Nopales from a Jar -- What to Make?
In restaurants, I've mostly encoutered them chopped into salads, which I enjoy -- and can figure out on my own. Ditto for the scrambled eggs with nopales that one occasionally finds in breakfast tacos. Anyone got any interesting, creative, but not-too-fancy-shmancy ideas?
I just impulse-purchased my first jar of them, and they're pretty darned good straight up -- more or less the same as I've had in restaurants (doubts about which had led me to avoid buying my own).
Eager to try making something new and different and showing off for company!
Ok, I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna give away my family's cactus chicken recipe.
6 skinless boneless chx thighs, cut into chunks
1 large jar nopales (the kind that come in strips)
1 large can tomatillos
1 can tomato paste
1 large onion, roughly chopped
1 small can chopped green chilies; OR three to four jarred pickled jalapenos, chopped (I like the kind from Goya); OR two chopped canned chipotles and a few spoons of their adobo sauce
1 box low sodim chx broth
ground cumin to taste
Brown the chicken in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven (or similar). Once browned, throw in the onion and cook until soft (a few minutes). Drain and rinse the nopales, and throw them in the pot. Drain the tomatillos and add to the pot. Try not to pop the tomatillos as you drain them, you don't want to lose the juice and seeds within, but once they're in the pot, break them up with a wooden spoon (be warned, they'll squirt). Add the tomato paste, chilies (and adobo if using), and some ground cumin (I usually add about 2 tsp, but it should be to taste). Stir to combine, then add chx broth to cover the items in the pot. Stir, turn down the heat to a very low simmer, cover and let it do its thing for about 35-40 minutes. When you come back to it, stir aggresively to help the chicken shred into small pieces. You'll want this to end up as the consistency of a thick stew -- it shouldn't be brothy at all. Keep simmering and stir-shredding the meat until it's the right thickness. Taste and adjust salt/pepper seasoning as needed. If you like a bit of tartness, add a squeeze of lime. Chop a large handful of cilantro and stir it in before serving. We like to eat this wrapped in tortillas, accompanied by thick yogurt (or sour ceam), guac, and tomatillo salsa.
PS: of course you can sub pork or beef for the chicken. I've even done this veg style for friends who don't eat meat.
Sadly the Jar ones are VERY inferior to freshed cooked ones, which is what most GOOD mexican resturants will use them for...
If I was stuck with a jar... my first suggestion would be with eggs and chorizo... They don't cook for long (Their texture is pretty bad with the 'canning' process) and the chorizo will help LIVEN up their flavor.
In the future, when the the craving strikes, PLEASE get fresh and boil them youself. It's not terribly hard and many Hispanic Markets sell them already cut up and washed. Heck if you are lucky, you have a little grandma like mine living next to you who sells them cleaned and ready to go from their yard! She ONLY uses the most tender tasty paddles... :)
That's a good point, the fresh ones can be much much better-- I used to get them when I lived in LA, but now that I live in the northeast, the "fresh" ones are not only hard to find, but often they look like they've been mailed from Mexico without an envelope. :( Really beat up and limp and sad. I'd say with some rinsing and refreshing, the jarred ones can be tolerable for those of us who live in more remote outposts...
I'm not saying the jarred ones are muy fantastico, but they seem okay to me for what they are -- the drop-off from fresh is clearly there, but in the past I had avoided them bcs I thought they'd be inedible, and I've actually been enjoying them. That being said, I'll take the advice to to heart and hit up my Latina colleague-friends to get me some from their markets in Queens or the Bronx.
But after I boil them, then what -- other than chopped in various variations on salads, eggs,etc.?
They can be used with just about any prep and added in just like any other vegetable, think green beans (Which is what my mother called them when she would take them to her pot lucks at work! LOL!). You can add them to soups, casseroles, stews. They are also awesome grilled and eatten whole.
They truly are a versatile ingredent because they are hearty and hold up well under a lot of cooking conditions...
Two standby preparations that are not terribly creative, but more interesting that straight out of the jar :)
-- Rinse well, chop into ~1in pieces and mix with chopped serrano pepper and cilantro, diced tomato and onion, and season with a splash of vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil. Toss in a little bit of crumbled queso fresco, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
-- Rinse well and chop; saute some chopped onion until starting to caramelize, and toss in some diced tomato, nopal, and minced garlic or chopped jalapeno if you want. Season with salt and pepper to taste.