How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears

Please welcome Garrett McCord as he shows us how to cut up a prickly pear. ~Elise

Known to few, the fruit of the nopales cactus (cacti with beaver tail-like paddles), are actually quite edible. Called prickly pears, these neon fruit provide delicious juice that tastes like a cross between all-natural bubblegum (if indeed there is such a thing) and watermelon.

Prickly pear juice is often used to make jam or candy, but works wonders in cocktails and used in vinaigrettes for salads. I’ve used the juice to flavor cream cheese frosting for a lime flavored cupcake, and have seen others boil it down with a bit of orange and lemon juice to make a sauce for fruit salads and cheesecakes.

Many Mexican markets, farmers markets, and some natural food supermarkets carry prickly pears, but you can find these plants growing in California, the Southwest, Mexico, and the Mediterranean. Be warned though, while the ones in markets have been cleaned of the tiny hair-like thorns, the ones fresh off the cactus are covered with them, so be sure to handle them with heavy leather work gloves and scrub them hard to ensure all the painful little barbs are off. Either way, handle them carefully or with gloves just in case.

Method

1 Slice both ends of the prickly pear off. Discard them.

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2 Make one long vertical slice down the body of the prickly pear.

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3 Slip your finger into the slice and grab a hold of the skin.

4 Begin to peel back the thick fleshy skin that's wrapped around the prickly pear. Discard the skin. You'll be left with the prickly pear itself. The flesh is studded with tons of little edible seeds, if you like them, feel free to just chop the prickly pear up and eat, seeds and all.

I myself prefer just the juice. To extract the juice, place the "husked" prickly pears into a blender or food processor and pulse until liquefied. Place the juice into a fine mesh sieve and push out the juice into a pitcher or bowl. Discard the remaining pulp and seeds.

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 mixed in with some fresh lemonade, just use equal parts of prickly pear juice to lemonade.

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