Dear Barbara: We have some prickly pear cacti starting to come up and I wondered how can we prepare it? I’ve never eaten one before but I hear they are very good. — Debbie from Lockeford
Dear Debbie: That’s a great question to ask an Indiana transplant that moved to California! But I was glad you asked because I could learn about something new, and that’s a good thing. I did learn that they are native to Mexico, Central and South America, the Mediterranean countries and southern Africa. The cacti are slowly gaining in popularity in the United States.
There are two food crops derived from the prickly pear cactus. One is “nopalitos,” which are the cactus pads, and the other crop is the prickly “pear” or fruit of the cactus. I am going to assume you are asking me about the fruit.
From what I have read, the fruit has a melonlike aroma and a sweet but bland taste. The fruit can be peeled and sliced to add to fruit salads, make jelly, or just peeled, chilled, and eaten that way. I am going to send you to Gourmet Sleuth.com because you can find recipes there, etc.
Good luck, and let me know what you finally decide to use them for! If you just go to “Google” and type in “prickly pear cactus,” it shows a lot of websites.
Dear Barbara: How do you cook meats well done without burning the top layer of the meat? — Desiree from Lodi
Dear Desiree: I would need to know if you are cooking the meat on the grill, in the oven, or on the stove. I am guessing you are cooking it on the stovetop. It is pretty hard to have a nice brown outside and a well done inside on the stove top. I would recommend browning it on the stove top to the desired color, and removing it from the stove top and finishing it in the oven at about 350 degrees You may want to ‘tent’ it with a piece of foil. You definitely will need an ovenproof skillet to do this, or you can remove the meat from the skillet and put it in a baking dish. Remember that meat has a residual cooking time, so take it out a few minutes before you think it is done. The temperature of the meat will rise as much as ten degrees after you remove it from the oven
Dear Barbara: How do you keep gravy from separating? — Pamela from Lodi
Dear Pamela: When you say ‘separate’, I am going to guess that you mean the fat or drippings separate from the actual gravy. Easy solution; it sounds like you are starting with too many drippings. You only need two or three tablespoons of fat, or ‘drippings’ to make your gravy. The rest should be the juice from the meat. If you are making ’pan’ gravy, with just the drippings of the meat, pour out all but 2 or 3 tablespoons of the grease. Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of flour to the grease, and it becomes a ‘roux’. Then you can slowly add your liquid, stock, or juices. If you are making gravy from a pot roast, or such, mix your flour with a little cold water, and strain it into your broth, removing most of the grease before you add the flour mixture.
Barbara Spitzer is a Lodi home cook who also develops recipes for specific consumer products. Do you have a cooking question? Send it to Barbara Spitzer at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your first name and city.