Believe me, this story is not made up at all, and its moral is simple: before there is a cactus, you need to remove its thorns. The thing, it would seem, is obvious. In the end, before eating most animals are pre-fresh or at least freed from wool. The bird is plucked, the fish is cleaned of scales, porcupine, I believe, they are also deprived of his formidable needles.
Cooking and eating cactus, cactus dishes, recipe for juice, jelly, syrup and cactus wine. Extreme cuisine.
So, this story happened on a huge ranch located in the southwestern United States. One of my friends suddenly drew attention to a cow, calmly chewing prickly prickly pear prickly pear, which looked like a chaotic congestion of Mickey Mouse’s ears. In spring or summer, beautiful flowers appear on the edge of the discoid stems of this succulent, and then fleshy fruits, usually red or yellow.
“They say cacti taste good,” my friend said. I nodded in the affirmative and asked if he would like to take a little with him to have a snack in our house. We began to cut off with a knife the flat oval “leaves” of the cactus and carefully lower them into the backpack. The cow, continuing to chew, looked at us calmly. And suddenly an unexpected thing happened. My friend stared at the cow and … bit off the cactus. Apparently, he decided that a man is in no way inferior to a cow. A moment later, his cry rang out, dozens of thorns immediately dug into his lips.
“Cacti are especially good with blood,” I said. – Wow! In one, however, my friend was right: cacti are usually eaten raw, albeit pre-peeled, without glochidia and thorns. There are many ways: walk along them with a small twig with leaves when the selected cactus segment is still attached to the main plant. Put on thick gloves and lay the torn segment on the ground, break off the thorns with a wet thick towel. It is recommended to use leather gloves, although they do not always save from injections, some cactus collectors prefer to use forceps.
Then you need to cut a piece of the top and bottom, make a longitudinal incision and remove the skin from the cactus. Under it is a viscous sweet mass, which, according to ethnobotanists, has been included in the human diet for nine thousand years. You can cut the stems of the cactus in half and eat the pulp with a spoon, sprinkled with lemon or lime juice. Cactus seeds are eaten fried or dried in the sun and ground into flour for baking bread. In addition, oil is obtained from the seeds. Fleshy stalks are dried for subsequent consumption in food – they make marmalade and sweets, at home they brew a low alcohol drink.
Today, many edible species of cacti, in particular the prickly pear prickly pear, which is considered the most delicious, but not the only one, have spread from their native regions of North, Central and South America to the regions of Southern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and further throughout the Asian continent, widely found in Hawaii and in Australia. But why is the practice of eating cacti not so widespread? After all, this plant, by the way, is easy to grow both on a personal plot and indoors.
If an amateur gardener needs a practically food-free food culture, then a cactus is an ideal candidate. Just plant it in a sunny place and the cactus will grow without your help. Frequent watering is not required, the plant has enough rare rain and moisture fogs. However, not many farmers cultivate them. In the Israeli Negev desert, professor of Ben-Gurion University Joseph Mizrahi and a group of gardeners took up the cultivation, selection and sale of cacti in 1996, because they believe that over time these plants will turn into a very profitable agricultural crop.
In the gardens of the farm, more than 80 wild species of fruitful cacti are cultivated, including Mongo from the Kalahari Desert, Indian Desert Apple and Moroccan Argon, as well as 1,500 domesticated hybrids. Products are mainly supplied to specialized European markets. Opuntia alone, there are about 250 species. All of them come from America, and the Indians know best about their properties. No wonder prickly pear is also called an Indian fig tree..
Navajo Indians collected spiky discs (cladodias) with the help of slings, and the Apaches used wooden tongs. Most often, the stems were cleaned and eaten raw, and also harvested in dried form. Sometimes they were kneaded and mixed with dried venison and fat, getting a dish that could be eaten with hands or spread on coarse bread. The Indians also roasted raw discs on coals – the heat destroyed the thorns; in addition, they used the cactus as an emergency source of moisture: they cleaned the stems and chewed the juicy flesh.
Young leaves were also peeled, chopped and boiled like beans or fried in fat or oil with other vegetables. Nutritious, but not too revered as a product, cacti in areas where they grow are rarely used for food, but more often they taste in other places, and the geography of these places is gradually expanding. In Mexico and the southwestern United States, young prickly pear sprouts are cut into thin slices or slices and cooked with green vegetables, onions, chili peppers, cheese, eggs, spices and herbs, resulting in a filling for tacos. They are also added to salads and omelettes.
Park Nobel, author of The Wonderful Agave and Cacti (1994), advises collecting treasures that are several weeks old when their length does not exceed 30 centimeters and there are still no thorns, and peeling with a potato or ordinary knife, cutting out eyes that later would grow needles.
“Cook in a small amount of salted water (about a third of the volume of the leaves) over low heat until soft (about 10 minutes). If you wish, dip the onion, garlic and cilantro there, ”Nobel writes. – If a viscous mass remains after boiling and draining the water, rinse with cold water. The taste will be like that of a gherkin or green pepper, but in consistency – something between fibrous beans and okrei ”.
In many areas of Mexico and the southwestern United States, where cacti are called nopal, and food from them is nopalitos, a fairly powerful specialized industry has emerged in recent years. As a result, canned cacti appeared in Mexican grocery stores, and cactus candies and jams appeared in tourist shops and supermarkets. Cacti are green succulent plants of the family of the same name (Cactacae), often with characteristic segmented stems, without leaves, but with many spines. Easily tolerate drought..
Some Native American tribes not only consumed cacti as food, but also attached cult significance to them – in particular, they literally whipped the thorny stems of their new leaders, thereby endowing them with supreme power and hunting happiness. The Indians also laid pieces of cactus in the corners of the new dwelling, “to give the house roots.” In China, a cactus is called the hand of a sorceress who brings misfortune to pregnant women, but otherwise they treat them favorably and enjoy eating. Slices of cactus can be found in salads in Greece, North Africa and the Middle East.
Especially appreciated for their juiciness, cacti are the only available source of water in desert and semi-desert areas. In addition to prickly pear, cacti of another three genera are distinguished by a high moisture content. Firstly, ferocactus; as a rule, it is small, looks like a barrel and is abundantly dotted with thorns; just cut off the top and enjoy the flesh. Secondly, cereus, tall, thin, with pronounced longitudinal ribs, sharp needles and prominent fruits; all of its parts are edible, and to get water, again, you need to open the stem and scrape the flesh. The third cactus that I want to mention is carnegia, also known as the giant saguaro and cereus..
Its central stem reaches a diameter of 0.6 meters, and a height of 15 meters; the lateral stems depart from it at a right angle, and then turn up at the same angle. Standing alone on a hilltop, Carnegia resembles a candelabrum or a green giant with its arms raised. Monumental carnegia serves as a reminder that the problem of endangered species can affect the world of cacti. Today, the distribution area of this giant is limited to Southern California, Arizona, and the desert regions of northern Mexico. At a time when carnegia was more common, the Indians considered its red sweet fruits a special treat and made jams and liquor from them, or dried the fruits and ate them with porridge.
As for my friend, who had so recklessly decided to eat a cactus, I explained to him that there were thorns for that, so that there were fewer people who wanted to eat this plant. “But what about the cows?” – he asked. “No way,” I answered. “They are just more hungry than you.” “And just a little dumber,” I added mentally.
Recipe for Cactus Juice, Jelly, Syrup and Wine.
It’s time to get the kitchen tongs and a 9-liter plastic bucket. Use forceps to pick up the ripe cactus fruits and put them in a bucket. Wash the fruit with water from a garden hose. It doesn’t matter if water starts to flow out of a bucket, let it flow to plants that need watering. Now transfer the fruits to a large pot and pour 2 liters of water there. Put the boiler on fire, bring the water to a boil and, when the fruits are slightly softened, pierce them with a fork. Juice will flow through the punctures.
After the fruits are soft, crush them and then fold them in a colander and let the water drain. Strain the resulting juice through three layers of gauze. Now you can proceed with the preparation of cactus jelly, syrup, and perhaps wine. There is a great way to make jelly. Mix 1 liter of cactus juice with 4 cups of sugar. Over high heat, bring the juice to a boil and with constant stirring, pour 2 sachets of pectin into it. Reduce the heat and after a while remove the pan from the stove. Allow the liquid to cool, pour it into plastic containers and place them in the freezer. Subsequently, allowing the contents of the container to thaw, you can enjoy excellent jelly.
If for some unknown reason you can’t make the jelly, then you have to be content with cactus syrup. They are good at watering pancakes, waffles and ice cream. The syrup is made in the same way as jelly, only pectin is added: for each liter of juice, 1 sachet will be enough. To get cactus wine, pour 8 cups of sugar into 4.5 liters of cooled cactus juice. When stirring, add 1 package of yeast there. Pour juice into a container of appropriate volume, cover and place in a cool dark place. The wine will be ready in a month. Necessary warning: if you close the container too tightly, it may burst, which will hurt men’s pride and plunge any man into despondency.
Based on the book Extreme Cuisine.