When we were designing the menu for Verde MAR, we wanted to introduce dishes that are new and healthy to the people in Hong Kong. Chef Eligio insisted we should import Cactus from Mexico. Frankly speaking, I was little skeptical as I wasn’t sure how the market would react to Cactus. I know eating cactus is extremely popular in Mexico (just like us Chinese eating Bok-Choi). When I was in the US / Mexico, I always see it in the market. Yet I have never really tasted it. After all, the concept of eating Cactus is just alien to Chinese and the cost of importing it from Mexico is high. I decided to listen to Chef Eligio however and give it a try. Since if we don’t, we will never know!
As importing fresh food need a particular licence and we cannot just do it ourselves, we need to find a knowledgeable distributor who can help us source the ingredient. After a few tries however we fortunately managed to find some high quality cactus! Unknown to most, only young cactus within 1 year of age are consumed in Mexico as otherwise their texture will be very tough and not as refreshing.
The species of cactus that Mexicans like to eat is the Prickly Pear Cactus. It has been a staple of the Mexican and Central American diet for thousands of years. The prickly pear cactus has three edible parts: the Pad of the cactus, or “Nopal” in Spanish, is what we now served in Verde MAR; The Flowers Petals, which are usually added to salads; and the Pear (Tuna) is eaten like a fruit.
Cactus is considered to be a superfood that is extremely healthy to our body. It lowers cholesterol, blood sugar, protects brain cells, fight cancer and is very good for detoxing. It helps with weight loss and is good to skin too.
So how do we prepare the cactus?
First, Chef Eligio removes the many spines from the pad by using a sharp knife. The pads not only have large spines, but also tiny, invisible one which is very irritating when it gets into the skin and it could take days to get it out from your hands completely. While it looks really easy when Chef Eligio does it, it is actually quite tricky and takes serious skills! Every time I try I always cut out too much of the flesh instead of the spines. And of course much much slower! 😀
Second, we put it in our flame grill directly and roasted it for about 10-15 minutes. Lightly seasoned with sea salt and fresh lime juice, it is ready to eat.
Bask in its own juice, it has a crunchy texture with flesh similar to Aloe Vera, 100% natural and full nutrition.
Apart from grilling the whole piece, Nopal can also be served as strips in salad, breakfast/brunch and also mixed into juice. At Verde MAR, you will be able to try Cactus with Eggs or Huevos con Nopales, on our Brunch menu and also our specialty Cactus-Apple Juice.
Our customers have responded to Cactus very favorably beyond our expectations. Due to limited supply it is often sold out as it must be freshly flown in. So Chef Eligio was right and I’m glad that I listened 🙂