Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Cowboy presents me Prickly Pear Cactus Fruit

The Cowboy knows that I’m adventurous in the kitchen and I’ll cook just about anything. Fortunately for me, he’ll try almost anything once. If it’s on a plate (and sometimes even that’s not a necessity), he’ll eat it. From time to time, he likes to surprise me with an ingredient and watch to see if he’s finally stumped me.  One time he brought home some sheep balls. No, you didn’t misread. I applied some Texas wisdom: fry anything and it’ll taste good. Yup, I cleaned ‘em, sliced ‘em, and fried ‘em with plenty of garlic. They weren’t bad.
More recently, he brought home these:
Now, after having arrived in Texas, I’ve seen these blushing beauties crowning cacti patches, adding flavor and color to a hard, flat, mostly brown landscape. I’ve even enjoyed nopales (the flat green cactus pad) in eggs and other dishes…that someone else cooked. But, somehow, I hadn’t ever attempted to cook any cacti myself.
I’m sure the thorns were part of the problem, then there was the name. A lot of people refer to the Prickly Pear fruit as a tuna. Even though it is the Spanish word for the fruit, with a separate word “atun” referring to the fish, the fish is what comes to mind. And that just calls up all sorts of negative images, flavor associations, smells to go with the most common recipes available – jellies and syrups. But now I had a whole bowlful on my kitchen counter, just waiting for me to do something with them. Worse, the Cowboy was smirking.
Life could have been worse. He could have brought them fresh from the pasture, thorns and all. Instead, he brought them already plucked from the grocery store (thoughtfulness or foresight about how far he could push me?) Whatever the reason, I guess I should be grateful.
The first order of business was a taste-test so I knew what flavor I had to work with. So I washed and peeled them, chopped them into bite size pieces. Took a bite, then another. Yummy! Sweet and refreshing, the fruit tasted like a cross between strawberries and pomegranate. Unfortunately, the fruit is full of tiny seeds. These are supposed to be edible, but I found them plain annoying. Conclusion: the seeds were going to be strained out.
The prickly pear fruit can come in many colors: whitish green, yellow, orange, magenta, purple. Mine happened to be a beautiful ruby. Loved the color! So I paired it with old favorites:
For the first attempt, I cooked both the cranberries and tunas together, then strained the cooled concoction. To end up with a jewel-toned syrup that adds awesomeness to vanilla ice cream, pancakes and such.
For the second attempt, I peeled and chopped the fruit, then strained it through a wire-mesh strainer. Next I cooked the pulp and cranberries to get a nice Prickly Pear-Cranberry sauce, which I presented to my mom-in-law for Thanksgiving. You can find the recipe and this week’s The Family Table here.
And yes, victory does taste sweet. Prickly Pear sweet. Bonus, I found some great online tuna resources.

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