Monday, April 18, 2011

More Than a Month in San Miguel

We are now planning to be here at least until the middle of May.  Ted's working away on a casita in Puerto del Aire, and I've been baking, as well as learning new dishes to make.  If you are in SMA and reading this, know that I would be pleased to make an order for you. So far, I have been baking cakes, cookies, pies and muffins.  If you'd prefer to call and talk to me instead of emailing, I can be reached evenings, 6 - 9 pm, at my Telcel, 415-115-9098.

Nopales Salad

If you are not here in San Miguel de Allende - omg!  Not only have I washed SIX pair of jeans at once by hand in the bathtub and hung them to dry in a tree, but I have now eaten fresh alfalfa, and nopales (cactus shoots) salad, and made my first corn tortillas, also by hand.  The first was a lot of work, but the next 3 were delicious.  (I didn't even know you could wash jeans by hand, lol.)

Nopales have a subtle and unique flavor.  In the springtime, when the new "shoots" (they look like little paddles) begin to emerge, people in Mexico cut and prepare them as a delicacy -- and to them, this is their "green vegetable".  Nopales are served as a filling for tacos and burritos, and they are even added to corn flour for "green" tortillas.

For the fresh nopales, we only had to walk out our front door and harvest them from a huge nopale cactus growing in the garden; it's the one with the prickly pears growing.
Ted approaching nopale cactus with a knife

When harvesting nopales, it wouldn't hurt to wear garden gloves; meaning, it will hurt LESS if you protect your hands with something.  Ted chose young, tiernas (tender) shoots, cutting at the base and letting it fall into the container (in this case, a collander) he used so as not to handle the shoots and get spinas (needles) in his hands and fingers.
The harvest!  Ouch, look at those needles!

On another day, I tried doing this myself, and thought I was nimble-fingered enough to avoid getting spinas w/o wearing gloves.  Surprise!  I got numerous tiny spinas that I had to use tweezers to remove in bright sunlight - they are hard to see!  But they hurt a lot, considering how small they are.

Removing spinas

Next step is probably THE most important:  cleaning the shoots by cutting off ALL the spinas.  Yes, every single one, no matter how tiny.  We went over each piece THREE times: first, scraping with a paring knife, then using a vegetable peeler to remove a small round area where each group of spinas had been, and finally, going around the edges of the pieces with the paring knife again.  This does take option is to buy the nopales at the market already cleaned.
Nopales at the open air market, already partially-cleaned!
I actually saw them at the Mega, which is a supermarket, completely de-needled.  (I just didn't get a photo.)  It is fun to harvest food out of your own yard, but you can "jump in" anywhere in the process here.

The next step is to rinse the shoots and then cut them into bite-size cubes.  Then put them in a collander and rinse again.

Then, put bite-size pieces in a sauce pan and cover with water.  Put on the stove, and bring to a boil.  Turn down the heat and simmer gently for a few minutes.  Turn off the heat and drain them, rinsing with cold water.  Nopales have a "slimy" quality, like okra, and this is what you are trying to diminish, as well as soften-up the nopales pieces.  Put the pieces back into the pan, cover with water and repeat the cooking process.  Drain again and rinse with cold water again.

Put the pieces in a bowl and sprinkle liberally with apple cider vinegar.  Cover and chill, letting the nopales marinate in the vinegar.

Now you can make your salad:  you can add chopped onion, radishes, tomatoes, cilantro, jicama, carrots, cucumbers.  You want the nopales however, to be the star, so the other chopped and/or diced vegetables are just supporting characters.  Squeeze fresh lime over the salad.  Chill for as long as you can before it's time to eat - hopefully, an hour or so.  Leftover salad will keep in the refrigerator for another 2 days; after that, it's "done for" and headed to the compost pile.  The taste and texture is very different than anything I have ever had - and very delicious, and I'm told, very nutritious as well.

And boy, am I glad that the washing machine's working again!


  1. Way to go Alaine !!!! What a great way to serve nopales ---- in a fresh, tasty salad !!!

  2. What a great looking salad you and Ted have made. I did not know how much effort goes into this but as most of us know, good food is worth the time it takes. Thanks for sharing the information here.