These are nopales -- a standard vegetable in Mexico yet something that I have never seen at a standard grocery store. Generally, they're available in the small produce section at Lily's, one of Howard County's best ethnic markets. Grilled or cooked on a skillet, the cactus becomes tender and has a mild flavor. It has a vegetable taste, a touch of sourness. You can find endless uses on the Web, but you could be eating cactus tacos this evening if you just stop at Lily's off Dobbin Road.
The cactus at Lily's already has the spines removed. Or at least almost all the spines. Be careful, and run a knife along the nopales to scrap off any errand spines once you get home. Pick pads that look plump. They have lasted me several days in the fridge. With some of Lily's store-made corn tortillas and any toppings that you enjoy, you can make weeknight tacos.
You can buy everything in the recipe below from Lily's. For more about Oaxaca cheese, check out Ready Set Kate's post. You can omit the chorizo or substitute chicken, ground beef (with or without "taco spices") or a diced potato that you have boiled until tender. I rely on good salsas to provide much of the zest to weeknight tacos, but you could jazz this up however you want -- homemade salsa, summer tomatoes, lettuce, etc. Next, I'm going to try this nopales in chipotle sauce.
If you haven't been to Lily's, you should definitely try Howard County's best Latin American market. Click here for all the posts about Lily's -- including ones about horchata, chips, takeout tacos, fresh corn tortillas, tamales, and more. Or click for the starting page for my "What I Learned" guide to food in Howard County.
Weeknight Cactus Tacos
(serves two or three)
2 cactus paddles from Lily's
1 can black beans or other beans, warmed on the stovetop (option: add some minced garlic)
1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, seeded and diced
shredded Oaxaca or cheddar cheese
1/2 pound chorizo, cut into small pieces
6-10 corn tortillas
1) Starting at one of the short ends of the cactus, make slices along the length of the cactus every half inch. Stop about an inch-and-half from the other end. When you're done, the cactus will look like a hand with many fingers.
2) Heat a ridged grill pan or a grill. Cook the cactus on one side until it chars a little and starts to soften. Flip over the cactus and cook until it is tender. (The "hand" cutting makes it easier to flip the cactus in one piece.)
3) While the cactus is cooking, saute the chorizo and cut up the other vegetables.
4) If the tortillas have been in the fridge, reheat them. Wet a paper towel and wring it out. Wrap one or two tortillas per person in the damp towel, then microwave for 15-20 seconds. Check to see if they're warm. Microwave more in 15-second steps until they're moist and warm.
5) When the cactus is tender, slice it so that the "fingers" become chunks of nopales.
6) Serve all the items in bowls and let people make their own tacos.