Magazine article Sunset

Surprise Salads from Mexico City; among Other Things, the Surprises Include Chile, Cheese, Cactus

Magazine article Sunset

Surprise Salads from Mexico City; among Other Things, the Surprises Include Chile, Cheese, Cactus

Article excerpt

Laced with lively Mexican flavors, but lean in calories, these salads from Mexico City offer interesting variations on the standard green classic. Both are accented with diced cactus and Mexican cheeses. They make light lunch entrees, or supper companions for barbecued meats.

Tender, mildly flavored pads of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) or nopales--the same kind grown in many Western home gardens--taste somewhat like cucumber. They're sometimes available fresh, whole or diced. Fresh nopales or canned diced nopalitos are sold in Mexican markets or supermarkets having a good selection of Mexican foods, where you can also find the other ingredients or alternatives.

Purchased cactus pads usually have the prickly spines removed. If you harvest your own, select the smaller, thinner pads; hold with tongs and cut free at the joint. Clean and cook as directed (following).

In the first salad, spinach and watercress are moistened with a chili oil dressing and crisp-fried strips of mild, dry Anaheim chilies. Cubes of lightly cooked cactus and queso asadero (a firm, mild white Mexican cheese similar to mozzarella) give the salad substance and texture. Spinach Salad with Crisp Red Chilies

6 large dry Anaheim chilies

1/4 cup olive oil or salad oil

1 pound fresh whole or diced cactus (nopales) or 1-1/2 cups drained canned diced cactus (nopalitos)

Water

1 pound spinach, stems and yellow leaves removed, washed, and crisped

1/4 pound watercress, tough stems and yellow leaves removed, washed and crisped

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup sliced radishes

1 pound queso asadero or mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 large ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and sliced

Cider dressing (recipe follows)

Wipe chilies clean with a damp towel. With scissors, cut chilies into thin crosswise strips; discard seeds and stems. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, combine oil and chilies; stir over low heat until chilies are crisp, 2 to 3 minutes (watch closely to avoid burning). Lift chilies from oil; set aside. Save oil for dressing.

If the cactus pad has spines or prickly hairs, hold the pad with tongs and use a knife to scrape them off (wear gloves). Trim around edge of pad to remove skin, then peel remaining pad if skin is tough. …

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