Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2007 issue.
At first glance, there is nothing particularly exciting about this rather unattractive, prickly vegetable. And yet, the unassuming cactus, or nopal as it is known locally, packs quite the star power. Native to Mexico, it was deeply entrenched in Aztec mythology, called “the plant of life” for its ability to produce a brand-new offspring from an old, dying specimen. It is one of Mexico’s official symbols, prominently appearing in our national emblem carrying a snake-eating Golden Eagle (águila real).
Its fruit, the prickly pear or tuna, is a sweet treat commonly found peeled and ready to eat in Mexican markets. Its young stems or pads, when carefully peeled to remove the spines, are commonly known as nopalitos, a choice food in Mexico and other Latin American countries. Nopalitos are sold both fresh and canned. They are equally at home in a fresh, tangy salad, a corn tortilla taco, slow-cooked in mole sauce, even scrambled with eggs, a popular and proven remedy against hangover. Tempted? Avoid the pricks and leave the preparation to the experts: this delicious treat can be savored at most Mexican restaurants in town.