Though removing the spines from cactus pads with a knife works, it’s not as foolproof as simply burning them off.
A couple of nights ago Allen the Beekeeper was lighting up the grill so I decided it would be a good time to have him try the nopale cactus I’ve been growing.
Here’s the video evidence:
As I state in the video, all the pad cactus (Opuntia spp.) are edible. Many of them are quite easy to grow in Florida as well. The variety you see in the video lacks any large spines, which makes it easy to process… once you get rid of the myriad tiny spines that will make your life miserable if you brush against the plant. This type isn’t the typical prickly pear cactus that makes a decent-sized edible fruit. Instead, it tends to bloom and leave very little behind.
These prickly pears have edible fruit and pads:
The pads are a lot tougher than the variety we grilled, however, and must be harvested when quite young.
Removing the spines from cactus pads really is easy on the grill. You don’t even have to turn them around over a flame like Allen does in the video. Just throw them right on the grill to sear the little spines off.
If you’re removing the spines from the larger cactus pads sometimes sold in the grocery store, you may have to cut them out as well.
Throwing water on the cactus to remove the spines from cactus pads does not work. Don’t bother.
The flavor of nopale cactus is slightly tart with a taste somewhere between green beans and green bell peppers. It’s quite decent, though too mucilaginous in texture for my wife. She does like it in cactus chili, however, since the acidity of the tomato juice gets rid of the sliminess of nopale. Eat some cactus chili and you’ll think the chopped pieces are green peppers.
Finally, it struck me yesterday that I should have included nopale cactus as a crop in my book Totally Crazy Easy Florida Gardening. Oh well – maybe it’ll end up in the “revised and expanded” version I’m bound to write a few years from now.