The Tale of a Foraged Cactus Sandwich
This past Mother’s Day while most Moms were being treated to breakfast in bed, a luxurious day at the spa or brunch out with the family, I was at the restaurant sweating in the back with a bunch of dudes.
Which is pretty much how I’ve spent my Sundays for the last five years. No worries, the wife and I celebrated the day before and I actually get off on the anti-Sunday vibe that happens in the kitchen on those days when we’re hustling to feed 500+ diners.
But this isn’t a story about Mother’s day necessarily as much it is the tale of how I ended up eating cactus of all things, while the rest of the Mom’s in the restaurant were feasting on poached eggs, cream biscuits and beignets.
You see, one day last week I opened up the salad cooler and was greeted by a bag of this stuff:
No stranger to Cactus aka Nopales, I inquired about said nopales’ origins.
Turns out our Fry Man, Juan, had a huge cactus in the backyard of his apartment building somewhere in the Mission.
And being the ever resourceful and lovely young man that Juan is, he took it upon himself to take down the prickly beast and share it with his very excited work cohort. Now for someone who has committed her life to manipulating all of the ways that foods can impact people, I am always delighted to see my Latino family in the kitchen get so worked up about something as mundane as a type of cookie, some soup with a cow’s hoof in it or a simple pad of cactus.
It’s can even be heartwarming at times.
The first time I tried nopales was this this woman.
Anyway, according to Maria, the best and easiest way to clean nopales is by scraping the pads with the side of a spoon to remove the needles, much like you would with ginger root to remove the skin. Do this of course while wearing gloves. Then simply trim the outer perimeter with a paring knife. After that, simply dice the cactus into any shape you prefer. Maria says she boils her cleaned cactus in a pot of water that has been seasoned with salt, oregano and bay leaf.
The cleaned and poached nopales can be enjoyed in a myriad of ways but the way I first tried it was in a type of pico de gallo with tortilla chips that Maria made. Delicioso!
Last Sunday, being the extraordinarily busy holiday that it was, one of my lead cooks, Rigo, decided to build himself a nice torta to sustain him through the many calorie-scorching hours left in his shift. He went for the bag of nopales and was in a hurry so he simply slapped some nopales with a little canola oil, some of our potato hash and several spoonfuls of the spicy onion relish (that we serve with our pork belly) on the griddle. A little salt and pepper, and in few minutes later we had LUNCH.
My mouth is watering right now.
Spicy Nopales Hash
2 TB Canola Oil
2 C Clean, Boiled and Diced Nopales
2 C Diced and Boiled Red Potatoes
½ C Sliced Scallions
Salt and Pepper
1 C Spicy Onion Relish (recipe follows)
To make the hash simply heat the oil in a large sauté pan. Add nopales, potatoes, scallions and season with salt and pepper. Sauté over medium-high flame for a few minutes to warm up and crisp lightly on the edges. Add onion relish and stir together until incorporated and heated through. Enjoy on warm tortillas, scrambled with eggs or stuffed into a torta!!
For Onion Relish:
2 C Julienned Onions
2 TB Canola Oil
3 TB Tomato Paste
¼ C Sambal Oelek Chili Sauce
1 TB Sriracha Chili Sauce
¼ C Vegetable or Chicken Stock
Heat oil in a pan and add onions. Cook onions until very soft and slightly caramelized for about 10 minutes. Add tomato paste and cook for 5 minutes more. Add remaining ingredients, simmer for 5 minutes more and season with salt.