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.

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