Nopales con papas en chile rojo.

I just returned from a weekend getaway with the family. 3 days in the warm sun, on a lovely beach with the kids was relaxing and restorative. On the way home we stopped in Watsonville, to lunch at my favorite market. My boy’s birthday lunch of a carnitas taco and beans was well received! In the produce section there was a nice lady cleaning nopales (cactus paddles). I couldn’t resist. Last week was Ash Wednesday and my mother used to always make this dish. You know, if you like to cook, having a big family is really great. My mother always made so many different dishes for all of us. Now, with just my husband and myself, I don’t cook multiple main dishes. I just don’t.

This week has been ridiculously cold in Santa Cruz. It is hard to believe that a mere 2.5 hours south of here was absolute perfection. Blue skies and a balmy 73F. Back to life, so difficult after even a few days away! I always start the week with a pot of beans. Beans and a quick salsa roja for the nopales is what I plan to make and share.

My neighbor, due to awful medical circumstances, has been forced into a strict vegan diet. He has been a great sport, and his wife is super supportive, but it is a difficult change to get thrown into.  He really has been an inspiration to me and has reminded me of a few things. Food is a reflection of self. It reflects our history, culture, lifestyle, economic status, and our personal history via likes and dislikes. But, it is also a reflection of heath and physical state of being. Food as nourishment and nutrition isn’t something we often read about in our current food obsessed culture where taste, via fats, reigns supreme. But eating right does make one feel better and taste need not be compromised.  This dish is vegan and fat-free, and quite delicious. A bowl of this spicy Lenten dish will be the perfect dinner for neighbors and us alike.

Nopales con papas en chile rojo (Cactus paddles and potatoes in a red chile sauce)

For the Salsa Roja:

  • 8 dried pasilla, ancho, or chile California peppers
  • 5 chiles de arbol
  • 1 heaping cup of tomatillos
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  1. Remove the stems and seeds from the peppers. Place in a small saucepan
  2. Peel the tomatillos and make sure they are clean, add to pan.
  3. Peel the garlic, add to pan.
  4. Add enough water to cover.
  5. Simmer gently for about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and let cool.
  7. Add everything to the blender, and pulse until you have a smooth sauce.
  8. Salt to taste and set aside.

For the Nopales:

  • 1 pound of nopales
  • If your nopales are not clean, trim the edges with a knife and scrape away all the thorns. Once at this stage, simple dice into even cubes.
  • Place your nopales to a medium-sized saucepan, add two cloves of garlic and a few bay leaves. Cover with water and cook for about 30 minutes.
  • Once cooked, it is important to rinse and drain your nopales. They do have a slime factor! I just dump them in a colander in the sink, run cold water over them, and let them sit for a bit.

For the Nopales con papas:

  1. Peel and cube 3 russet potatoes.
  2. In a large skillet add the nopales and potatoes. Pour the red sauce over it.
  3. Add a teaspoon, or two, of ground cumin.
  4. Simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the potatoes are soft.
  5. Salt to taste.
  6. Serve with frijoles de la olla  and corn tortillas.

This is the fat-free vegan version. For Lent, this would be meatless but I would have sautéed the potatoes in a bit of olive oil before adding the nopales and sauce. And, for the rest of the year, this is delicious with short ribs! The choice is yours.

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