First of all, this has absolutely nothing to do with cactus, but today is one of my dog’s b-day’s, and I had to share, because dogs…..and cute…….yeah.
The one on the right is the birthday girl, and the one on the left is her mom. Precious stuff right there. Moving on……..
My husband and I went to our normal Mexican (Americanized Mexican) food restaurant last night. We are what you would call regulars, most of the staff knows us, and has even commented on my haircuts on multiple occasions. They are always friendly, and awesome. They make the best margaritas ever, and I’m not just saying that, they really do make some awesome margaritas- they get you on the road to inebriation quite fast, while using organic tequila, and they use far less sugar/syrup than in any other restaurant that I have had the pleasure of downing a margarita at. While most Mexi-American restaurants like to cater to the cheese and fat loving aspects of this great American food culture, this restaurant decided to take a step back, and add some things to their menu that I was excited about trying. I decided to order what looked like a huge volcano rock carved into a guacamole/salsa dish:
Which was filled to the brim with all sorts of meat, like sausage, chorizo, chicken, steak, and lastly, and kind of surprisingly, CACTUS!! Other than having plenty of experience consuming the fermented juice of the cactus, i.e. tequila, I have never actually tasted fresh cactus before. The consistency of the cactus meat was very similar to that of a portobello mushroom, and it appears that it takes in flavors just as easily. I would say that this is a great find for anyone who is vegetarian and is in need of something new for their mouth to experience. Much like tofu, you can fry, bake, broil, and boil the cactus. If you are interested in finding out how to prepare cactus leaves, or trying to figure out what to do with the needles, you should check out Pati’s Mexican Table, where most of your prep questions should be answered. Unlike tofu, however, cactus can also be added to sweeter drink concoctions, such as Bobby Flay’s Cactus Pear Margaritas.
I believe that the cactus I ate was prepared right on pipping hot lava rock dish, similar to grilling or frying long strands of cactus. I ate the cactus in a tortilla, with all the normal toppings; it was similar to a fajita dish, but a bit more Mexican, and less American. The dish that I had is called a molcajete bowl. I would order it again, it was a much better version of some plain ol’ fajitas, and it had a lot more of a selection of meat and veggie choices, compared to something you would find at your local Chili’s. This is what it looked liked:
After I devoured the tortilla with the cactus, being the
holistic nutritionist health nut that I am, I wondered how beneficial cactus would be to my overall diet, as I am always trying to find healthy substitutions for meat dishes that don’t take away from the overall texture of the dish. I discovered that prickly pear cactus is of the most common variety used for cooking, and it actually has a tremendous amount of nutritiously beneficial properties, below are some of the most important aspects I want to mention:
- Anti-Inflammatory and Antioxidants - High Levels of the bioflavonoid quercetin in cactus provides your body the ability to neutralize free radicals that can cause damage to cells and cause inflammation. Prickly pear also inhibited several pro-inflammatory immune molecules, which could potentially decrease the production of free radicals.
- Cancer Prevention - due to the high antioxidant activity of this plant, as well as it’s anti-inflammatory properties, you can feel good that this cactus is helping your cells stay healthy longer by decreasing cell damage, which is a major contributor to pre-cancerous and cancerous cells.
- Diabetes- the superfood that is prickly pear cactus can aid diabetics, along with daily exercise, in lowering blood sugar and fasting insulin levels.
- Weight Management: Prickly pear also activates a gene that increases metabolic activity and fat burning. SIDE NOTE: it has been noted that you should slowly ease cactus into your diet, as a large amount all at once can have some unsavory bowel results, such as diarrhea and gas (everything in moderation).
If you are looking for a more scientific approach to the health benefits of cactus, there is a great listing of conducted studies and references that can be found HERE. I have to say that I am fascinated by the variety of dishes you can make using cactus, I love the health benefits, and am excited to try a recipe at home. Stay tuned for what hopefully will be some simple and tasty cactus dishes steaming their way from my kitchen.