Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bushcraft - Central Texas Style - Nopalitos

Hunger is a great motivator in a survival situation! I was hungry and needed food now. Thus, I set out on a journey to find sustenance for my body. Armed only with my trusty blade, I went in search of my own backyard!

Nopal means cactus in Spanish and nopales is the term used to describe the "cactus pad". The term nopalitos refers to the cactus pads when they have been prepared for use as a food item. This cactus (Nopal in Spanish) is a member of the Cactaceae family (genus Opuntia) and is most likely a plant native to Mexico which was grown and harvested as a vegetable long before the Spanish arrived. This cactus is currently grown and harvested throughout much of Mexico. It is also grown in large portions of the United States and is also found in a number of areas in the Mediterranean, probably as a result of plants brought back to Spain by early Spanish explorers. The ones pictured here are the spineless variety.

Nopalitos can also be grown easily as a container plant for those people living in an urban environment. They can also be grown in your yard and even the spineless variety can scare some people. All they see is cactus and say, "No way am I going anywhere near that stuff."

The nopales cactus pads are usually harvested starting in the spring and the harvest continues well into late summer. The best nopales for harvesting are thin pads that are roughly the size of your palm. This will give you pads with good texture and flavor. You will probably need to wear heavy gloves when harvesting the pads, especially if you aren’t using the spineless variety. The cactus pad will usually snap off quite easily or you can speed up the process by using a large knife to sever the stem of the pad.

Watch out for the large thorns (spines) and the small hairy thorns (glochids) and take adequate precautions to keep your hands protected if you aren’t using the spineless variety. The spines on the spineless variety are quite soft and they can be easily removed with your fingertips although glochids may be present on the fruit (pears). Preparing the pads is fairly simple. Just remove the thorns and the "eyes" with a vegetable peeler, a paring knife or you can simply cut them out when dicing the cactus pad. You will need to wash the pads with water and trim off any bad spots.

You can slice the pads into thin strips for frying or pan grilling, cut them up into chunks for soups or stews, or leave them whole for grilling on your pit or campfire. If you want to get creative, you can batter the strips and deep fry them.

Nopalitos is very similar to bell pepper but has a firmer texture and is not as bitter, though it can be a little slimy (similar to okra) if it is overcooked. If you rinse it well in a colander after you have diced it, you will be able to wash off most of the slime. Fresh nopales can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks if it is kept tightly wrapped to prevent it from drying out.

Here’s a link to a simple recipe using nopalitos:

Even if you don't have a green thumb, you can just throw a cactus pad on the ground and let it grow all by itself.

Nopalitos also has a beneficial quality also that makes it an important food item. It seems to help in keeping blood sugar levels well regulated and this could be an important factor, especially for people with diabetes. It also has a high moisture content.

It also makes a great breakfast dish when cooked with scrambled eggs and butter. Just add a little salsa!

Nopalitos can also be found in cans or jars at many grocery stores that specialize in Mexican foods or you can find it fresh if you’ve got some growing in your backyard.

A good survivalist knows which foods occur naturally in his area and are available as sustenance in a survival situation.

Got cactus?

Staying above the water line!



Anonymous said...

We have several spineless cactus patches in our backyard, but I had never considered it as a container plant - good idea! Buffle grass will grow between its stalks, making it an ornery chore to remove later on. Containers would make this much easier.

We love nopalitos and egg, sprinkling on cayenne pepper and some grated cheese. Water gets a bit slimy while frying - drain this off a bit. Cactus is very high in moisture, ranchers burn off the thorns for cattle feed in droughts oftentimes with propane torches.

It can even be eaten raw, it tastes like green apples to me, a bit sour and tart. Not too bad. A good knife for removing spines is a fillet knife, and collecting them with a pair of cheap metal tongs works as well. Try not to stack together when collecting, as spines get transferred to their neighbors, making things worse. In Mexican markets, they sell these packaged by the 1/2 pound - might be worth the effort if you are in a hurry, there is a bit of prep time for them.

Great post sir.

Harry said...

Great post, amigo. A lack of nopalitos in Germany made me hot foot it back to Texas as soon as possible.

Good to see others looking at traditional foods as a survival supply. After all, our ancestors lived a long time here without Kroger or HEB.

Keep up the good work.

riverwalker said...

To: anonymous 5:20

As a container plant, they can even be grown in a green house, cold frame, etc. in colder climates. Being a succulent, like most cactus, it is extremely drought won't die if you forget to water it for a few days! less likely to take over your backyard also..and your neighbor's. LOL

They are used in my area as fodder for cattle much so that propane torches are more commonly referred to as "pear burners".

They seem more like a bell pepper without the seeds to me and are a good addition to lots of dishes...soups, stews, salsas etc.

Thanks anon.


riverwalker said...

To: Harry

Da bien,amigo mios!

Sorry to hear they didn't have any in Germany...plenty in Texas though!

Nature is the original grocery store...just have to know what to look for when you're shopping! LOL

Thanks Harry!


Anonymous said...

You mean to tell me those damn things are not useless? You know many times I have fallen into them? Good to know I can eat them, for now I can get my revenge!

chinasyndrome said...

RW, we don't have em here in Indy,but you sure have me planing on checking out my local wild edibles.


Ken said...

...hehehe,reading the post i was thinking,man,i love those with scrambled egss,and voila you had the pics...good post Brother

riverwalker said...

To: Ken

SORRY! Pic is not edible...LOL


Anonymous said...

I'm growing them in North West Indiana using flower pots. They have done well even in the winter. I store the pots in the garage during our winters. I started with one pad from Houston and planted it in a 18" flower pot and it keeps multiplying. I also have aloevera doing as well here.

riverwalker said...

To: anonymous 10:15

That's great! They really do grow easily indoors and grow really FAST.

chinasyndrome is from Indy and will be glad to know this.

Aloe vera and nopalitos grow well pretty much year round in my area.

Did you manage to get the spineless variety? It's much easier to prepare.

Thanks anon.


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