Nopalitos con Camarones y sofrito: Cactus Paddles with Sofrito Shrimp!
Nopal is a species of the cactus family, which include over a hundred other species. Although it may be unfamiliar to most other Latin American countries, nopales are widely consumed in Mexico; their country of origin. Nopales are best when the paddles have not matured too much, so their flesh is tender and the alguates (spines/thorns) are softer.
In Mexico, nopales are prepared in salads, soups, stews and desserts. Their flavor and texture is similar to green beans. During cooking, Nopales release a mucilaginous (slimy) liquid very much so like okra does. To minimize the slimy liquid, some people add a copper coin like a penny to the boiling water, while some others add tomatillo husks or baking soda.
Nopales, as you might have expected, are very healthy. They are low calorie, and at the same time a rich source of dietary fiber as well as a good source of vitamins and minerals like B vitamins and the minerals manganese and magnesium which are all required for optimal cellular, metabolic and enzymatic reactions.
For this recipe, (given my lack of experience cooking nopales), I decided to play it safe! Quickly sautéed the paddles and seared some shrimps. Trust me, the only part that took me some worthy effort was the cleaning of the paddles. You have to be very careful not to sting yourself with the thorns when handling nopales. I used a sharp pairing knife to carefully clean them. But at the end, it was all worthy! Here is the recipe.
Ingredients & Method (Yield: 3-4 servings)
- 4 – 6 small cactus paddles (look for very green and firm paddles)
- 1tbps of canola oil plus 1 tbsp of unsalted butter
- ½ lb cleaned and deveined raw shrimp (use more if desired)
- 3 plum tomatoes
- ½ onion, chopped
- 3-4 leaves of culantro (if you cannot find culantro, substitute with cilantro)
- 2 garlic cloves
- ¼ cup of water
- ½ tsp sweet paprika
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Queso Fresco to garnish
Rinse the paddles in cold running water, pat dry. Carefully, remove the thorn and cut into stripes.
In a saucepan, add the nopales, add salt and cook until they release the gelatinous liquid (add some tomatillo husks to the nopales, as they are believed to help trapping the gelatinous liquid) Do NOT add water.
When tender, rinse in cold water and set aside
In a blender, put the tomatoes, onion, garlic, culantro and water. Blend until well combined.
Season the shrimps with salt, pepper and paprika.
In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium-high, add the butter, wait until butter stops foaming
Add the shrimps and cook until opaque and pink (4-5 minutes total) remove from heat.
In the same skillet, add the tomatoes mixture and cook for 4 – minutes for a chunky sauce consistency. Adjust the seasoning.
Plate with some of the sofrito at the bottom, next the nopales and shrimps on top. Garnish with queso fresco.
Optional: you can also mix the shrimps and sofrito and serve over the nopales.