Nopales (Opuntia ficus-indica) are a true mexican classic, evidence of their cultivation and consumption dates back at least 9000 years, with such a long history it's no wonder we've had time to come up with quite a few recipes. However, depending on how you cook them, you could end up with crisp and tasty nopales or a soggy and drooly mess. While taste may not vary much, soggy nopales are no fun to eat. Stick around to find out the best way to cook nopales.
Why bother with such a fussy plant? Well, for one they're delicious when done right, and a versatile key ingredient in many dishes. But this unconspicious looking plant is also loaded with good stuff, like vitamins A, B6, C and K, riboflamin, as well as minerals such as magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron and even copper! With such an A list of nutrients, it's no wonder they've enjoyed a privileged spot amongst the pantheon of mexican ingredients for centuries. Recent studies even show that they can even diminish the effects of hangovers. Another great thing about them is that after you cook them, you may save them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them in a dish.
Cooking them is a rather straightforward affair, conventional wisdom says that you should simply take your de-thorned cactus paddles (most of the time you can buy them de-thorned) , slice them into strips or cubes and boil them with some salt and onion or garlic until they're tender. Sounds easy enough no? However, this common approach has one rather pesky downside. While you do get tender nopales from this process, they tend to have a very drooly and soggy composition, while this "drool" is nothing more than cooked sap, it is none too appetizing.
Fortunately there is another way of getting nopales nice and tender without the drooly mess, for that, you only require the same cut and de-thorned nopales, a tiny bit of cooking oil and either one quarter onion, a few cloves of garlic or even a couple of shallots (whole) for flavo, if you're feeling spicy, you can also add some cracked peppers to the mix.
You only need to heat your oil in a skillet, add the shallots/onions/garlic (or whatever you picked, I personally love the flavor you get by using shallots), until they've browned slightly, then simply add your nopales and lower the heat, stirring ocasionally. Using this method, after 15-20 minutes, your nopales should end up just as tender, but without the gooey slime. You can also choose to cook them with a more medium heat for a longer period of time and they'll have a delicious fried consistency.
The great thing about nopales is that you may cook them in advance and save them in the refrigerator for a few days until you're ready to use them. Cook a big batch and save them for all sorts of dishes, like tacos, eggs or salads.
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