May 05, 2021
The history of Cinco de Mayo is a David-and-Goliath story — it commemorates the triumph of an ingenious Mexican army over a formidable enemy, France, in the Battle of Pueblo on May 5, 1862. Four days later, Benito Juárez, Mexico’s then prime minister, declared Cinco de Mayo a national holiday. The French army eventually defeated Mexico to take control of the country, but it was a small but inspirational victory for Mexico and one that sent a powerful message to the rest of the world.
Cuisine-wise, the world can thank our neighbors to the south for foods including chilis, avocados and the delicious nopal. Essentially the pads or paddles from the Opuntia indica cactus plant and commonly called prickly pear, nopales grew wild in central arid and semi-arid regions of Mexico.
The pads — which have a tart flavor resembling green beans — can be eaten raw or cooked, added to egg scrambles, soups, stews and salads. They are loaded with dietary fiber and antioxidants and a mucilaginous texture, and the only tricky part about cooking them is trimming off their spines and thorns.
This summer, try grilling nopales on your backyard grill and topping them with this simple tomato masala. The jaggery adds a touch of sweetness to the masala, but feel free to leave it out.
4 to 5 nopales or cactus paddles
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
2 cups small teardrop tomatoes, cut in half
8 to 10 whole red chilis
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon jaggery (optional)
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons peanuts for garnish
Cilantro sprigs for garnish
Using a sharp knife, carefully trim the spines off the cactus paddles. Combine them with 2 cups of water, salt, and turmeric and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Drain. The nopales can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Grill on an outdoor grill or broil in an oven just before serving.
Heat the olive oil and pop the mustard seeds. Immediately add the garlic, tomatoes, whole red chilis, chili powder, jaggery, and salt.
Cook on high heat, stirring frequently for 2 to 3 minutes, then lower the heat and simmer for another couple of minutes.
Spoon over the grilled nopales and garnish with peanuts and cilantro sprigs.
December 02, 2022