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Sharp Health News

3 easy ways to eat cactus (infographic)

Aug. 19, 2016

Not your typical fruit, the prickly pear cactus, or nopal, is both nutritious and delicious — and often overlooked. The subtle flavor and tender flesh make cactus a tasty treat on its own or as an addition to your smoothie, salad or taco dish.

Ursula Ridens, an outpatient dietitian and certified intuitive eating counselor at Sharp HealthCare, shares her secrets for preparing this unique delicacy with simple, three-ingredient recipes.

3 easy ways to eat cactus (infographic). Did you know that the prickly pear cactus, also known as nopal, is a little-known edible powerhouse that’s packed with fiber, calcium and antioxidants? In fact, research shows that it may aid in digestion and satiety; lower cholesterol and help maintain healthy blood sugar levels; and reduce inflammation and help relieve joint pain. Fleshy cactus paddles have a subtle flavor – similar to slightly bitter green beans or asparagus. You can tell if a cactus is ripe if it has these three qualities: 1. Firm to the touch – Firm cacti are fully ripe—but be wary of prickles when doing the “squeeze” test. 2. Tear shaped – The paddles of a ripe prickly pear cactus are usually teardrop-shaped and about the size of your hand. Small, round, wrinkled cacti are no longer ripe. 3. Pale and green in color – Different types of cacti may vary in color, but ripe nopales cacti are a pale to bright green. “I love trying new things in the kitchen – just ask my family,” says Ursula Ridens, RDN, a registered dietician at Sharp HealthCare’s Outpatient Nutrition Counseling Program. “Since Mexican cuisine is one of my favorites, I figured I’d try cooking nopales myself. It’s a great way to make Mexican dishes more authentically delicious.” 3-ingredient cactus recipes. Nopal cactus smoothie. Ingredients. 2 cups nopal cactus. 1 slice pineapple. 1 cup orange juice. Directions. Chop the nopal cactus pad in small pieces, making sure there aren’t any prickles left on the skin. Cut the pineapple slice into cubes. Blend cactus, pineapple and juice (ice cubes are optional) until smooth. Cactus Salad. Ingredients. 2 cups nopal cactus. 2 tomatoes. 1/4 cup feta cheese. Directions. Clean and trim the cactus, taking care to remove the prickly spines. Cut the cactus into strips and boil them for 10 to 15 minutes. While cactus is boiling, dice tomatoes. Remove cactus from the heat; rinse with cold water and drain. Add tomato to the cactus and sprinkle it with feta cheese. Cactus Tacos. Ingredients. 2 cups nopal cactus. 1/4 cup green salsa. 3 tortillas. Directions. Cut the cactus into thick strips, then sauté over high heat until partially blackened. Warm tortillas and fill with cactus, green salsa and other toppings as desired (tomatoes, jalapeños and cilantro are popular choices).

View the printable version of this infographic.

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