In Season: Prickly Pear or Opuntia

All this hot weather, and our canyons are overflowing with vibrant cactus fruit. Slow Food Urban San Diego urges you not not let let this fruit's vengeful exterior scare you for beneath its prickly shell and among its many seeds lies a cucumber-citrus nectar worthy of your best cocktail and culinary creations. Read below for Prickly Pear Recipes from chef Ricardo Heredia of Alchemy Restaurant and the Mixologists at SnakeOil Cocktail Company.

Squash Blossom Tamales Wrapped in Swiss Chard w/Prickly Pear Sauce Courtesy of Ricardo Heredia of Alchemy Restaurant

Yield 12 Tamales

Masa for Tamales :

  • 1 cup solid vegetable shortening
  • 1 Tbs. sea salt
  • 1 Tbs. ancho chili powder
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 3 ½ cups masa harina for tamales
  •  2 ¼ cups warm water or vegetable stock.


Beat shortening, salt, chile powder and baking powder with heavy-duty mixer on medium speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Turn mixer to low, and add masa a little at a time. Turn speed to high, and beat 3 minutes more, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl. Turn mixer off and add 1 1/4 cups water or stock. Turn speed to low, and slowly mix ingredients. Increase speed, and beat masa mixture at least 3 minutes more. Turn mixer off, and add remaining 1 cup water. Slowly increase mixer speed, stopping to scrape down sides of bowl, and beat 3 more minutes, adding more water as needed, until mixture is soft.

Filling :

  • 24 ea. squash blossoms
  • 12 ea. lg. leaves of chard
  • 2 lbs. queso fresco
  • 1 Tbs. sea salt


In a bowl, mix salt into the cheese. Open each blossom and stuff about an ounce of cheese into the flower. Twist the tops and fold under placing them on a ½ sheet pan and hold until assembly. Blanch chard in boiling water for 30 sec. and remove the large part of the stem and place leaves under damp towel until ready to assemble

 For the Sauce :

  • 4 ea. prickly pears
  • 12 ea. dried guajillo peppers
  • 1 tsp. achiote powder or paste
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ½ cup cilantro leaves
  • 1 Tbs. sea salt


Remove the seeds from the chili’s and lightly toast over open flame for about 20 seconds on each side. Boil water in a pot and submerge the chili’s in the water with the heat turned off and covered with a lid. Let chili’s soak for at least 1 hour. Remove the chili’s and blend them in a blender until smooth. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove any skins and reserve. Wash prickly pears in cold water to make sure all fine hairs are removed. Cut into quarters and blend until smooth. Strain through fine mesh strainer. Return both purees to blender and add garlic, salt and cilantro. Blend until smooth; adding a little of the chili soaking water to loosen the sauce if needed. Cook the sauce in a small sauce pan for 15 min on low to bring all the flavors together.

To Assemble :

Place the blanched chard leaves out on a clean work surface. Spread about a half cup of the prepared masa in the center of each leaf about 3 in. x 2 in. place two of the stuffed blossoms in the center of the masa. Fold the leaf over lengthwise so the masa meets the opposite side enclosing the filling. Fold the ends under to form a neat package and hold seam side down. When finished, place in steamer lined with banana leaves, corn husks or simply a towel. Place tamales folded side down and cover with another towel. Steam tamales for 3 hours. Place tamales on plate and cover with sauce and garnish with remaining queso fresco and cilantro.

 Prickly Pear's Paw Inspired by the Jungle Book and Courtesy of The Mixologists at Snake Oil Cocktail Co.

1.5 oz. Good Reposado Tequila
.25 oz.Del Maguey Chichicapa Mezcal
.25 oz. Averna Bitters
.75 oz. Prickly Pear Reduction
.75 oz. Pressed Lime
Splash soda water

Shake all ingredients, excluding soda water. Strain over fresh ice. Finish with soda water.

Serve in a Collins glass and Garnish with a sprig of rosemary

Chef's notes: If you buy prickly pear from the farmers market, chances are the pricklies will have been removed. If you are looking to harvest the fruit yourself, we recommend gloves, tongs and a paper bag. The gloves, in this case, are an added precaution--use the tongs to remove the fruit from the cactus and place directly in a paper bag. Once in the kitchen, you can use the tongs and a sharp knife to carefully peel off the skin and spines or you can pull out your creme brulee torch and burn the spines off. This will allow you to handle the fruit with your gloved hands. Once you have removed the skins, you are left with a seedy mass: blend the fruit and strain. If you want the cucumber taste to be more pronounced, let the seedy mixture sit over night and strain the next day. The longer the juice stays in contact with the seeds, the more gel-like it becomes. We here at Slow Food Urban San Diego see lots of potential come Halloween for this delicious, blood-red and gelatinous blend...

If the thought of all that work gives you a headache, you can also find Prickly Pear Syrup at Specialty Produce.

If you do take to the canyons, please be mindful to leave some fruit for Mother Nature.