Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Jalapenos and Cactuses!

In honor of Cinco de Mayo, we made some delicious Jalapeno Poppers (not so authentic Mexican) and Ensalada de Nopal, a cactus salad (about as authentic Mexican as they come). Both the jalapenos and the nopales were purchased at our favorite Mexican store, Rancho Market. And bother were super cheap and super delicious!

This recipe for jalapeno poppers comes from my Taste of Home Cookbook. We've made them a couple times, and love them so much! These are very flavorful, and so much better than the kind in the frozen food section. I made a half recipe, because these are best right out of the oven. If we want more, we'll just make more fresh. And since I've been craving them ever since we finished eating them, we probably will make some more later. :-)

Jalapeno Poppers
1 package (8 oz) cream cheese, softened
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled(I substituted imitation bacon bits, since that's what we had)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
1/4 tsp. chili powder
1 pound fresh jalapenos, halved lengthwise and seeded
1/2 cup dry bread crumbs
Sour cream, onion dip, or ranch dressing, if desired

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cheeses, bacon, and seasonings; mix well. Spoon about 2 tablespoonfuls into each pepper half. Roll in bread crumbs.

Place in a greased baking pan. Bake, uncovered, at 300 degrees for 20 minutes for spicy flavor, 30 minutes for medium, and 40 minutes for mild. Serve with sour cream, dip, or dressing if desired (they're really good with or without this extra stuff).

I cooked them for 35 minutes today, because I wasn't in the mood for pain in my mouth - I just wanted the flavor. Other times we've done them spicier. They're delicious either way.

As for the Ensalada de Nopal, this was our very first time ever working with nopales, or cactus. Having never done anything with these before, we decided to buy them first and ask questions later. So today I googled "how to prepare nopales" and found this wonderful page, complete with tutorial and photos to help us in our journey. So following the steps outlined there, we plopped our cactus paddles down on a cutting board:

Sliced off the spines:

Cut it up into bite-sized chunks:

And boiled it up until it looked like mutated green beans. We were excited when our finished product looked just like the ones in the pictures we were referring to:

Then we used the guidelines given for making ensalada de nopal, omitting ingredients we didn't have. We ended up combining our boiled nopalitos with a chopped tomato and half of a thinly sliced white onion (a tip for reducing the bite in fresh onion - soak the slices in ice water for five to ten minutes before adding to the salad). We added a spoonful of canned green chilies (in place of the serrano chili), some salt and pepper, and a bit of vegetable oil and lemon juice. Mmm, doesn't it look good?

As for the taste, I found that I really liked this salad. The cactus was similar to green beans, but with a wilder, more cactusy flavor, more tangy. The texture was a bit different, but I didn't mind it. Jeff wasn't a fan of the salad until he added some sweet vinegar salad dressing we have, then he liked it a bit more.

All in all, it was a fun culinary adventure. I've been cooking a bit more often now, usually simple things like scrambled eggs, pancakes, boxed macaroni and cheese, stuff like that. But it does seem like I'm getting a bit of my kitchen mojo back, which is a wonderful thing to me!

Stay tuned for more wonderful Mexican recipes on Saturday, when I post for My Kitchen My World. We've got some really good stuff planned!


Katy ~ said...

How festive! The jalapeno poppers sure look good. I've only had them in (non-Mexican) restaurants so it would be a treat to have them homemade.

Alas, cacti is not available as a food in my little city; we barely have a Taco Bell.

It looks intriguing and I would certainly give it a try.

I enjoy seeing diverse foods. Fun and interesting post. Thank you!

The American Homemaker said...

The cactus has a more cactusy flavor? LOL

Way to go! Now I'm craving jalapeno poppers again :) MMMmmmmmmm