Not Fried Green Beans (But Pretty Much)
Riding the high of my successful Red Tuna experience, I decided to continue my exploration of the cactus family, moving on to cactus pads. I’ve only had cactus once before, and it was finely chopped up and mixed into guacamole. I didn’t particularly like it, but I’m pretty good about retrying things that I didn’t like. Sometimes, your tastes change. I didn’t like cod at first. The only reason I tried it was because Todd – then, just my boyfriend of a few months – told me that when he eventually took me to England to meet his family, most of our meals would be fish and chips, so I better learn to like it. This past summer, we went to the UK for the second part of our honeymoon, and I had fish & chips more days than not, so I’m glad I persevered.
But back to the cactus! I bought it on a bit of a whim. I was looking around the produce section of my ethnic grocery store, and I spotted it from afar. It was like it was taunting me: “You’re not gonna mess with me. You’re too scared to get hurt. And you’re right… I will cut you.” Never one to be an enabler of cocky produce, I grabbed 4 cactus pads (with tongs), and threw them in my cart with the intention to put them in guacamole.
I got home and decided that I wanted to make something a little more challenging than guacamole with cactus chunks. So, I had a little chat with the internet machine and found a recipe for cactus fries, something very similar to one of my personal favorites, fried green beans.
Having changed my recipe at the last minute, I didn’t have all the ingredients. But I like to live dangerously. Here’s what you’ll need:
Make sure you use a thick rubber glove or oven mitt when you handle the cactus so that you don’t get pricked. I used my oven mitt because it is coated in silicone on one side, so I felt safe. Start by trimming off the outside edge. There are a lot of
prickly bits spines on the edge, and I’m assuming that’s why you want to get rid of it. Burn it out of spite if you want to. I don’t care.
Next, clean off the rest of the spines. Grip what I’m calling the “handle” end – because it looks like the handle of a ping pong paddle… get it? Take a knife and hold it almost parallel to the pad and make long swipes away from you towards the end. Don’t try to pull the knife back towards you, because you’ll end up taking bigger chunks out than needed. Repeat that with the remaining cactus pads.
Once you’ve cleaned off all the spines, rinse the cactus pads to make sure there aren’t any spines left. This is where the rubber gloves have an advantage over an oven mitt, but either way, be careful. After you rinse them, cut off the tip of the “handle” ends.
Next, take one cactus pad and slice it in half – the hamburger way, for those of you who cling to certain parts of kindergarten logic, like me. Then, slice it into strips. The original recipe says half-inch wide slices, but after tasting it, go for a julienne. Ooooooo! Fancy cooking terminology. Somebody took a cooking class in high school…
Now it’s time to make the breadcrumb mixture. Like I said, I didn’t have a recipe in mind when I bought the cactus pads, so I didn’t have breadcrumbs on hand. So I made some! I grabbed 5 slices of bread, turned oven dial to 325, and let the bread completely toast and dry out before running it through the food processor. Next, I added 1/2 tsp. cumin, 1/2 tsp. chili pepper, 2 pinches of salt, and a few shakes of black pepper. I also added some lemon powder, one of my favorite items from Penzey’s. It brightens it up a bit, and it will go well with the SPOILER ALERT!!!!: lime juice in the avocado dip.
Then, grab 3-4 eggs and put the whites in a bowl. Whisk the whites just enough to make them smooth. Put your flour in another bowl. This is where I realized that both the flour in my bag of flour and in my AIRTIGHT canister are filled with bugs, something I’ve heard of but have never had happen to me personally. So, we’re going to improvise and just double dip in the breadcrumbs.
This is a good time to preheat your oven to 375. The next step will take a little while.
Now, I started out by dipping the cactus in egg white, breadcrumbs, egg white, and breadcrumbs again. But cactus oozes kind of a slimy, gel-like substance – think of a slug – so I figured that was just enough liquid to pick up just the powder from the breadcrumbs without any seeds or crumbs. I tried that on the 3rd one, and it wasn’t anywhere near as chunky looking, so I kept on going with that technique. In case you missed it, that’s breadcrumbs (or flour), then egg whites, then breadcrumbs.
Place the finished cactus fries on a cookie sheet that you’ve sprayed with cooking spray. Pop those in the oven for 10-15 minutes, then pull them out and flip them over to brown on the other side.
While they are cooking, mix up your Avocado Dipping Sauce.
In our house, Todd makes the salsa, and I make the guacamole, so I know my way around an avocado. This is one thing that I feel confident giving tips on. You’ll need a very ripe avocado – unless you want to use a food processor. Use a chef’s knife to cut the around the vertical circumference of the avocado through to the pit. (Don’t worry, a picture is coming up right now for those of you who think that was too math-y.) Then grip both halves and twist one away from you and one towards you. The pit will stay in one half, but I’ve learned a great trick to get it out. Take your chef’s knife and strike the pit with the sharp edge so it sticks in the pit. If you need to tap it on a cutting board to wedge it in further, do it, because if it’s not in far enough, the pit will just crack, making it harder to use the trick. It should look like this…
Next, use a large serving spoon to scoop the avocado out of its shell. A serving spoon has the best shape to get everything out in one scoop.
Once you’ve scooped both halves into the bowl, add 2 Tbsp. mayonnaise, 3 Tbsp. sour cream or plain unsweetened yogurt, 1/2 tsp. onion powder, 1/2 tsp. garlic powder, 1 tsp. dill, and salt, pepper, & lime to taste. The recipe I used called for the juice of half a lime, but I’ve always liked my guacamole to pack a punch, and I thought this would be no different. I added roughly 3-4 Tbsp. of bottled lime juice to my avocado dip, which gave it a great consistency and bite.
By now, you should have flipped your cactus fries and let them cook for 10-15 more minutes. When you take them out, they should look like this…
Serve up a few cactus fries with a little dish of avocado dip and you look like you know how to cook. Though we both know better.
I liked these quite a bit, so I was excited to see what Todd thought of them. Out of the whole batch, the photo above is all the cactus fries I had. Todd LOVED them. To quote him, “A guy could get used to coming home to cactus fries.” I don’t think this is going to be a regular occurrence, but I think that this recipe could be amazing with a few tweaks. Having flour on hand would be the first improvement, and I would definitely like to use Panko breadcrumbs next time for a better texture. Other than that, I think this was a big success.
Now, I know, this recipe probably isn’t that authentic. But you can’t blame me! I’ve been asking for recipes to try out, but
somebody everybody seems to think it’s not that important. Well, that’s fine. I’ll just keep making UNauthentic food until people start sending me their family recipes. (I’m waiting…)
Until the next taste,