Cook With Prickly Pear Cactus Pads

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Photo By Fotolia/Gialp

I received a prickly pear cactus as a gift, but didn’t have much hope for it when I planted it in late March. However, it perked up in May, and bright yellow flowers blossomed in June.

Prickly pear is used for nectar, jellies, fruit spreads and candies. Edible cacti are popular in Mexico and Central America. In the United States, you can find them in Mexican grocery markets. When cooked, the cactus pads taste like a tart green bean, asparagus or green pepper, and contain calcium and vitamins B and C.

Studies indicate that the pectin contained in cactus pulp can lower “bad” cholesterol, and the pulp’s soluble fibers are said to help keep blood sugar stable.

I barbecue medium-sized prickly pear cactus pads by removing the needles, nodules and edges with a knife and then drizzling the pads with olive oil and pepper before throwing them on the grill for 10 minutes on each side. Some mornings, I sauté the pads and add them to my omelet. Prickly pear may be too tart for some, but combined in a medley with rice or other veggies, it can add zest to any dish.

Jim Brennan 
Chalfont, Pennsylvania