Wild About - Prickly Pear Fruit (Spicy Tuna Rolls, Tuna Salad, and Dried Prickly Pear Fruit)

When was the last time you tasted a fruit so good that you could only describe the taste as magical? Ah-ha, then it's time to try prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) fruit! Of course, it makes sense, a fruit guarded with all of those spines and glochids would taste magical. Prickly pear fruit tastes like watermelon mashed up with tutti-fruity; it's concentrated and non-acidic. Seriously! Watermelon meets tutti-fruity! Hang on, so these things have been dotting the landscape my whole life and I've never eaten them before? Sigh. Again. Foraging!

This foraging trip was special to me because I convinced my mom to go along with me. She's been fighting a terrible illness for over two years, and has only recently regained a measure of strength. I knew of a good patch of nopales near her house, so with only a small amount of kicking and screaming and whining, I was able to drag her out on a foraging trip.

You see, this particular patch is just off a popular bike path. So we took a pair of tongs and a big bag, and went to work. She held the bag and stood watch while I harvested the fruit with bbq tongs. We collected about 3 quarts of fruit, more than enough to experiment cooking with. The best part of this story is that just after we secured the fruit in my backpack, a park ranger drove by. Mind you, we were picking legally, but we had the thrill of getting away with something.

The fruit of these cactus are known as tunas in Spanish, and this is what inspired my recipes. But first matters first, these little critters need to be cleaned of their glochids, the tiny stickery spines that cover them. Not so much fun to have these lodged in your mouth and throat. I read all sorts of different methods for cleaning these. But in the end, what worked best for me was to cut off both ends, and then stand them on end and cut off the skin in strips with a knife. Next, I cut them in half and stripped away the seeds (supposedly these are edible, good luck if your teeth are stronger than mine), then give them a quick wash under running water, just to be safe.

The first recipe that I made was spicy tuna rolls. Get it? Arf! Tuna rolls. Ok fine, I crack myself up anyhow. I made up a batch up sushi rice - short grained rice plus equal dashes of seasoned rice vinegar and sugar, and a pinch of salt. I rolled up the rice in nori with a line of prickly pear fruit. Then I mixed up some mayo with finely chopped (foraged!) watercress and some grated horseradish from my backyard. Nothing formal here, just wiped some of the spicy mayo across my ill-formed tuna rolls. Tasted great!

Next, I made a tuna salad. Come on, that's funny, right?! Prickly pear tunas... tuna salad! Sigh, nevermind, maybe you just don't have a sense of humor. I combined diced prickly pear fruit with some diced apples (there are still a few apples kicking around in my yard) and garlic chives (I've got a tiny garden patch that hasn't frozen yet). I dressed them with homemade black walnut infused oil (recipe upcoming, walnut oil or olive oil would work fine), and a squirt of lemon, then placed the salad on a bed of watercress and garnished with a sprinkling of black walnuts.

I think that perhaps my favorite way to have prickly pear fruit, aside from fresh, is to clean them, and set them in the sun to dry. These are good plain, but also try dusting them in a mix of chile powder, sugar, and salt (like those yummy Mexican mango-chile lollies) before drying. Nummers.

Ready for more prickly pear recipe ideas? You might enjoy making Fairybekk's Prickly Pear Jelly.

I'm sharing this post with Pennywise Platter Thursday at Nourishing Gourmet, and the Hearth and Soul Hop. If you're looking for real food recipes on a budget, follow the links.


  1. Oh great, make me want something I can't have. Prickly pears are native here, but the road guys keep them MOWED down...otherwise I'd have a patch just off my property line.

    I wonder how old they have to me to produce fruit?

  2. I really want to move by you -for lots of reasons but today - because we don't have any of these prickly pears around here. I love the sushi rolls - yum, makes me crave sushi.

  3. Very glad to see this post. There are lots of prickly pear cactus in the San Diego area to harvest for both the fruit and the leaf pads (nopales). Or cheat and buy at the farmer's market (wink, wink).

    Actually, there is a fairly big prickly pear cactus in an area of my property where I rarely venture - at the stop of a steep slope, right next to the fence that borders with our neighbor. I need to remember to climb up there more often to determine when the fruit is ready for picking.

  4. TONGS! Oh man you're clever. I used rubber gloves. Amazing. I love how we end up experimenting with the same things at the same times :).
    And I found it funny, the tuna roll thing. In fact I'm going to try that next time I go visit my mum...

  5. Jenny - Probably not best to pick the ones just off a road anyhow. Surely there's more around?

    Christy - You just wait, girl, I'm gonna have you picking all sorts of wild things next spring!

    ATG - If I lived in SD, I'd be all over those critters. Now that I've used up my supply, and any that remain outside have frozen solid, I've decided dried prickly pear fruit is about the tastiest dried food ever (well, ok, outside of jerky). Sigh. Next year.

    Rebecca - Yep, tongs. Beats the heck out of the shoe method ;) I like our joint ventures, too. You've been a big inspiration to me.

  6. ha ha ha ha...I totally get it! ;) We do eat plenty of tunas in the summer when we can get them from the Mexican market...as there's no cacti growing anywhere around me...aaahhhh... Hubby has great stories of growing up and overeating them (not good...seeds clogging up the insides and all)...but he still loves them in moderation. They make a great agua fresca, too! Love your "tuna' applications! Did you cook up the nopales, too???

  7. I'd have loved to cook up the nopales, but these plants are so small, nothing like the ones in the grocery. After playing with the fruit, I felt like I had had enough.

    Clogging up the insides? Yikes!

  8. So many uses for a very humble desert fruit. I also loved it just plain and eat the seeds, never heard or removing the seeds. But like girlichef said in agua fresca is also very refreshing during the hot summer months.

    Thanks for the great ideas to add on things like sushi, very creative.


  9. Hey Mely, I wonder if the seeds were hard in mine because the fruit were so small?

  10. Haha! Prickly pears in sushi? Hillarious! Never would have thought to try that! Thanks for sharing on the Hearth and Soul blog hop.


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