Monday, May 11, 2009

Cactus at Lily's Mexican Market

Easy and exotic. You can't find something more unusual for such little effort than the cactus paddles on sale at Lily's Mexican Market.

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.


Pizzablogger said...

Great post! Those weeknight tacos sound wonderful. You can also make cactus nectar, which is good in margaritas.

Anonymous said...

Neat- thanks for the cooking tips and recipe! When I lived in New Mexico they carried this in all of the grocery stores but I was never brave enough to buy any and cook with it.

Now I just might!

Anonymous said...

I am a regular at Lily's market and Lily Soto, owner, was telling me about a new place her husband, Julio Soto, is opening off Snowden River Parkway called Azul 17 Mexican Cuisine & Tequila Lounge. I drove by and sure enough it is there and is suppose to open beginning of October. It looks really cool inside with blue teal walls and white leather banquettes, very modern & lounge like. She mentioned the food would be authentic but with a more contemporary preparation, offering over 100 tequilas, and live lounge djs on friday and saturdays. I am so excited to have a new and hip place to hange out on the weekends, Can't Wait!