The fruit and pads of the prickly pear cactus, or nopal, have been available in American markets for some time, and have become familiar to aficionados of Mexican food. In recent years another cactus fruit has begun to make its way north as well. Called Xoconostle after the place of its origin, the fruit is somewhat easier to handle than the prickly pear because the seeds are gathered in a single group in the middle of the pale-yellow flesh. The flavour of the fruit is strongly acidic and refreshing, and it is used in many ways.
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Chew dried, salted strips of Xoconostle as a snack food, or enjoy them as an accompaniment to Margaritas or shots of tequila.
Seek out Xoconostle paste, a New World equivalent to Spain's famous quince paste known as membrillo. Serve it in the same way, with Manchego or a similarly mild, nutty cheese.
Eat sweetened Xoconostle leather, like any other leather, as a healthy fruit snack.
Char the Xoconostle on a grill or in a cast-iron skillet, then peel and seed them. Purée the fruit with roasted garlic and roasted guajillo chillies, to make a tart salsa. Season lighty with salt until the flavours are balanced.
Roast tomatillos, Xoconostle, jalapeños, garlic and onions. Peel the tomatillos, and peel and seed the Xoconostle. Mash everything coarsely in a molcajete, or pulse it to a coarse texture in a food processor, to make a fresh-tasting salsa.
Simmer strips or chunks of Xoconostle fruit in light sugar syrup, and use them as a tart foil for rich foods such as duck breast or foie gras.
Stew chunks of Xoconostle with pork and vegetables to make a traditional stew called mole de olla, or "mole in a pot."
Tips and warnings
- Xoconostle fruit are powerfully sour, but make excellent preserves in sugar syrup. They can also be cooked out for juice, and either jellied or used to make a syrup for drizzling over desserts.
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- Rancho Gordo; Sour Prickly Pears (Xoconostle) in Napa!; Dec. 2, 2009; Steve Sando
- What's Cooking Mexico; Xoconostle and Tomatillo Salsa; March 29 2011
- The Ethicurean; "A Beautiful Bowl of Glory": Rancho Gordo's Steve Sando on Beans, Trade, and the Tortilla Project; Mark Rumminger; Apr. 9 2011
- "The Essential Cuisines of Mexico"; Diana Kennedy; 2000
- The Tasting Table; Strip Search: A New Snack to Have with Your Margarita; October 2010