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Have you ever eaten a prickly pear, let alone served a dish of them to guests? Maybe it’s the name that puts you off, or their pale, knobbly appearance. But prickly pears are worth a try. Once you’re past the skin, they’re juicy with a refreshing sweet-sour taste, slightly reminiscent of melons or, in fact, pears.

How to serve prickly pears

Enjoy the peeled fruit alone, chopped and stirred into yoghurt or fruit salad and even in a mixed green salad along with small plum tomatoes. Make a delicious starter by serving prickly pear balls with Serrano ham and mild goat’s milk cheese. Prickly pear slices add an exotic note to savoury foods such as smoked fish, game or poultry and to many oriental dishes. Bake them in puff pastry with honey and serve the pastries with vanilla custard as a delicious dessert. Or simply slice them, sprinkle them with lemon juice and vanilla sugar and serve with lots of whipped cream. Dream up a prickly pear cocktail and, if you have a glut, they even make good chutney.

Peel with care

Prickly pears (Opuntia ficus indica) originally came from Mexico. Today they’re grown commercially around the Mediterranean. The tough cactus-type plants, which can grow several metres tall, are tolerant of high temperatures, drought and poor soils. Yellow flowers turn into oval fruits with knobbly, thorny skins that can vary in colour from yellow to salmon pink to dark brown. The very fine thorns have tiny, almost invisible hooks which can become embedded in your skin with painful results. O prevent this, the fruit are brushed before they reach the shops. To avoid the slight risk of left-over thorns, it’s best to wear kitchen gloves while you’re preparing prickly pears. You can cut them in half, like a kiwi and spoon out the flesh, or cut off one end and pare off the skin like an orange. The small dark seeds are perfectly edible.

Buying and storing

You can buy prickly pears throughout the year. They won’t continue to ripen at home, so choose fruit that are already soft and juicy. Check the stalk end – if it’s damaged, there’s a risk that the fruit will quickly go bad. Stored in a cool place, prickly pears will keep for several days.

Source: Heike Kreutz, www.aid.de

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