Enchiladas con Nopales
I live west of a neighborhood called White Center. White Center is much maligned for various dangers, real and imagined. It's also home to a remarkably vital and varied immigrant population. Although the wonderful Proletariat Pizza is there, and the magnificent Full Tilt Ice Cream (Mexican Chocolate all the way!), my favorite store is the Phnom Khiev Market. The folks who work there are, uniformly, friendly and helpful. And the produce? While there are plenty of items I recognize, many are new to me and unlabeled. There are greens of all sort, some recognizable to me (bok choi, pak choi, gai lan) and others that I don't recognize. Some time, when an abundance of time to experiment presents itself, I'm going to buy three or four sorts of greens and have myself a little tasting party. Their prices are absurdly low. Absurdly. They make money on their dry goods, I think, not their produce.
I often buy their incredibly sweet finger bananas. And mint. And chilies. There are chilies of all sorts, most of them hot. But that isn't what I'm here to tell you about. I noticed their cactus pads (nopales) around the same time I read a recipe for enchiladas with nopales and then went to a restaurant that served huevos con nopales. And I figured that even if I screwed things up, I wouldn't be too far in the hole as they're $1 a pound.
Hint: Buy your nopales already cleaned if you don't have very sharp knives and/or aren't in the mood have your fingers poked with very sharp spikes. I, however, have a little masochistic streak, so I buy spikey. If you do, too, hold the pad on the smaller end (the one that was attached to the plant) and, with the blade facing away from you, just barely angle the dull edge of the knife away from the pad and slide the blade along the pad, scraping off spikes are you go. Rinse the pad and your knife frequently and I highly recommend trimming the edges off rather than trying to scrape them.
1.75 lbs nopales, de-spiked and cut into 1" squares, or diamonds, if you're feeling fancy
1.75 lbs delicata squash, washed, quartered, and steamed to tenderness, then peeled and cut into 1" cubes
1 can mild green enchilada sauce (Hatch if'n you have it local)
1.5 cups of black beans
1 medium onion, diced
4 tablespoons garlic, minced
2 cups cheese, cheddar or jack, grated
2 teaspoons Chipotle Chocolate Rub
oil, avocado or olive
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large non-stick skillet (use two if it's not non-stick) and add half of the cactus pieces. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook them on medium high heat. Here's the weird part. The cactus puts out a icky gooey substance not unlike phlegm. It'll cook off a bit, but not all the way. Don't worry, when you mix the other ingredients together, the goo serves as binder, but you won't taste it. In fact, you'll be so bowled over by the deliciousness you'll forget it was ever there. Remove batch # 1 to a bowl after it changes color from bright green to army green and quits letting out liquid. Add batch #2 of cactus and a little more oil, if you need it. Cook as the first batch. Add to the bowl when it changes color and stops releasing liquid.
Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add 2 teaspoons of oil to the pan, and add the onion once the oil is medium hot. Cook til translucent and then add the garlic. Cook 2 minutes, not letting the garlic brown. Sprinkle the Chipotle Chocolate Rub on the onion & garlic mixture and stir to combine. Add the black beans, the cactus, and the squash. Mix to combine and turn heat to low.
Take a 9x12 or 9x13 pan and pour just enough enchilada sauce into the bottom to cover it. Cover with a layer of corn tortillas with a minimum of overlap. Cover with half of the cactus mixture, sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese, drizzle with 1/3 of the remaining enchilada sauce. Add another layer of tortillas, the other half the cactus mixture, 1/3 of the cheese mixture, and 1/3 of the enchilada sauce. Top with tortillas, the final enchilada sauce, and the remainder of the cheese. Press the tortillas down a little, so the sauce rises. Pop the pan in the oven and let it cook until the edges bubble. I'm so sorry, but I truly don't know how long that is.