Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tacos de Nopales y Verdolagas

This is a good time to harvest paddles off the nopal, while they are still fresh and tender.

I started this nopal several years ago from a paddle I bought in the food section at Berkeley Bowl. I just stuck the paddle in the ground and about a year later it started producing new paddles. I love the way people in Oakland grow nopales. More than a healthy, delicious food, the nopal is also, often, a work of art, sculpted at the hands of the gardener/artist over decades. My own nopal is still small by Oakland standards but I expect it to be at least 6 feet tall within a few years. When I choose which cactus paddles to harvest, I am mindful of the aesthetic choices I am making. With any luck, I will have a balanced, quirky nopal sculpture in the years ahead.

For the past few weeks, verdolagas (wild purslane) has been popping up all over Oakland and we have several patches growing in our own front yard. We've been eating the verdolagas raw in salads but tonight I wilted them on the grill, and it came out great.

These are the verdolagas growing as "weeds" in our front yard:

The way I like to prepare nopales is to cut them into thin strips and then remove the spines. I toss the strips with salt, pepper, and olive oil.

I love the taste of nopalitos cooked on the grill. I get my grill very hot and proceed to cook the nopales until they are charred on the outside and tender on the inside.

I served the nopalitos and verdolagas with hot corn tortillas, guacamole, lime, grated queso fresco, radishes, snap peas, and lettuce. I let everyone make their own tacos. Lil J—our 15 year old family friend—ate 4 tacos (so did I!).

Nopales and verdolagas are traditional foods of Mexican and indigenous peoples of the Americas. Both Ktrion and I grew up hearing about these foods; however, having been raised in the "hamburger helper" generation, we did not eat such foods on a regular basis. Now, of course, we realize the importance of reclaiming the old ways and we are trying to educate ourselves about traditional Mexican foodways.

An informative article in Mother Earth News describes the nutritional content of verdolagas as "...uncommonly good for you. It tops the list of plants high in vitamin E and an essential omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). Purslane provides six times more vitamin E than spinach and seven times more beta carotene than carrots. It’s also rich in vitamin C, magnesium, riboflavin, potassium and phosphorus.Omega-3s are a class of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids. Your body cannot manufacture essential fatty acids, so you must get them from food. Unfortunately, the typical American diet contains too few omega-3s, a shortage that is linked to a barrage of illnesses including heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. "

And, because wild purslane grows as a weed, all we have to be able to do is recognize it when it appears in our garden in early summer months. We don't have to buy it, water it, or even save its seeds.


  1. this dinner was all about "tangy succulents!" When Malucho said "This dinner couldn't be any more healthy" Lil J responded with "And it couldn't taste any better!"

  2. Wow! That looks fabulous, especially since the only nopales I can get here in Michigan are rather shriveled affairs at the local mercado. Makes me think I should plant one in the greenhouse...

    And I am quite...horrified? surprised? by the creeping culture of Hamburger Helper amongst folks with as strong and as thrifty a food culture as Mexico in their backgrounds. I mean really: can that boxed crap really taste any better than hand-squished masa? I suppose it could but it's sad, sad, sad. Glad to see you're grabbing back the cultcha!'s making me hungry.

  3. Yum!!

    I have been looking for purslane everywhere I go. I saw (and ate) the chickweed, but not a single lemony stem so far. Maybe I need to look in more places, or maybe the season is slow here.

  4. this looks so yum. y'all are so inspiring. even though we can't do much in our tiny apt w/no outside space of our own, we're stil trying--and thinking of you when we do! vmg

  5. i mnust admit, somewhat sheepishly, to lusting after this much-less DIY version of a composter:

    but for now, taking advantage of city services to haul away foodwaste.

  6. Tejanota,

    First off, I totally understand the lust for composters! We;re constantly being lured by those barrel ones that turn like a green chile roasting setup.

    I saw something similar to the Naturemill composter a tv show (WASTED, I think) where they try to get families to change their carbon habits. They gave the family one of these (which uses electricity) but the family said it stunk and quickly moved it out of the house.

    but I love the way it looks (like a computer!)

    Of course, I had originally asked for an eglu for my chickens:

    but my handy dandy she-hubby came up with a better plan...

  7. Stefaneer and Fastgro...

    The verdolagas (wild purslane) are expanding in our front yard. Together with the California Poppies, they're having a party!

  8. wow, could you sell me some verdolagas? I live in the black hills and I don't think they grow here.