Spread onto a flat baking paper lined tray. Bake at 150C for 20mins or until cooked through (like you would vegetable slice/frittata).
Cook base separately. Spread cooked base with homemade macadamia pesto (already had it prepped in the freezer: blitz basil leaves, garlic, macdamia nuts, unrefined salt and olive oil)
Cherry tomato halves, wilted in the pan
Pastured lamb pan, fried in ghee (fat on for extra flavour & moisture)
Vintage cheese, sliced
Cactus, spines removed with gloves, sliced, fried in ghee
Sit pizza in oven until cheese melts, then eat with extra olive oil drizzled on top.
Bon ap's amigos!