Last weekend, hubby and I bought a huge box, huge considering that it was only for the two of us, of Prickly pears, or as some may call them cactus pears, Indian figs or if you are like me, I call them Chumbo (its Spanish term).
We were so excited, like kids in front of a giant pile of candy we couldn’t wait to take a bite out of it. What do two people like us do with all these prickly pears? Well, like we always do. He peels them, I put them in the fridge until well chilled and then we pop them in our mouth, one after the other, laughing at how many chumbo we ate all in once.
I know you can make jellies, jams, and drinks out of it, but when you have such a beautiful and ripe fruit; there is not much you should do to enhance what it already has.
Prickly pears can be found in abundance in the west and Southwest of the untied states and as Far East as Nebraska and throughout much of Mexico. It also flourishes in Mediterranean regions, such as North Africa, South of France, south of Italy, southern Portugal, southern and eastern Spain, in the island of Malta, Turkey, Israel and else where in Bulgaria, South Africa, Australia and chili.
Like all cacti, prickly pears are about 90% water. The young stems (called nopal), fruits (called Tuna) seeds and flowers of the prickly pears are all edible. Most of the markets in the United States, Europe and Australia sell prickly pears cleaned from their spines, but if you can’t find them without their spines you’ll have to be very careful when peeling and removing the spines as they can remain embedded in the skin, causing significant discomfort, redness and sometimes infection. Wear protective gloves. Put the prickly pears in a bowl filled with water and try to scrub the spines gently using a scrubbing brush. Do not splatter.
The stems are commonly used in Mexican cuisine in dishes such as huevos con nopales (eggs with nopal), or “tacos de nopales” and the fruits are used in a popular alcoholic beverage: Tequila.
When collecting pads, choose the young glossy green ones. The older ones are fibrous and though. Prepare them by peeling them, dicing them and adding them to salads, soups and stews as a thickener or bake them.
The fruit, ripen in late summer is sweet, very refreshing and with a granular texture due to the tiny seeds inside. The fruit can be red, yellow/orange or pale green depending on the region. The seeds in India are dried and grind into pastry flour and the gel-like liquid of a prickly pear can be used as a conditioner. Now how versatile is that.