The prickly path I followed to the best cactus salsa. The fish wasn’t bad either!

Main Course / October 6, 2016
I consider it a compliment when the grocery checker asks you about the food you’ve purchased, because they don’t know what the heck it is. It’s hard for me, really, not to say, “You work here, why don’t you know?” But that’s not my style. So I take it upon myself to enlighten them about the object and then launch into a treatise about how to prepare it.

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I love how they look at me, too. Like I’m the secret keeper of the produce section. But most of what I learn comes from simply experimenting. Like when I decided to buy the 99 cent cactus pear and see if I could give it a whirl in my kitchen. They didn’t need to know I was a cacti-newbie! That was my secret.

First of all. Cactus pears are SWEEET! And they are full of seeds that resemble those dotting a strawberry. But they’re three times the size and will flip a filling right out of your tooth if you’re not careful. If you’re thinking biting into one, be CAUTIOUS. I peeled them and pureed them with lemon juice, then pushed the flesh through a strainer resulting in a beautiful claret colored juice.

When I first saw this little beauty…well, this ugly beauty, I thought about a salsa. Sweet and hot go so well together, and the little red hot chili pepper hiding underneath the bananas and bread in my basket was just begging for recognition. When I got home and saw the clementines and the pineapple on my counter, I immediately started to thaw the fish and set out to dazzle the little filet with color and flavor. (Ron was pretty dazzled, too!)

Now there’s no need to tell you how good fish is fried in butter and coated with cornmeal. That’s like saying chocolate is good with marshmallows and graham crackers. DUH!!! But when you put sweet and hot salsa on it…well…it just turns heads!
The moral of the story is be happy when you have to educate the grocery staff. It makes them remember you. And that comes in handy when you need help. Or more cacti. In any event, make this dish and take those folks in aprons and sensible shoes a few servings. You won’t be forgotten after that!

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Butter Fried Tilapia with Cactus Fruit Pineapple Salsa

Serves 4


Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs tilapia cut into 4 equal portions
½ C heavy cream
1 C corn meal
2 t kosher salt, divided
½ t black pepper
½ t coriander powder
¼ C sweet white onion diced small
1 ripe cactus pear, peeled
2 T fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 C pineapple chunks, small (fresh is okay)
4 clementines, skinned, deveined & divided
4-5 large basil leaves julienned
1 t grated fresh ginger
1 T hot red chili pepper diced
1 T jalapeno diced
3 T butter, divided
2 T olive oil
(Serve with black lentils or black rice, or your choice of starch)
Black sesame seeds for garnish


Direction:

  • Place the tilapia in the cream and let sit for about 15 minutes. Blend 1 t kosher salt and the pepper and coriander powder with the corn meal in another wide dish and set aside.
  • Peel and cut cactus into large junks. Place in a small food processor with 2 T lemon juice. Process until smooth. Run through a mesh strainer and push through with a spatula to make sure all juice is extracted and no pith or seeds are in the juice. Add the fresh grated ginger to the cactus juice. In a small saucepan, melt 1 T butter. Add the onion and the two peppers, and 1 t kosher salt and cook for only a minute. You don’t want the butter to brown. Add the pineapple, clementines, and stir until hot. Add the cactus juice, turn the heat to medium low and let it reduce by half. Remove and cover until served.
  • In another clean pan, add the oil to a hot pan. Dredge the cream-soaked tilapia in the corn meal and place in hot oil. Turn when the bottom is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Brown other side for 2 minutes. Turn to medium low and add t T butter. Let bubble and melt, making the edges of the fish crisp. To serve, place a serving of the salted lentils on the plate, top with the fish, and spoon a serving of the salsa over the top. Sprinkle with the basil and with the black sesame seeds. Serve!


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