A few favorite recipes inspired by our desert home.
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Prickly Pear Cactus Aguas Frescas / Agua de Tuna
Prickly pear cacti are a subgroup of Opuntia, identified by their wide, flat, branching pads, found throughout Mexico and Western North America. The prickly pear fruit, also known as tuna in Spanish, are naturally sweet and rich in anti-oxidants. The magenta colored juice of the prickly pear has a cooling effect on the body, making it a perfect summer-time ingredient. Here’s one of our favorite summer drink recipes.
Prickly Pear Aguas Frescas / Agua de Tuna
5 prickly pears
4 cups water
Juice of 2 limes
Mint leaves and lime slices for garnish (optional)
1 to 5 tablespoons of honey (or sweetener of choice)
2 cups ice
Fine mesh sieve or strainer
Wooden or metal spoon
Gardening or leather gloves (for handling prickly pears)
Tongs (for collecting prickly pears)
Disposable gloves (optional - you may want to wear gloves while cutting and juicing the prickly pears, since the juice can stain.)
Dissolve honey into 1 cup of hot water. Stir until completely dissolved and set aside to cool.
Slice both ends of the prickly pear off and discard them.
Make two long vertical slices (lengthwise) down the body of the prickly pear (one on either side of the pear).
Peel the prickly pears. To do this - put your finger into the cut you just made in the pear skin and slowly pull and peel back the thick skin of the pear all the way off of the fruit. Do this on either side until the pear is completely peeled. Discard the skins.
Place the peeled prickly pears into a blender or food processor and puree until liquefied.
Next, you will need to remove the seeds, pulp, and any remaining glochids (tiny spines on the fruit). The seeds of the prickly pear are too hard for humans to eat. To strain out the juice - place the prickly pear puree into a fine mesh sieve. Use a large spoon to press the juice out of the puree into into a pitcher or bowl. Discard the remaining pulp and seeds. Double check to make sure there are no glochid spines in your strained juice.
Blend strained prickly pear juice, water, diluted honey mixture, and lime juice together.
Serve over ice for classic Aguas Frescas or puree prickly pear juice, water, honey mixture, lime juice and ice together in the blender for a frozen drink.
Garnish with lime slices and mint.
For a sweeter drink or cocktail base use 1/4 to 1/2 cup sugar instead of honey.
Prickly pear juice is very cooling. Do not consume high quantities of non-diluted raw juice as it is occasionally known to cause chills and body aches.
Harvesting and Processing Prickly Pears:
Prickly pear fruit (tunas in Spanish) typically ripen August - September. When the fruit is ripe it will be dark red or purple in color. Using tongs, gently twist and pluck the fruit from the cactus pad. The fruit should come off easily. Don’t pick any fruit that is partially green. The fruit should be fully ripe.
Make sure to wear gloves and use tongs when collecting prickly pears. The surface of both the cactus pads and the prickly pear fruit are covered in fine hair-like spines called glochids.
Don’t collect fruit for cooking/eating that has fallen on the ground or punctured. The fallen or damaged fruit is great for dyeing fabric. To learn more about textile dyeing with prickly pear check out our Dyes of the Desert class.
Though cactus is abundant, be sure to leave ample fruit for wildlife and new cactus generations.
When handling the prickly pears make sure to wear thick gloves and watch out for spines. Some people freeze the prickly pears before using them to help weaken the spines.
If you aren’t able to harvest prickly pears - they can often be found in late summer/early fall at Mexican grocery stores, farmer’s markets, and specialty grocery stores. The juice is can also be purchased online at Arizona Cactus Ranch.