Beef and nopales are delicious together. In this recipe, the beef preparation should be on the drier side, making a nice balance for the mucilaginous and slightly tart nopalitos.
For the nopalitos:
- 1 nopal cactus pad, de-spined and cut into ½-inch cubes
- Sea salt to taste
- Juice of ½ lime
- 2 teaspoons olive oil
For the beef:
- 1 small onion, minced
- 2 tablespoons bacon drippings, lard, or olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin
- ⅛–½ teaspoon chipotle powder or cayenne, to taste
- 1 pound ground grass-fed beef
- 1 chicken liver, finely minced*
- 1–2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
- ½ teaspoon Eatwell Farm smoked chile salt, Allstar Organics Applewood smoked salt, or regular sea salt
For the lettuce filling:
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Juice of ½ lime
- ¼–½ teaspoon sea salt
- 1 small head iceberg lettuce, finely shredded
- ½ bunch fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
For the tacos:
- 8 large corn tortillas (I like Primavera’s)
- 2–3 avocados, cut into cubes and put in a bowl
You can add any of these to the taco bar, but be careful not to lose the nopalitos in an overabundance of toppings or flavors.
- 1 jalapeño chile, minced and put into a small dish
- Chopped tomatoes
- Sour cream or crème fraîche
- Crumbled queso fresco (or grated cheese of choice)
- Minced red onion or scallions
For the nopalitos: Cover nopal pieces with fresh water and bring to a simmer. Cook for 5 minutes, then drain through a strainer. Cover with fresh water and bring to a simmer again, cooking for another 5–8 minutes or until tender. Drain again and return nopales to the pot. Toss with olive oil, lime juice, and sea salt to taste. Keep covered and warm.
For the beef: Melt bacon drippings (my preference) or other fat in a skillet. Add onions and sauté, stirring, for 1 or 2 minutes. Add oregano, cumin, and chipotle or cayenne and stir. Add ground beef, liver, garlic, and salt. Cook, breaking up the meat and stirring, until no pink remains. Cover and keep warm.
For the lettuce filling: In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the egg yolk, olive oil, lime juice, and sea salt Add lettuce and cilantro and toss. Set aside.
For the tacos: Heat the tortillas by putting them directly over the gas flame turned to medium low and flipping them with tongs when they get hot on one side and begin to scorch just a bit. You can also heat them in a tortilla pan, which I would especially recommend if you don’t have a gas stove. Keep tortillas warm by wrapping them in a cloth napkin as you take them off the burner.
Put the warm tortillas, warm beef, warm nopalitos, bowl of lettuce filling, and the bowl of fresh avocado cubes out on the table along with minced jalapeño, sour cream or crème fraîche, grated cheese, tomatoes, onion, and whatever strikes your fancy. These are great served with Mexican rice and refried beans, too! Each person makes his or her own tacos with the fillings offered.
Serves 3 (or 4 if served with accompaniments like beans and rice).
*Note: Whenever I make ground meat dishes at home, I add a minced chicken liver. It lends a subtle depth of flavor, but the main reason I do it is nutritional: liver is a powerhouse of nutrient density. I use an ice cube tray to freeze chicken livers: Put each one in a separate depression, then wrap the tray in a plastic bag before placing it in the freezer. Whenever I want a liver, I just pop one out like an ice cube, and within a few minutes it is thawed just enough to mince easily. This is a great way to sneak liver into the diet of a child or someone who dislikes the taste of liver. (I have one of each at home!)
Jessica Prentice is the author of Full Moon Feast: Food and the Hunger for Connection and co-founder of Three Stone Hearth Community Supported Kitchen in Berkeley. www.threestonehearth.com.