This week we’re cooking up a cactus salad with the main ingredient foraged from some wild prickly pear bushes in Turkey. In an earlier post we reported on some of the similarities between Turkish and Mexican cooking – they both love hot chilli peppers in their food, there’s plenty of beans used, fresh white cheese is a key ingredient and wrapping food in flat bread is popular.
A key area of difference is the use of cacti, a staple of Mexican cuisine. In Mexico the prickly pear paddles, known as nopales or napolitoes (from the Spanish for cactus), are used in a variety of dishes. They can be found in salads, as a taco or tortilla filling, simply grilled or scrambled up with eggs. They have a crunchy taste similar to green beans.
Whilst the prickly pear cactus grows all over southern Turkey, only the fruit – the prickly pears, are usually eaten and sometimes used in cocktails! We’re about to change all that with the first of one of our irregular ventures into the world of Turk-Mex cuisine…
How to deal with a thorny problem…
We harvested a few cactus paddles from a secret location in Datça, Turkey. After harvesting, we put on our marigolds and removed the thorns with a sharp knife, sliced the pads up and then boiled them. Next we mixed then in with a spicy tomato sauce, aka acili ezme, to create this Crazy Cactus Salad.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
Four prickly pear cactus paddles (roughly hand-sized)
For the sauce:
One medium-sized onion
Three medium-sized plum tomatoes
One medium-sized green pepper
One garlic clove
One teaspoon capers
One bunch of parsley
One teaspoon dried mint
Three teaspoons red chilli flakes
Two teaspoons sumac
One teaspoon flavoured vinegar (such as apple or fig)
Three teaspoons pomegranate sauce
Remove all the thorns from the pads with a sharp knife. Slice into 1 cm strips and then cut into 2 cm pieces. Boil in salted water for 8-10 minutes until cooked but still crunchy – cook them too long and they can go a bit slimy. Drain and rinse in cold water and then mix with the acili ezme salad (instructions below).
For the sauce:
Peel the tomatoes and de-seed (to peel: plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 30 seconds then place in cold water – the skin should now come off easily). Chop the tomatoes, green pepper, onion, garlic and parsley as finely as you can.
Put all the ingredients into a bowl, add the herbs and spices, vinegar and pomegranate sauce and mix well. Leave to chill in the fridge for at least two hours before serving.
This time round on Knidos Cookery Club we’re swinging through Tucson, Arizona on the way back home. Whilst in Tucson, we met up with some old friends from Kazakhstan (via Turkey and the USA) and were treated to Tolga’s kızartma – grilled peppers mixed in with fried aubergines and potatoes served in a garlic-infused tomato sauce and garnished with dollops of natural yogurt.
Tucson is located on the edge of the Sonora Desert which stretches up into Arizona from northern Mexico. It’s a surreal landscape of towering cacti called saguaro (Carnegiea gigantea), which can grow to be more than 12 m tall.
The desert is a fascinating place populated with bobcats, coyotes, a variety of snakes and scorpions along with hallucinogenic Sonoran Desert toads (if you’re brave enough to lick them… ).
Having observed the master chef at work closely, here’s KCC’s take on the Turkish classic kızartma.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
Two large potatoes
Three medium-sized tomatoes
Three garlic cloves
one small onion
One large aubergine
Four peppers – a mix of green and red
Four jalapeño peppers
75 ml olive oil
100 ml natural yogurt
Heat 25 ml of oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Cut the potato into 1mm slices and fry in the oil, turning occasionally, until they are a golden-brown colour on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on a plate lined with kitchen towel.
Prick the peppers a couple of times with a fork and then roast them on a barbecue or over an open flame (here’s some tips on how to do this) until the skin is blackened all over. While the peppers are roasting, put 25ml oil in the pan and cut the aubergine into 1cm cubes and fry until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and put on a plate lined with kitchen towel.
Add the rest of the oil to the pan, heat it up and then fry the finely chopped onion and garlic for five minutes over a medium heat and then grate the tomatoes into the pan and cook for 15-20 minutes. Peel the peppers, remove the seeds and chop the roasted peppers roughly.
In a large bowl put a layer potatoes, aubergine and peppers alternately. Pour the tomato sauce over the top and garnish with dollops of yogurt. Serve with slices of avocado.
We’re continuing in our Mexican groove to make a vegetable take on the refried beans concept. It was meant to be a burger, but it didn’t hold together too well, so here is our refried avocado.
Refried beans are a Mexican staple and served on tortillas or as a side dish – the beans are mashed up and fried with garlic and spices. We’ve combined mashed potato, with a smashed up avocado, a diced jalapeño pepper and some yaka, or jackfruit. Potatoes are called papas in Mexican Spanish, hence the name for this dish: Papa Jack’s Refried Avocado.
Jackfruit, a giant tropical fruit with a hard green spiky shell, that can grow up to 40kg, is widely available in Mexico. The fruit is a strong tasting yellow fleshy bulb that is somewhere between pineapple and banana.
We served the refried avocado on toast with our own salsa made with tomatoes, courgettes, carrots and chilli peppers.
Ingredients (makes 3-4 servings)
For the refried avocado:
Three medium-sized potatoes
One jalapeño pepper
One jackfruit bulb
25ml olive oil
For the salsa:
Two medium-sized tomatoes
One jalapeño pepper
Cook the potatoes until they can be mashed easily with a fork. Cut the avocado in half, remove the stone and add the flesh to the potato. finely dice the pepper and jackfruit (remove the stone first) and add to the mix, along with the lime juice. Mash everything together with a fork or potato masher.
Heat the oil in a heavy-based frying pan. Heat the mashed avocado through in the hot oil and serve on toast with a salsa made of tomato, carrot and courgette – simply dice the tomatoes and cook the chopped up carrot, courgette and jalapeño pepper in the tomato liquid over a low heat for 20 minutes or so.