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I first discovered the prickly pear fruit when I was living in Arizona.  I had two friends who shared my love of cooking. We’ll call them Paul and Heather, mainly because those are, in fact, their names. We inadvertently formed a kind of dinner club.  The host for the week was responsible for the main course, someone else would bring bread or salad, the 3rd would bring wine, and we rotated weekly.

One epic meal will stand out forever. We decided to embrace our current location of the great southwest and cook an entire meal of cacti.  We stocked up on nopale leaves and de-stickered them ourselves. We made slow-cooking beef machaca from scratch, stuffed the machaca inside nopale leaves, and roasted.  Nopale leaves were also cut into strips, dipped in batter, fried, and drizzled with saguaro honey. But the part that required extra planning was the prickly pear margaritas.  Prickly pears were soaked in tequila for 72 hours. Then it was all put in the blender, strained through a sieve and the prickly pear-tequila puree was used to make the margaritas.  The meal was a ton of fun and considered a rousing success.

However….despite subsequent attempts at making the margaritas, I was never totally happy with them. Prickly pears have a light, sweet, almost floral taste. The flavor was totally drowned out in the recipe I was using.  I tried different tequila to fruit ratios but they never seemed quite right.  I even found “prickly pear” syrup offered in a store in Sedona and thought I would give that a try but it turned out to be little more than simple syrup with fuschia food coloring.

Remember that produce purchasing problem I discussed in my last post? Well, just yesterday I saw the most gorgeous prickly pears and knew what my next venture would be.  I would make my OWN prickly pear syrup from scratch!  That’s just what I did.

Prickly Pear Syrup 

  • 2 large prickly pears
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 cup sugar

1. Slice through the prickly pear skin and remove the fruit.  Roughly chop.

Isn’t it a gorgeous color? Here you can see how thick the skin is.

2. Place the fruit in a small saucepan with water and sugar over medium heat. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until the fruit is softened and broken down. This is why I used more water than a regular simple syrup recipe. I didn’t want it to get too thick while simmering to soften the fruit.

3. Place a sieve over a bowl and pour the prickly pear mixture into the sieve.  Use the back of a spoon to push the softened fruit through the sieve, leaving behind the large seeds.  This recipe yields about 2 cups of prickly pear syrup.

For the margaritas, I was going to go it alone and try to figure out the perfect ratios myself, but also didn’t want to waste my precious home-made prickly pear syrup on sub-par margaritas.  Fortunately I was able to find a pre-existing recipe that I modified very slightly from Emeril Lagasse.  It is delicious…but holy buckets they are strong! You are warned!  Also, to quote Paul directly (who is now a Lutheran pastor and quite the margarita connoisseur) regarding choice of tequilas:  “Don’t pinch pennies here. Get a decent $30+ bottle of tequila. Anejo is my preference, reposado works in a pinch. Either way, make sure it’s 100% agave. If it says ‘Cuervo’ anywhere on the bottle, smash it on the ground immediately.” It seems that I needed to kick Jose to the curb. After a trip to the liquor store, this is the recipe I used:

Prickly Pear Margaritas

Ingredients

  • 2 ounces tequila blanco (originally, it called for 3 ounces..try it yourself and see how you prefer it)
  • 1/2-ounce Triple Sec
  • 1 1/2 ounces fresh lime juice
  • 2 ounces prickly pear syrup
  • crystal sugar, for garnishing the glass
  • lime juice for garnishing the glass

Directions

Combine the tequila, triple sec, lime juice and pear syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake vigorously to incorporate.

Dip rim of glass in lime juice and then into the sugar crystals to coat the rim.  Fill glass halfway with ice.  Then pour margarita into glass and serve.

This one is for Paul and Heather who were there in the early days of my food adventures…Salud!

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