Dramatic to behold, but a bit too prickly to touch, cactus has long punctuated the distant landscape at spas across the Southwest.
Now, thanks in part to research from the University of Arizona indicating that cactus may have cancer fighting properties, this spiny desert resident is making its move from property periphery to in-house guest-of-honor. Not only are spa-goers learning about the health benefits associated with the plant’s paddles, flowers, and fruits, they’re actually getting a taste of it at mealtime.
“Prickly pear, agave, and nopal cactus were all used by Native Americans for their edible and medicinal properties”, says Chad Luthje, executive chef at Red Mountain Spa in St. George, Utah. “Only recently has science suggested that these plants can do everything from treating inflammation to fighting disease.”
To bring these benefits to the table, Luthje began incorporating parts of these plants into his cooking, using agave cactus nectar to make syrup for pancakes and desserts, nopalito as a crunchy veggie in salads and chutneys, and prickly pear in sweet glazes, toppings, and sauces.
Terry Conlan, executive chef at Lake Austin Spa and Resort, has also spotlighted the tasty desert produce in his recipe for Shrimp and Nopal Cactus Salad. Those who can’t make it to these destination spas can still get a healthy taste of the Southwest by cooking with cactus at home. To get paddles, nectar, and cactus strips, visit your local natural food store or Latino market.
Nopalito Cactus Salad with Jicama and OrangeExecutive Chef Chad Luthje, Red Mountain Spa
Serves 4 (1/2 cup servings)
2 ounces nopalito cactus strips
1-1/4 cup jicama, cut into 1 inch batons
1/2 cup orange segments
1-1/2 tsp. cumin seed, toasted
2 tsp. rice wine vinegar
1 tsp. fresh cilantro, stemmed, rinsed, and chopped
1 pinch kosher salt
Rinse and drain nopalito strips. Cut into 1-inch lengths. Toast whole cumin seeds on cookie sheet at 350, for about 5 minutes, or until you can smell the cumin in your kitchen. Combine all remaining ingredients and serve.