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Nopales a la Cazuela (Cactus Paddles in Clay Pot)

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This is a deceptively straightforward recipe utilizing the paddles of prickly pear cactus. In San Antonio, we are familiar with dishes made from nopales, or nopalitos, as they are called here.  Some of the difficulties in preparing this food include finding good, fresh pads in the store; cleaning off the spines (if there are any) without getting stabbed; and finding ways to cook them so that the sliminess that develops naturally is minimized.

At The Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio Latin Flavors, American Kitchens Symposium held here this week, chef Francisco Cárdenas presented a traditional Mexican way of cooking the pads, in a clay pot, or cazuela.  As do most cooks in Mexico, he likes to use dried or lightly toasted Mexican oregano rather than fresh. Also, he used the stems as well as the cilantro leaves, because of the flavor and the added crunch they produce.

Nopales a la Cazuela

1 pound raw cactus pads, trimmed of spines
4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup diced onion
1 garlic clove, minced
4 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1 tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
Sea salt, to taste

Rinse the trimmed nopales, dice and set aside. In a hot cazuela, add the canola oil and saute the onions until translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 minutes, stirring. Continue stirring and add the nopales, cilantro and oregano. Season with salt.

Stirring periodically, cook over medium heat for approximately 35 minutes or until no liquid remains. Serve immmediately as a warm salad or side dish.

Makes 6-8 servings.

From Francisco Cárdenas, chef/owner of El Petit Four, a pastry shop and cafe in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

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