I was walking in the Washington Heights area one Saturday afternoon when I saw cactus pads, or nopales in Spanish, on display in one of the grocery stores. I immediately remembered our trip to Mexico where we had numerous unforgettable meals. In the town of Pochutla in Oaxaca, we ate several times at Lichita Restaurant and I remember how I eagerly ordered cactus soup because the idea of eating the cactus pads excited me. I was just so curious as to how it would taste. It has the texture of broccoli stalks, tender but succulent inside. I gather that the softness is because of how the plant itself collects so much water in order to survive in the dessert. Don’t fear the thorns. They’re usually dry enough to pare off using a small knife. You can make your usual tomato soup but it would be less boring to have cactus chunks in it.
4 cactus pads
2 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped
1 small can of tomato sauce
3 cups of chicken stock
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 medium red onion
a handful of cilantro, finely chopped
salt, pepper, oil
1. Slice off thorns from cactus pads. Cut in small chunks.
2. Heat a little oil in a hot sauce pan. SautÃ© garlic until light brown, onions until transparent and tomatoes until mushy. Add tomato sauce and bring to a boil over medium heat. Then add chicken stock and bring to a second boil.
3. Add cactus and let simmer for about 15 minutes until tender. Add lime and cilantro and season with salt and pepper to taste.