Today while I was shopping, I saw prickly pear fruit in my neighborhood Fry's Supermarket on Campbell and Irvington, which is undergoing renovation nowadays. If you see this cactus fruit, you might wonder if there is anything to do with it--well, there sure is. If you want to, you can make your own Prickly Pear Syrup, which is used to flavor drinks such as Prickly Margaritas (add a shot to your regular cocktail). But much more important is how to make the Prickly Vinaigrette that I invented with my daughter.
In order to make your own syrup from these cactus fruits, all you have to do is follow the general procedure for jam and jelly. You quarter the prickly pears themselves (use tongs and gloves for this) and place them in a large kettle. Cover them just barely with plain water and bring it to a boil. Boil the fruit until it is soft and the water has taken on the color of prickly pears. By the way, if your prickly pears are green, let them ripen to a dark red before cooking.
Turn off the heat when the fruit is done and let the kettle cool with its contents until it is no longer a heat hazard. That is when you prepare a colander with a cheesecloth lining and strain the fruit into another vessel such as a soup pot.
Once you have your strained prickly pear juice, measure out at least an equal quantity of sugar and stir it into the kettle. Bring this to a boil and allow it to reduce until it acquires the consistency of a syrup.
I did this once in an unsuccessful way, and I learned something from it: do not cook the syrup all afternoon, because it can be ruined if it is boiled for too long. If I were doing it now, I would add more sugar than an equal quantity--maybe 1-1/2 times the sugar as liquid. Trying to cook the syrup down for more than an hour will kill it.
What happens is the prickly pear solids will overcook and assume a dull brown color and separate from the syrup part of the substance. They will float there like little dead shreds of cactus, and you don't want that.
Once you have either your own syrup or the Tucson brand known as Cheri's, you can make a truly Southwestern salad dressing. It is going to come out bright magenta in color, so I'd be sure to include red cabbage in the salad mix. That will look glorious, and to go it even better, don't include grated carrots this time because their color does not complement the red cabbage and the dressing.
From Cafe Margot
1/2 cup organic extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup organic safflower or canola oil
1/2 cup prickly pear syrup
1/4 cup organic red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 organic lime
One or two Tablespoons of organic agave sweetener if desired, for flavor
1/8 of one small fresh organic onion
2-4 cloves of fresh organic garlic
1 teaspoon white Worcester sauce (or regular if you can't find the white)
1/4 teaspoon ground organic mustard
Place all ingredients in a blender, food processor or an emulsifier (Kitchen Ninja, Nutri Bullet, etc.) and blend until the mixture is thoroughly consistent.
Store this dressing in an airtight container and refrigerate it between uses.
This dressing goes very well with any dinner that is served with red wine, such as a pot roast or beef in any kind of Mexican recipe.