Last month I visited Jungle Jim’s where I picked up a slew of fun and unusual ingredients. Ever since then, I’ve been cooking and blogging my way through everything I bought! In the international produce I found some prickly pears and cactus paddles – both of which are pretty hard to find at just your average grocery store here in Ohio.
Inspired to try new things, I decided to make cactus fries and prickly pear cactus ketchup. Prior to making these, I had never had cactus at all, aside from some cactus jelly I tried once in my childhood. It tastes sort of like okra crossed with green beans, with a hint of asparagus.
I also had only tried prickly pear once in my life, but never had I peeled one. Turns out the skin comes off pretty easily if it’s ripe, leaving you with a completely peeled pink pear-shaped fruit center.
Prickly pears have a very seedy texture, so after I blended the pears in a food processor, I strained it through a sieve to get a nice smooth puree. It will be pretty liquidy in consistency at first. I boiled mine with some sugar, apple cider vinegar, and lime juice for a few minutes to thicken it up, then chilled until I was ready to serve.
Removing the spines from the cactus paddles is definitely the most important – and trickiest – parts to this recipe. I used a sharp ceramic knife to remove the spines by rubbing the sharp edge of the knife back and forth and up and down across the cactus paddles. I recommend trimming off and discarding all edges, as those are the hardest to remove the needles from (and you certainly don’t want that in your mouth!).
Inspect the individual fries for any remaining pointy things before dipping them into the batter. I made a simple corn meal/tempura batter for my cactus fries so they have a nice, thick and crispy outer layer.
Fry the cactus fries in batches so that the fries cook evenly. You want them to be golden brown, but also cook the cactus part through as well.
When the fries are ready, transfer them to a paper towel lined plate, but be sure to season them right away. I topped mine with a generous amount of salt, like traditional potato fries would be. The super salty fries went super well with the tangy sweet flavor of the prickly pear ketchup. As far as unusual recipes go, I thought this one was pretty delicious!
Cactus Fries with Prickly Pear Ketchup
FOR NOPALES (AKA CACTUS FRIES)
- Trim the top and bottom off each prickly pear. Use a knife to slice through the thick skin, enough to slide your finger under. Peel off the skin to reveal the prickly pear fruit. Blend the fruit in a food processor until smooth, then strain to remove excess seeds.
- Pour the puree into a skillet over high heat. Add the sugar, apple cider, and lime juice. Bring to a rolling boil then drop the temperature to a simmer. Let the liquid reduce by half, then remove from the heat. Transfer to a heat proof bowl to cool for several minutes, then move to a fridge and chill until ready to serve.
- Use the sharp edge of a knife to carefully stroke back and forth across the surface of the cactus paddles to remove all the spines. Trim the paddles of all edges and carefully inspect to ensure all spines have been removed. Slice the cactus paddles into strips, about a quarter inch wide.
- Bring two inches of oil up to 325 F in a large pot or deep fryer. In a bowl, whisk together the flour, corn meal, baking soda, baking powder, and a teaspoon of salt. Whisk the egg in a smaller bowl then stir it into the flour mix. Slowly stir in the chilled water and ice cubes.
- Dip the cactus into the batter then quickly transfer to the hot oil. Do the fries in batches, cooking for 3-6 minutes, until golden brown and crispy. Transfer cooked fries to a plate lined with a paper towel. Season right away with salt, as desired. Serve alongside the chilled prickly pear ketchup. Enjoy!