FYIHealthtalk Test Kitchen

Funny thing, I decided to add a Test Kitchen section to my blog. I am always trying new things. The Kitchen will present new recipes that I have concocted. The one for today will be a New Prickly Pear Smoothie. However, before I get to the recipe, let me tell you how I got there.

I have a neighbor who grows the Prickly Pear Cactus. It has the most beautiful flowers that change into the Prickly Pear Fruit.

The flowers on his plants are yellow like this picture. However, depending on the species the flowers can be other colors as well. The prickly pear cactus is grown in many areas. Here in the US they can be grown in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and I assume on the desert in Texas as well. They are also grown in other countries to include Mexico. I doubt anyone thinks about them being grown in Florida, but they are. Here in the area I live many people grow a bush or two in their yards. The only desert like places are the sands of the beach, but they are not grown there….probably too much salt in the sand. I had one in my yard, but they can grow very big and I didn’t like the needles – stickers on them so I disposed of them before they bloomed. I have seen them grow as high as the house….and they are heavy. I helped a neighbor take one out that wasn’t really very big, but it weighed a ton…had to put a rope around it and pull it out, then cut it up into little pieces to dispose of it.

Anyway, the fruit known as the nopales cactus (cacti with beaver tail-like paddles), are actually edible, and so are the paddle like part of the plant. Called prickly pears, they offer a delicious juice that some people say taste like kiwi fruit, raspberries and even watermelon. I have tasted bitter pears and not so bitter pears. The ones I used for my smoothie were more bitter-tasting to me, but with a sweetener added the juice was palatable. They can also be made into jelly/jam and candy, to my knowledge at this time. My research, via Mexican Biodiversity, says: “The flowers are cooked in sumptuous sauces and the xoconostles (paddle shaped leaves) can be eaten raw or cooked. Various juices and sweets are made with the tunas (pear part), as well as a fermented beverage called colonche or tuna wine.” I also read that when food is scarce or in survival situations out in desert you can burn the spines off the paddles and the prickly pear and can then eat them both raw or cooked. Today certain traditional prickly pear products are widely marketed. When you buy them in the store, the spines or needles, whichever you want to call them have already been removed.

Here is what the one I used look like. The paddles and the fruit have spines. The little nodules on the fruit have hair like needles, hard to see, on them, that is why when picking them off the main plant you should use heavy welders gloves or tongs. They should be picked when the color is a deep, deep magenta. There are many versions about how one can remove the stickers (glochids) if you feel you need to. As mentioned above they can be burned off, but who has a blowtorch ready to do this or they can be boiled off. To do this I used surgical gloves to carefully put the pears in a large bowl, rinsed them with cold water to clean the dirt off which along with the dirt came some of the stickers. I dumped that water and then poured boiled hot water over them to cover them. Let them sit for about 5 minutes to soften the stickers; with my hands still gloved, I picked them up by the ends and used hand nail brush to brush away any stickers that were left on the fruit. I then rinsed each fruit in running water put them in a colander bowl and when full rinsed them all again. Now, I was able to handle them without gloves. I wasn’t sure what to do at this point. I figured I had to skin them to get to the fruit in order for me to make juice or jelly or do whatever else I wanted to do with them. I did the skinning with a paring knife. Apparently I was wrong, because, with further research found that people who are familiar with this fruit had a varied way of preparing the fruit for juicing. Some folks just rinsed them off and put them whole immediately into a blender, after which they strained the mixture in a strainer or a colander lined with cheesecloth placed over a large bowl. This supposedly strained out all the seeds and stickers, leaving only the juice. Another method similar to that one was to put the fruit into a juicer which automatically strains off the skin, stickers, and seeds. Again, I could have just boiled them until they softened, put them in a cheesecloth, mashed them and then the juice would just be there….or steamed them by putting them into a cheesecloth in the top of a steamer and again magically…juice. Easy or not easy. You choose your own method of making the juice.

The method I chose after I skinned them, was to put them into my blender whole. Yes I got juice, but it was full of seeds. Didn’t know that until after I made the smoothie. So then I poured the smoothie in a strainer I put on the top of a wide mouth bottle. It strained very slow…took time. I decided that I should have strained the juice before I made the smoothie. I had some juice left that I did not use in the smoothie so I strained it. Again, it was a slow strain as the juice was very thick, syrupy. Now I know why it would make great jelly. Was it worth it to go to all this trouble? Yes, I learned a lot. That is why I called this blog the Test Kitchen. NOW – ONTO THE SMOOTHIE RECIPE.

1/3 cup Prickly Pear Juice
1 frozen organic banana
1/4 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup sliced strawberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup crushed pineapple with the juice
Juice from 1 freshly juiced lemon
2 tablespoons raw honey
1/4 cup 100% grape juice
Crushed ice

Put all ingredients into blender add crushed ice as needed. If you use frozen blueberries, banana and strawberries may not need the ice. My blender is small – for individual servings…so I add crushed ice until container is full to the top. Then I blend it. MMM Good!

If you want to make a smoothie for more than just yourself, adjust the portion used of each ingredient to double or triple and put in a large blender.

Prickly Pear Juice can be combined with a number of other juices such as cranberry, frozen lemonade, orange, grape…you pick your choice. A search on the internet may also give you ideas for using the juice in include syrups, sauces, wine coolers, gelato, sorbet and other desserts.

To make a syrup out of the juice, I use:
1 cup prickly pear juice
1/4 cup pure water ( I purify my own)
1/2 cup organic raw sugar

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan, bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes or until it has thickened. The syrup can be poured over pancakes, fruit, ice cream or even be used as a base of a variety of fruit drinks.

This has been a fun topic to research. Use your imagination – dream up your own concoctions. Until my next test project…enjoy your smoothie and GOD BLESS!

Would love to hear from you my readers. I am open for topic suggestions.

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