Around the corner from where I live is a giant nopal, or prickly pear cactus, from which I've been harvesting succulent, bright green pads about the size of my hand. I especially like grilling these; the taste and texture is reminiscent of lemony green beans. Like okra, cactus pads or nopales have a slippery mucilage, which actually feels soothing and cooling on these hot days. For those who aren't huge fans of sliminess, though, grilling is a great way to reduce it.
For this recipe I was inspired by the oblong shape of the nopales to make "huaraches," using the grilled cactus as a base instead of traditional fried masa. Topped with smashed black beans and radish slaw, they make a fresh, vegetarian-friendly, gluten-free, grain-free dish.
To harvest fresh nopales, grab the pad with tongs, and twist -- it'll come right off and protect your fingers from getting poked. If you aren't up for foraging, you can also find nopales at Mexican markets and many farmers' markets.
Nopales Huaraches with Black Beans and Radish Slaw
Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a side dish
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 1/2 cups (or 1 15-ounce can) cooked and drained black beans
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
Freshly ground black pepper
4 prickly pear cactus paddles (nopales), cleaned (see Recipe Notes)
4 radishes, trimmed, halved, and thinly sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 large avocado, halved, pitted, peeled, and sliced
1 ounce crumbled queso fresco or mild goat cheese (omit for vegan version)
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
Lime wedges, for serving
Hot sauce, for serving (optional)
Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the beans and water and let them come to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook, frequently stirring and mashing with the back of a wooden spoon, until the beans have thickened, about 10 minutes. (I like the beans to be more smashed than puréed, but you can make them as smooth or chunky as you like.) Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.
Heat a grill to high heat. Brush the paddles with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill the paddles until they are tender and slightly charred, about 5 minutes on each side. The color will change from bright to opaque green.
In a small bowl toss together the radishes, scallion, cilantro, and juice of 1/2 lime.
Evenly spread the cactus paddles with black beans. Pile radish slaw on top of the beans. Lay avocado slices on top and sprinkle with cheese and pumpkin seeds.
Serve with lime wedges and hot sauce on the side.
• To clean cactus paddles: Carefully hold a cactus paddle by the stem (you may want to use tongs) and use a sharp knife to shave off the spines. Trim about 1/4 inch around the edges of the paddle. Rinse and pat dry.