Wednesday, April 3, 2013

C is for Cooking and Cacti

(This month I will be participating in the A to Z Blogger Challenge. Each day my post will be inspired by successive letters of the alphabet. In addition, I am trying to use this challenge to tell you, dear Blog readers, more about my 90-day jaunt around the country! Click here to see links to other responses to this challenge.)

Cacti and Cooking

While we were in Arizona we made a quick trip to the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden.

Our timing was perfect! As we walked through the gates a tour through the garden was just beginning. We learned so much about cacti!

We learned:

Cacti really don't have flowing water in them.
The liquid in most cacti will make you sick.
Cacti have a rigid, woody inner core for support,
surrounded by water absorbing fibers.
The ridges on cactus give it more surface area for photosynthesis,
and allow the cactus to swell when water is plentiful.

Cross Section

Cacti have beautiful flowers in many different colors.

From the flowers come a variety of edible fruits.
Ancient peoples harvested the fruit.
Today fruits are still used to make candies and jam.

Cochineal is a deep red dye that comes from 
insects of the same name.
The Cochineal thrive on prickly pear, 
looking like some sort of cottony scale.
When the insect is crushed it creates a strong, permanent dye.
Many red lipsticks get their color from cochineal...bleech!

The Saguaro cactus grows at a very slow rate. It takes about 70 years before the cactus produces its first 'arm'. This type of cacti only live 150-200 years. When Saguaro cacti die, they leave a hard wood skeleton behind. 

And, now for the cooking...

Our guide shared information about cooking "nopales", the newest, uppermost leaf of a prickly pear cactus.
I had seen nopales at western grocery stores, so I picked some up. They were very reasonably priced, about $ .15 for each 'paddle'.

I peeled the area around each cactus needle, 
then I cut off the edge.

I chopped the nopales into small pieces.
They are a bit slimy.
Once they are cut they are called, "nopalitos".

I sautéed the Nopalitos with onion.

The outcome? 
Mr. Dreamy commented that they were, "alright".
I think that may mean,
"No need to go through this effort again for me!"


  1. Cactus is about the only plant I can't kill :)

  2. Any food item that is only 15 cents a paddle...well theres your clue right there! LOL

    and the lipstick bug- fascinating!

  3. I love you are doing this! And I love to be able to see where you are travelling!!! There are so many hidden treasures of places to visit around our country - I can't wait to see all where you go and explore!
    -Buried in CO

  4. I can't imagine what that would taste like.

  5. Cochineal was used for coloring in strawberry milkshakes by both McDonalds and Starbucks until word got out. True story.

  6. Never had that dish, but oh, when I would go to Arizona to visit my grandparents, or they would come up to visit me, cactus candy. Sort of a lovely version of Applets and Cotlets. Good grief, my mouth is watering! And yes, knowing that bug 'guts' make your (x item here) is rather... disconcerting.



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