Sunday, December 19, 2010

Snacking State-by-State: Arizona II - Cactus for Breakfast

While the previous machaca burro recipe was very filling, I still wanted to get some use out of nopal cactus. Also known as the prickly pear (or occasionally, the tuna) cactus, Southwesterners have been subsisting off both the cactus pads and fruits for generations.

Snacking State-by-State: Arizona

Official Name: State of Arizona
State Nicknames: The Grand Canyon State; The Copper State
Admission to the US:
February 14, 1912 (#48)
Capital: Phoenix (largest city)
Other Important Cities: Tucson (2nd largest), Mesa (3rd largest), Glendale (4th largest)
Region: West (Southwest); Mountain (US Census)
RAFT Nations: Chile Pepper, Pinyon Nut
Bordered by: Utah (north); New Mexico (east); Sonora (south); California, Nevada & Baja California (west); Colorado (northeast corner - Arizona is one of the Four Corners states)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: Arizona Trout (fish)
Some Famous & Typical Foods: chiles (mild in the south), tortillas (flour in the south), Navajo taco, beef, nopal cactus (both pad and fruit), burritos, chimichangas, menudo

The first time I ever ate them, not long after moving to California in the late 90's, I was less than enthused. A few years later I had a large tostada topped with just about everything while strolling through the Zócalo in Mexico City. It had nopal on it, and again, I was less than enthused. But I was willing to give it one more try, for the sake of social science, and the blog.

The recipe: Nopales con Huevos

I have been unable to find an Arizona-specific recipe with nopal in it (note: I might have to give up this notion of only state-specific recipes if I want this project to continue). The closest thing I could find was a recipe on the website, which was good enough. Among a list of nopal recipes was a Mexican favorite: nopales con huevos - nopal with eggs.

This one is much simpler and faster than the whole machaca recipe - and yes, the most exotic thing you will need will be the nopal. It's not so easy to find nopal pads in the supermarket, but it is easier than it used to be: there are more and more Latin American markets all over Baltimore (and DC has far more, and isn't that far away), plus some of the bigger supermarkets carry them. But they are a pain in the ass to prepare - you have to remove the stickers completely, then prep and wash them, and remove the gooeyness. Or you could just do what I did, and buy precut nopal in a jar. Doña Maria is an easy brand to find in this area.

I had all of the ingredients on hand once I bought the nopal in a jar (note: the recipe I used was too big, so again, I halved it):

* nopal (a jar runs about $2.50 or $3)
* eggs (four in this case; this will last a few servings)
* salt and pepper, of course
* olive oil (no bacon grease this time)
* onion and garlic
* again, tortillas and salsa

Whisk the eggs with salt and pepper, then chop the nopales and fry them up for a few minutes in olive oil with garlic and onions, Pour in the eggs, and cook for a few minutes. I did not scramble them, but I would recommend that you do.

There you have it! Scrambled eggs with nopal cactus. This time, I did not find the nopal as offensive as I had before. In fact, I hardly tasted it at all - it was kind of like a green bean, with less flavor. But none of the typical sliminess that often goes with not-so-well-prepared nopal.

I am almost done with the A-states. We've gotten through the Deep South, the Arctic North and the desert Southwest. Next I head back to the South - not that Deep, but South nonetheless, for The Natural State and the first of the year: Arkansas.


Alters Jamison, Cheryl, and Bill Jamison. The Border Cookbook: Authentic Home Cooking of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico. The Harvard Common Press: Boston, 1995. Nopales recipes. Posted date June 24, 2005.

Long, Kathi. The Southwest: New American Cooking. From the Williams-Sonoma "New American Cooking" series, Chuck Williams, general editor. Time-Life Books: San Francisco, 2001.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "Arizona" page and the Food Timeline State Foods webpage link to "Arizona".