Cactus is known to be a plant which holds water and can provide hydration to animals in the desert. A lesser known fact about cactus is that some varieties, such as nopales, prickly pears and Indian figs are very suitable, and tasty, for eating.
Other than general taste or availability, there aren’t a lot of compelling reasons for cooking or eating cactus over other green vegetables. Cactus contains a good amount of potassium and fiber and small amounts of Vitamin A, Vitamin C, some Calcium and Iron.
The best way to include the cactus fruit in your meals is to eat it like a pear or apple. When the cactus fruit is served cold it can be very refreshing and delicious. You simply cut the fruit in half, scoop out the meat on the inside, and eat. You can also peel the outer skin and eat it whole.
This fruit is said to taste like watermelon or berry with a similar texture. It is also sweet and juicy, similar to these more popular fruits. There are very small seeds which can be either eaten or discarded – whatever you choose. With the seeds, the texture might also remind you somewhat of a kiwi. You can even use the fruit in a margarita (prickly pear margarita).
The fruit tends to be a couple of inches long and shaped somewhat similarly to an avocado. The color can be yellow to dark red depending on the variety as well as the ripeness. The fruits don’t tend to have a lot of stickers on them, but you do want to wash well and double-check for prickles before you serve.
Cooking and eating the pads of the cactus can only be done after you remove the prickles, of course. A delicious way to prepare and serve this is to then trim off the tough outer edges of the pads and dice the meaty part into small squares or longer strips. You can then use the pieces in stir fry or eat them raw in salad. The meaty part of the pads gets slightly slimy when cooked, kind of like okra. However the unique flavor makes for an interesting change to spice up your mundane menu plan.
A particularly interesting mixture to create with cactus is to combine it with red bell pepper, green bell pepper, onion and garlic. You can saute the cactus with these other vegetables in butter or, preferably, olive oil. Season to taste and serve over rice and/or with chicken.