I'm back. Sort of. We'll see.
Let's talk about the eating part of Lent. Lent is not actually about food, but for all practical purposes it may sometimes seem like it is about food. I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but if you are an Orthodox Christian you will understand what I mean.
Now if we were fasting perfectly, we would be eating (or not eating in some instances) small simple meals of essentially nutmeats and dried fruits or raw fruits or vegetables and bread and praying and acting in love towards our neighbors. Evagrius said that one of the Fathers used to say, “Eat a little without irregularity; if charity is joined to this, it leads the monk rapidly to the threshold of apatheia [apatheia is defined as “the state of being unmoved by passion; this involves control of the passions rather than their destruction.”] (#6, p. 64) See? Not about food.
The problem is I am not a desert mother. And neither are my kids. Worse, I am not even shooting for desert parenthood status. I'm just trying to make it to bedtime.
Without crowing about it, we try to keep the fast, even with the kids. I do keep milk in the fridge, but we keep the meals fast-worthy.
When we lived in Texas, my favorite lenten addition was cactus or nopales. Of course, Johnstown, Pennsylvania has little in the way of Latin American immigrants and therefore no cactus leaves. Or so I thought.
You see, one day I visited our local Big Bird Supermarket and used the self-checkout. All I needed was some celery, but alas it lacked the appropriate UPC code (94070). So I scrolled through the directory and lo! there they were. Opuntia ficus-indica.. Now, the rule at the local Big Bird is: if it is on their list, they can get it. And that is true, but first you have to convince some one that you actually want it, that you are willing to buy the entire box. Second, that you really want it and that you are willing to pay for the whole, entire box. Annnnnnd finally that you really want it and you are willing to buy the whole, entire, 10+ pound box. At retail. THE WHOLE THING. JUST GIMME THE BOX!! JUST ORDER IT AND I WILL BUY IT! AAAAAAARRRRRRRRGH!!!!
Excuse me. Sorry. It was an ordeal, but I never really understood why.
Anyway, I've been chatting up these South of the Border treats quite a bit on The Social Network and it occurred to me that unless you have some sort of Latino connection, preparing this suckers might be a thorny situation. Heh.
How to Pick 'Em
So if you have seen these babies hanging around your local fruit-stand this is what to look for: young pads, the size of your hand or smaller. They should look green (like lettuce), firm, crisp, and succulent (since Optunia are after all succulents). The fewer the spines the better. And believe it or not, there are spineless varieties. Rejoice if you find them. Cactus leaves will keep in the fridge about a week.
How to Prepare Them
Obviously you do not want a mouth full of spines. Or a hand full of spines for that matter. It hurts like the dickens, for starters, and it takes days to get those near invisible red spines out of your fingers. I use a razor sharp paring knife and a quart size freezer bag as my glove. This way I can quickly clean and cut each pad down to size. It helps if they are cold. So 'glove' your holding hand with the baggie taking the knife trim the edges of all their spines. Then holding the pad flat to the cutting board, scrape or slice off those spines with your super sharp paring knife. Trim the stem end. Rinse and repeat with the rest of the leaves. When you have completed your task slice the leaves into ½" squares (nopalitos) or you can leave them whole as your recipe requires.
How to Cook Them
Depending on the recipe you choose there are several options: parboil, sauté, roast, or grill. For Lenten, oil free preparations, parboiling is best. Slice a little onion, crush a garlic clove, add the nopalitos, cover with water and boil for about 3 or 4 minutes. DO NOT OVERCOOK IT. It will be a slimy mess. My favorite preparation with parboiled napoles is Nopales Salad. Nothing could be more simple. Dice some tomatoes, a little onion and garlic, either some jalepeño or dried red chile flakes, and some cilantro. What can you put this on? What can't you put it on? Today I sautéed boiled potatoes and beans with some of this delightful ensalada and served these as tacos. Over some steamed squash (particularly this guy). Garnish soups with it or some vegan enchiladas.
|Still not convinced? They taste like zippy-tangy green beans. |
Live a little, amigo! Try it; you'll like it.