Growing up in a town that's heavily influenced with Mexican culture, has really made me love Mexican cuisine. Yes, yes, I know. Much of the food in California isn't authentic Mexican food, it's Cal-Mex, Tex-Mex, Colorado-Mex, New Mexico-Mex, etc. While I'm not a fan of the fast food or major chain Mexican restaurants, I love local, hole-in-the-wall places like Murillos (location of hubby and I's first date!), Vasquez Deli, and Chando's Tacos.
When I was little, my mom had a copy of the Sunset Mexican Cookbook, 1983 edition. I remember reading it like it was a Nancy Drew book, absorbing every word in the book on how to prepare everything from tamales to enchilada sauces to flan. We cooked Mexican food often at my mom's house: enchiladas, tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and chili verde. My mom is well known for her green chicken enchiladas and a pan of those is a coveted birthday, Christmas or "just-because" gift.
Now that I'm on my strict elimination diet, Mexican food is pretty much on the "banned" list right now. I tested positive to wheat, dairy, coriander, and cumin, and also found that I need to severely limit my intake of corn, beans, tomatoes, and peppers in order to feel better. That means no tortillas, no salsa, not hot sauces, no "Mexican" seasonings, no crema, no refried beans, and no queso. While I'm waiting for that magical day in August when I can start adding foods on-by-one back into my diet, I have been trying to eat some of my favorite menu items minus all the ingredients on my allergy list.
Last summer, I was talking to a farmer at the market and they were selling prickly pear cactus pads, also knows as nopales. I had never had cactus before and didn't know it was edible. I vaguely remember a prickly pear cactus margarita at a chain Mexican restaurant, but wasn't sure if it was made from cactus or that was just the name because of the color. Nights involving margaritas are very fuzzy in my memory. Except for the night there was a clown drinking margaritas at that restaurant's bar, but that's another story.... I told the farmer I had never had cactus and asked how it tasted. He replied, "Delicious" with a big grin on his face. I asked him his favorite ways to prepare the cactus, and he said that there was too many to count. He started listing off all the ways you could eat cactus, and I suddenly felt like I was watching Bubba talk about all the ways you can eat shrimp. I really love that this particular farmer removes all the needles prior to selling. They can be dangerous and difficult for the newbie to remove, and can really harm you if you accidentally ingest one.
Now that cactus is back in season, I always make sure to get some at the market each week. While I haven't really branched out and made them in the million and one ways the farmer said you can, I have found them to be a quite delicious as a taco filling. This week I decided to mix them with some ground chicken. It was so yummy, despite not having my beloved Pepper Plant Seasoning added in (I added salt, pepper, garlic and onion powders to give it some flavors). Today I splurged and ate corn taco shells, but you could just as well put this in a brown rice tortilla or on top of a salad.
Nopales and Ground Chicken Tacos
1 lb 99% fat free ground chicken
1 lb nopales, needles removed, cut into small, bite-sized pieces
2 tbl coconut oil
2 tbl pepper plant seasoning (or 1-2 packages of your favorite taco seasoning)
desired garnishes: avocado, lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, crema or sour cream, guacamole, queso, chopped onions and cilantro, etc.
Heat a heavy skillet with 2 tbl coconut oil over medium high heat. Add nopales, and saute until soft, about 5 -10 minutes. Remove from pan and set aside. Add ground chicken, brown and crumble, about 10 minutes. Add your seasonings and about 1/4 cup of water (or whatever your package directions say) and simmer for about 5 minutes. Add nopales and mix together. Spoon the chicken nopales mixture into taco shells. Top with desired garnishes. ¡Buen provecho!