Sunday, August 24, 2014

Lemon-Orange Pancakes with Prickly Pear Syrup

As you saw in my last post, I recently got the chance to harvest and process a whole lot of prickly pears. Which means I now have the exciting challenge of figuring out how to use up 3-1/2 gallons of prickly pear juice! To kick things off, I whipped up a simple but stunning syrup to adorn some citrusy pancakes. The flavors paired beautifully together, creating a sweet, bright, fluffy, sticky breakfast. And aren't the colors just so inviting and energetic?

If you don't have access to prickly pears (or the inclination to process them yourself for juice), I would recommend using raspberries or blackberries for the syrup. Raspberries are probably the closest in flavor (and color) to the prickly pear. For suggested directions, see my notes in the syrup recipe.

I admit I was a little weirded out by the ricotta in these pancakes. I associate ricotta with lasagna, and I definitely don't associate lasagna with pancakes. But ricotta is actually pretty neutral-flavored, so it added some substance to the pancakes, and they turned out fluffy and delightful.

Lemon-Orange Ricotta Pancakes
Adapted slightly from Prevention RD
Yield: 4 servings (3 pancakes each)

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
3-1/2 Tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
3/4 cup low-fat ricotta
3 eggs
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Zest of 1 navel orange (about 1 Tbsp.)
1/4 cup lemon juice
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

Whisk together all dry ingredients in a mixing bowl--flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda. In a separate bowl, whisk together milk, ricotta, eggs, vanilla, orange zest, and lemon juice. Add the melted butter, whisking as you add it. It may curdle a little as bits of the butter re-solidify. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and whisk to combine, being careful not to overmix.

Toward the end of measuring and adding ingredients, heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. If desired, spray lightly with a neutral-flavored cooking spray.

Scoop a scant 1/3 cup of batter onto the skillet for each pancake. Cook 2-3 minutes or until bubbles develop on the surface of the pancakes. Flip and cook another 2-3 minutes until cooked through and nicely browned.

Tip: As you finish each skillet of pancakes, stick your plate of finished pancakes in the microwave to keep them warm. Don't turn on the microwave or anything--but the small enclosed space will keep the pancakes nice and warm.

Prickly Pear Syrup
Yield: About 2/3 cup syrup

1/3 cup prickly pear juice
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1-1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. cornstarch

Whisk all ingredients together in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium to medium-high heat. Cook for 5-10 minutes at a relatively low boil (my burner was probably on medium), whisking fairly often. The goal is for the syrup to reduce in volume and thicken without scorching. The flavors will develop as it it thickens and reduces. Remove from heat and serve.

This syrup would also be great on waffles or french toast. The prickly pear and lemon make this a very brightly flavored syrup, and I could see it pairing beautifully with the kinds of flavors that would go well with raspberries. Perhaps with some slight modification, this could be lovely as a glaze on blueberry or lemon poppy seed muffins.

If you don't have access to prickly pears, try this syrup with raspberries or blackberries. I'd suggest starting with 2/3 to a full 1 cup of fruit. Puree it well, then strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds and pulp from the juice. Then use 1/3 cup of that juice in the recipe above.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

If Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Prickly Pears . . .

I've lived in Texas for 21 years and, as of this weekend, 11 of those years have been in west Texas. In those 21 years, I cannot tell you how many prickly pear cacti I've seen. Only within the last few years did I learn that both the fruit and the cactus pad are edible (for humans). And earlier this week, I got to help pick and process fresh prickly pear fruit for the first time in my life!

Some of my friends own a good chunk of land that is bursting with prickly pears. They've harvested and processed several batches, and this week invited me to come along and pick with them.

It was so much fun! For this gal who is much better at driving to the grocery store than growing or hunting her own food, there was something so invigorating about harvesting produce from the earth's bounty. I felt industrious and accomplished. And the juice I brought home seems all the more special because it was mine and my friends' hands who picked, chopped, boiled, mashed, and strained the fruit that produced it.

So today I bring you a prickly pear photo story / instructions for making your own prickly pear juice. At the bottom, I'll provide some ideas for ways to use prickly pear juice.

1. Gather up your tools. For harvesting, you'll need bucket(s) and long-handled tongs. Sturdy rubber gloves will also come in handy (no pun intended). For processing, you'll need a rake (like you use to rake leaves), at least two large pots, cutting board and knife, a colander, a potato masher, a ladle, a funnel with a strainer (or a funnel plus a small fine strainer), and jars to hold and store the juice.

2. Use the tongs to pick the fruit. Look for fruit that is darker in color--deep purpley red more so than bright pink.

3. Fill up as many buckets as your heart desires. Each gallon of fruit will yield roughly a gallon of juice.

4. I didn't get a picture of this step. To remove the small hair-like prickles from the fruit, dump them in batches onto your lawn. Use a rake to rake over them, jumble them up, etc. The idea is to knock most of the prickles off the fruit in the process. Some people recommend removing the prickles by burning them off with propane, but that sounds quite complicated. Also, just know that you're probably not going to get ALL of the prickles off. So wearing gloves in the next steps will result in fewer prickles going into your hands. Return the fruit to a bucket, trying to minimize the amount of grass and dirt that wind up mixed in with the fruit.

5. Rinse off the fruit, and cut it in half long-ways. Isn't it purty?

6. Fill up a pot with the halved fruit, then add enough water to just cover the fruit.

7. Bring to a boil over high heat, then boil for 10 minutes.

8. Toward the end of the 10 minutes of boiling, use a potato masher to mash up the fruit

9. Place a colander over a second large pot, and pour the fruit/water/juice into the colander. (As you can see, we used a large bucket since all of our pots were full of fruit.)

10. Use the potato masher to press the fruit well, squeezing out as much juicy goodness as possible. Discard the solids. You'll end up with some seeds in your juice; that's okay because we're about to strain them out.

11. Use a ladle and funnel (and fine strainer) to transfer juice into jars while straining out the seeds. If you plan to use the juice right away, feel free to fill each jar to the brim. However, if you plan to can or freeze the juice, be sure to leave about an inch at the top of the jar to allow for expansion.

So! Now for some ideas on what to do with the 3-1/2 gallons of prickly pear juice currently hanging out in my fridge and freezer.
  • Frozen treats like sorbet and popsicles
  • Today for breakfast I made Lemon-Orange Pancakes with Prickly Pear Syrup (recipe coming soon!).
  • Various prickly pear-infused beverages, whether spiked or not. I've tasted prickly pear lemonade, and am told the juice is also excellent in iced tea, margaritas, and mimosas.
  • Smoothies--paired with fruits like orange and banana
  • Jelly
  • Glazed roasted pheasant from this site (could easily be made with chicken or Cornish game hens)
  • Salad dressing
  • I found a wealth of prickly pear juice recipes on Yummly. Two of the recipes there that most intrigue me are the Prickly Pear Lemon Bars and the Coconut Tarts with Prickly Pear Sauce.
How about you? Got any favorite prickly pear recipes you'd be willing to share?