For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food,
For love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
Back in May, I talked about our decision to adjust our diets and try being mostly vegetarian for a while. It had been a rough winter, especially in the kitchen, and we were really craving fresh, crisp, flavorful fruits and vegetables. I wouldn’t say we’ve become vegetarian, because if the craving for something hearty and meaty hits, we go for it, but we’re definitely vegetable enthusiasts. I’ve really been creatively invigorated by the challenge of re-thinking what a dinner plate looks like without meat as a regular anchor. I’ve grabbed as many unfamiliar vegetables and fruits and I can find at the farmers markets and figured out what to do with them. Some experiments have worked out better than others, but even with failures, I’ve learned something new every time.
I’ve been using a wide variety of whole grains. I have always loved brown rice with beans and whole grain grits with sautéed mushrooms and barley in vegetable soups, and it was love at first bite when we were introduced to faro in Italy. Whole grains are just so satisfying and hearty. You aren’t left feeling hollow an hour after you eat like you might after eating a salad. I’ve posted several of our favorite (and somewhat unusual) whole grain dishes hoping to encourage you to give some of these great grains a try. This wild rice with brussel sprouts is another, perfect for Fall and it would rock as a side for Thanksgiving dinner. Bear in mind that once you are comfortable with preparing the grains, they are very adaptable and great to experiment with. I love the smoky richness that the hint of bacon adds, but if you are vegetarian, leave it out and add a little smoked paprika to the pecans and sage.
Brussels Sprouts and Wild Rice with Mustard Vinaigrette
serves 4 as main course, 6-8 as a side
1 pound brussels sprouts
¾ cup wild rice
4 cups salted water plus more to cook
1 piece natural smoked bacon
1 shallot or 1 small red onion
3 teaspoons dry crumbled sage leaves (about 8-10 leaves)
¼ cup pecan pieces (or ¼ cup cooked chestnuts if you prefer)
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (approximately)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
the wild rice method:
Option 1: soak the rice in about 4 cups of water overnight before cooking.
Option 2: In a large pot, bring the rice and about 4 cups water to a boil, turn the heat off and let the rice soak for about an hour.
After an hour add a couple more cups of water to the soaking water and rice. A generous amount of water, similar to what you would use to cook pasta, will help the grains cook evenly and more quickly and evenly. Add about a teaspoon of salt bring to a rapid simmer and cook for 30-45 minutes until the kernels have begun to blossom and pop open and the rice is chewy but not hard or crunchy. Drain in a sieve and set aside.
Wash the sprouts, and with a sharp knife trim the tough ends off the stems. Cut each sprout in half and then each half into 4-5 slices. You can shred them in the shedder of a food processor or use a mandolin if you have the equipment but I like to use a knife. Slice the shallot or onion into thin half moons. Mince the strip of bacon into very small pieces.
Heat a large skillet, sauté pan or wok over medium high heat. Add the bacon pieces and a splash of olive oil. When the bacon has begun to crisp, add the onion or shallot slices and stir. When they have wilted, add the nuts and crumbled sage and stir to toast both. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Boost the heat to high and stir in the shredded sprouts a handful at a time. Stir occasionally, but give the sprouts time to have contact with the hot pan so that they will caramelize. The sprouts will turn bright green, soften and start to get a little brown on some of the edges.
Test the tenderness of the sprouts after about 5 minutes. When they have a little browning and are still a little chewy, turn down the heat to low and stir in the drained cooked wild rice. Add a generous pinch of salt.
While the sprouts cook, mix the mustard, apple cider vinegar and a generous amount of black pepper (½ teaspoon or more depending on how much spice you like). Once the rice and sprouts are combined, pour the mustard mixture into the sprouts and toss everything together. Let the vinaigrette warm through. Remove from the heat.
Taste for salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.
This time a year ago, I was standing in the fading light in my kitchen cooking mac and cheese with all of the cheese, milk, and butter I had salvaged from the fridge and trying to figure out what I could still use in my rapidly thawing freezer. Sandy had hit Hoboken three days ago and we were one of the fortunate few to have no flooding, gas to cook, and some food in the house. Hoboken had become a dark little island, the only sound or light at night from the police or national guard patrols or the occasional disjointed voices from passersby. During daylight we would walk around town trying to find out how our friends had fared, if there was any prediction about when power would be restored, when the water would be drained out.
I never posted anything about the storm. During the exciting parts, I was husbanding my rapidly draining phone battery to try to get the occasional update from twitter or to get a text out to our families when I could find some wi-fi. As days began to pass with no clear picture of how or when life would begin to return to normal, I wrote a rambling narrative of our experiences, of the National Guard trucks driving through the flooding to rescue residents, of the restaurants opening to cook in the dark, of the few homes with power running extension cords out onto the street and making handwritten signs saying “Free WiFi/password: sandy/ Charge Your Phone Here”. Even after the power came back on a week later, I didn’t post. It was too big and horrible to sum up, it would have felt disrespectful to the magnitude of the situation. And “normal” was so relative. Our main supermarket had flooded so badly that it stayed closed for 15 weeks, the PATH train from Hoboken to Manhattan was closed into February.
In the middle of that week though, there I was, cooking mac and cheese. We ran into a friend who told us that another friend had power and was an open door for anyone who needed a shower, to charge batteries, to eat a hot meal. We went home and emptied the freezer and fridge of anything 20 or so people could eat and took it over to her house for a potluck. And in this, I think, I found the bright spot in the hurricane. Hoboken, and my community within Hoboken, pulled together in a really powerful way during the storm. The overwhelming spirit of my neighbors during the crisis was of calm and generosity. And it was then, during one of its least lovely moments that I resolved that if home is where the heart is, Hoboken was home.
This mac and cheese is of course tastiest when shared with a group of friends in the aftermath of a hurricane, but is not bad on any less dramatic occasion.
Mac and Cheese
serves 4 as a main course, 8 as a side
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
3 cups milk (preferably whole milk)
pinch cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
4-6 ounces young gouda, grated
1 ounce pecorino Romano, grated (optional)
8 ounces dry elbow noodles
bread crumbs, toasted in butter (optional)
Cook the elbow noodles in a pot of generously salted water according to the instructions, but drain well just before they are al dente since they will cook a little more in the cheese sauce.
Make a roux with the butter and flour, cooking the flour just until it is a pale blonde color. Whisk in the milk, stirring to incorporate the roux. Cook over medium/low heat, stirring almost constantly until the milk begins to thicken. Whisk in the spices and mustard. Once the sauce comes to a simmer and has thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon, remove it from the heat and stir in the cheese a handful at a time. Stir the drained noodles into the cheese sauce; it will seem very soupy at this point but the noodles will soak up the sauce and thicken. Taste for salt.
If you like a baked casserole style mac and cheese, pour it into a buttered baking dish, top with bread crumbs and a little pecorino cheese and bake at 250 for about 20 minutes or until the top is golden and the pasta is bubbly.
Since everyone in my house doesn’t like the bread crumb topping, I usually toast the bread crumbs and just spoon them over each serving for a little crunch.
Note about the cheese: I like the taste of sharp cheddar in my cheese sauce, and the sharper the cheese, the more the flavor comes through in the sauce. The texture of cheddar, however, is not ideal for melting, so I add another melting cheese, one with a creamy buttery texture to make the sauce rich and silky. Young gouda is nice as are most alpine style cheeses, Gruyere, Havarti, or even Monterrey Jack. You’re looking for something both flavorful and one that will give you those nice gooey strings of melted cheese when you make a grilled cheese sandwich.
If any of you have ever had a loved one struggle with a terrible illness (and if you haven’t, lucky you!) you know that feeling of helplessness, of standing around unsure of what to do with your hands, of what to say (or not to say), of what to do to try to make it even a little bit better. So when someone who is going through breast cancer treatment sends you a Facebook message that says:
Christine – Just wanted to take a minute to tell you how much I enjoy your blog, your postings and your photos. I want to come and eat at your house!! Hope you are well, Amy
you say “Thank you, ma’am” and thank God you accidentally did a good thing!
I met Amy Kelley a few weeks after we got the news that we would be moving to New Jersey at a birthday party for a mutual friend in Santa Cruz. It was one of those “ships in the night” meetings, but one with a fortuitous “click” so as we both entered the upheaval of the next few years, we kept in touch on Facebook. I knew about her move back to Dallas, her marriage, the cancer diagnosis, and her mother’s illness but in a peripheral way. I was finding my own equilibrium in a new place, putting a lot of creative energy into pictures I took of the new geography of my life. When Amy sent me that message last year, I was so grateful to know that some of those messages in bottles were finding their way into welcoming hands.
Then, this Spring, Amy started talking to me about a new project she was launching. She asked if I would be interested in contributing to a site she was building to enrich the lives of those who were walking in her shoes. As much as anything in my life, my approach to food and cooking has been shaped by my dad’s life-long Type 1 diabetes and the neuroblastoma cancer my sister Grace had in infancy coupled with no health insurance for our family and my mother’s determination to keep us as healthy as she could with food. We gardened and ate strange things like sprouts and tried everything on our healthy dinner plates and all of us developed a love for adventurous whole food diets, but as an artist, my mother emphasized a colorful, bright dinner plate. This ethos is the backbone of the way I cook: food should nourish the eyes, the tongue, the soul, and the body.
So obviously, my answer was an enthusiastic “YES!!”
Friday, Amy posted my first story, a little guide to my new hometown Hoboken, New Jersey, as Contributing Food Editor for My New Usual. I will be adding my two cents there regularly, talking about ways to flourish in a new way of life, eating things that both taste and look good but also make you feel good, pulling from my experience to offer new ways to look at nourishing the body. I hope I can be encouraging to those who might find themselves faced with the paradigm shift that illness often is. You’ll still find me here at Cognitive Leeks, but if you or a loved one are faced with a “new usual”, stop by the website for some encouragement. We would love to see you there.
Here’s another vacation-conjuring dish, one we had during our trip to Italy last year.
This salad is an example of one of those simple dishes that, when each element is full of flavor, needs no embellishments to sparkle on the taste buds.
During our stay at La Tavola Marche last year, the farm had just passed its tipping point from summer to fall. The inn was close to the end of its season, the yard-thick stone walls too expensive to heat for guests through the Appenine winter. Jason and Ashley were stripping their gardens of the last of the summery produce, stacking crates of tomatoes to can, drying the stalks of onions and garlic. The days in the valley were warm in late September, but frost was closing in.
Our meals were shoulder-season fare too- warm braised and roasted meats and pastas interspersed with fresh vegetables and salads. Our last evening, Jason pulled the last of the green beans from the vines and made us a delicious warm salad.
As soon as we got settled in our apartment in Siena and found the market, I recreated his lovely combination of crisp, sweet, and piquant so I wouldn’t forget it. I’ve made it lots of time since then, and I can say unequivocally that getting the best tomatoes, green beans, and red sweet peppers is the key to its success. Gardeners, you’re way ahead of the game here.
If you’re like me and suffer from garden envy, my tip for finding good tomatoes and peppers elsewhere is to sniff them. Color and texture can be misleading, but a good tomato actually has a fragrance. Green beans are easier, just look for slim, bright pods without discoloration, no lumps from seeds forming inside (these will be too tough for this quickly cooked salad). Although they can be expensive, the little French haricot verts are usually very toothsome and tender.
We had this salad at the end of the season but it is just as, if not more delicious now at the beginning of green bean season.
Warm Summer Green Bean Salad
1 pound slim green beans, stems removed
1 red bell pepper
1 ripe tomato
1/4-1/2 sweet red onion (depending on the size)
red wine vinegar
fresh ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil
Meanwhile, slice the pepper and onion into slivers about the same thickness as the green beans. Cut the tomato into thick wedges. Toss together in a serving bowl.
Once the water has reached a boil, plunge the green beans into the water and return to the boil. Cook the beans briefly, for about 1 minute after the water boils. Remove the pot from the heat and quickly drain the beans in a colander. Allow them to cool enough to handle.
Pour the green beans over the peppers, onion, and tomato and gently toss them all together with your hands. The heat from the beans will slightly warm the other vegetables. Drizzle with a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple of glugs of olive oil, sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Toss to coat everything in the dressing. Serve at room temperature.
This is how I made my vacation last into the weekend (at least on my plate).
That octopus dish I had at the shore was preying on my mind, haunting me with memories of lemony deliciousness. I was combing the web for recipes and techniques for cooking octopus, thinking about how to recreate a similar dish at home. The octopus info was quite frankly, a little daunting. Then Saturday morning, I noticed a new seafood vendor at the Uptown Hoboken Farmers Market. He had lovely fresh calamari from Long Island, and I thought “hey, they’re both Cephalopods, I can cook calamari!” and grabbed a pound. Cooked with lemon butter, a shaved fennel and parsley salad tumbled on top, and juicy fried lemon on the side and I’m right back, salty breeze in my hair, sand between my toes.
What I ended up with was more a reminder than a faithful recreation of the octopus dish. That’s the point- re-entering real life is inevitable but the reminder of a fun relaxing trip can make even a mundane workweek in the kitchen feel more celebratory.
What’s a memory of a great trip or a great meal you can tug out and use to make your daily grind a little more like a day at the beach?
We rode the train about 50 miles south of Hoboken to spend a couple of days in a pair of New Jersey’s shore towns: Ocean Grove, a quaint, quiet Victorian town founded and owned by the Methodist Church as a permanent camp meeting location, and its neighbor across Wesley Lake, Asbury Park with its mixture of mid century, Beaux Arts, and Victorian buildings, its famous music scene, and its year-round culture.
We sat on the beach and read during the day, walked up the boardwalk in the evening to dinner, sat on the porch watching the ocean and the stars at night. I had to be reminded to slow my pace when I walked. The boardwalk is for leisurely promenading, not for barreling down like a mack truck. I appreciate the contrast between the pretty towns along the shore and the energetic urban life a short drive north. It’s good to get out and slow the heart rate occasionally.
There was damage on the boardwalk and in Ocean Grove and some of the ocean front buildings on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, but both towns were relatively unscathed by Sandy.
One of my regular customers had stopped in the store last week on her way home from the shore and recommended several places for us to have dinner in Asbury Park. Tuesday, we walked over to Brickwall Tavern and Dining Room on Cookman Avenue. They had a huge wall of chalk boards behind the bar with the current “On Tap” list, as good a list as I’ve seen anywhere in NJ. Our waitress was also especially knowledgable about their craft beer menu and when I commented, she told us she was working to become a certified cicerone ( the craft beer equivalent of a sommelier). We tried a few tastes before getting a couple West Coast beers: Bear Republic Crazy Ivan and Stone Cali-Belgique. The food was tavern comfort food with a Southern influence, biscuit of the day, fried catfish, deviled eggs and their parmesan grits were surprisingly good!
Porta Pizza is in what looks like an old garage with glass garage doors beside the bar that are rolled up in the summer weather to open to an outdoor garden and bocce court. The interior is industrial in it’s structure but very warm in its decor and atmosphere- large communal tables, mismatched chairs, really beautiful bronzed pendant lights around the bar, a white and turquoise tiled bank of pizza ovens along the back wall. Their Wednesday night special is a fresh stretched mozzarella first course, and there was a young man behind a counter by the door making fresh ovelini.
We got a carafe of house red and the octopus and fennel salad and a hot sopresatta pizza (the “14 1/2″). The octopus was one of the best things I’ve eaten in a while, crisp and tender with a lemony buttery sauce, subtle capers and a fresh parsley, chervil, and fennel salad. The pizza was topped really well with enough heat from the Calabrian peppers to satisfy my hot tooth. There were a couple of other pizzas I would love to try, like the “Cecelia” with artichokes, fried lemon, and crescenza cheese, or the “Lardo”, and there was an intriguing salad called “Three Trees” that looked like it would be sharp and balanced and interesting.
As we were getting ready to bay our bill, a couple was seated across from us at our end of the table. When I looked up, who should be sitting across from me but Dan, the owner of a really great pizza restaurant in Jersey City, Razza on Grove Street, who we had just been talking about while analyzing the pizza crust. His pizza crust, by the way, is exceptional. He and I have talked bread baking on Twitter for a long time and it was fun to run into him.
We’re back in Hoboken. It was a nice little catch-your-breath break, a chance to see the stars, relax, walk slowly, and eat nice food. Over too soon. But not so far away that we can’t get back down there again soon.
PS: I took all the pictures with my phone; they aren’t at my usual standard. and yes, that is my finger in that picture…
It’s funny how a meal can kind of form itself in my mind through a spectrum of memories, visual inspiration, and serendipity at the farmers market.
I brought home a bag full of produce from the farmers market and was so excited about the beauty of the pile of eggplants, squash, beans, peppers. I spread it out on the table at home like a vegetal color wheel. It was a pastel summer collection with the exception of the tomatoes, a watercolor wash of violet, gold, ivory and green. I loved the tonal spectrum of squash blossoms and wax peppers and decided to play with an old favorite by adding squash blossoms to a cheese filled pepper frittata.
This is a gentle dish, subtly flavored, the mildest hint of heat from the ivory chartreuse peppers softened and mellowed by the creamy eggs and cheese. Squash blossoms infuse their delicate herbal flavor into the eggs as they bake. And if you prefer an even mellower flavor, go with banana wax peppers rather than its younger, slightly hotter cousin the Hungarian wax. The difference between Hungarian and banana wax peppers is maturity and heat level. Hungarian wax peppers are younger, a little thicker fleshed, and mildly spicy. Banana wax peppers are a little larger, mild and sweet with thin flesh.
This dish is easy-going in another way: do you like gooey strings of melted cheese oozing out with each bite or do you prefer the creamy tanginess of fresh goat cheese? Different cheeses produce different results, both lovely depending on your mood.
For a buttery gooey melting cheese, I like a Fontina Fontal or Monterrey Jack. They melt beautifully but have a bit more flavor than Mozzarella. Goat cheese doesn’t melt but since it’s already soft and creamy, you may find its flavor makes up for that. An herb-flavored goat cheese is also a good way to add some extra flavor if you like.
I’ve written this recipe to serve 2 but the proportions of 2 eggs, blossoms, and peppers per person are easy to double. You’ll just need to increase the cooking time by about 10 minutes per additional serving.
Squash Blossom and Wax Pepper Frittata
4 squash blossoms
4 Hungarian wax peppers or banana wax peppers
2 ounces cheese
Cheese to grate over the top
Preheat the oven to 350
Trim the stem ends of the blossoms to leave about an inch of stem. Gently open the blossom a bit and use your finger to pop the stamen off and remove it. The petals may tear a bit but that isn’t a problem since you’ll be twisting them closed around the cheese.
Make a slit down the length of the peppers with a paring knife and rinse out the seeds.
Cut the cheese into strips and chunks that will fit inside the squash blossoms and peppers, and slip the cheese inside. Twist the tips of the petals to close the cheese inside. If you are using soft goat cheese, spoon the cheese into the cavity in the blossoms and peppers.
Lightly butter or oil a baking dish. Arrange the peppers and blossoms (I alternated them to make them fit AND make them look prettier.)
Beat the eggs and salt and pour them over the peppers and blossoms in the baking dish.
Grate or sprinkle a little cheese over the top. Bake until the eggs have just puffed and set in the center of the dish, about—— and the cheese is lightly golden on top.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool and set for 5 minutes or so before cutting.
The weather has been a beast here this week. It has been as hot and humid as Satan’s armpit, the kind of weather where your window AC seems to churn the heavy air rather than actually cool it. We’ve eaten a few of those cold olives and sliced tomatoes and bread and cheese suppers which I think are really lovely in the summer when tomatoes are sweet and juicy and raw or barely cooked vegetables are crisp and tender. Tacos of course required a little cooking, but not a lot. Salsa, slaw, and ice cream for dessert were fresh and light.
While the weather was still hot this weekend, I had worked a long day and felt like something savory and substantial. I had picked up a handful of slim violet Asian eggplants at the farmers market earlier in the week without a plan for how to use them and decided to quickly wok cook them with a spicy garlicky sauce. Eggplant can feel really savory and satisfying, soaking up whatever sauce they are cooked in.They are really one of my favorite things to eat. Combined with spicy sauce made with some Asain pantry staples, fresh soft tofu and fragrant Jasmine rice, the meal was cooked and I was away from the stove in about 20 minutes.
Spicy Garlic Eggplant and Tofu
1 tablespoon fish sauce*
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red pepper paste)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 cup water
1 tablespoon corn starch
¼ cup water
6 cloves garlic
4 Hungarian wax or Banana wax peppers
3 Asian eggplants
14 ounce package soft tofu
toasted sesame oil
Hot cooked rice
Mix the fish sauce, soy sauce, gochujang, sugar, and water and whisk together until everything is smooth. Mix the cornstarch and water in another small bowl.
Thinly slice the garlic cloves. Chop the scallions into ½ inch pieces. Slice the peppers in half lengthwise, deseed, and slice them into thin slivers.
Remove the stem end from the eggplant, slice them in half lengthwise, and them chop the halves into 1 inch pieces. Remove the tofu from the package, drain, and cut into 1 inch cubes.
In a large wok or skillet, heat a couple of teaspoons of oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the garlic, scallions and peppers into the oil and stir constantly, cooking until they begin to soften. Add the eggplant and continue to stir. Cook the eggplant until the skin turns from purple to brown and the eggplant begins to soften, about 5-10 minutes. Take care not to burn the vegetables; if they begin to brown, lower the heat and add a small pinch of salt. The salt will help the eggplant release some of their water and help keep it from sticking. Gently stir the tofu cubes into the eggplant. Pour the sauce mixture in and stir. Cover and bring the sauce up to a simmer. Simmer for 2-3 minutes, just to infuse the eggplant and tofu with its flavor. Pour the cornstarch slurry over the sauce and stir. Bring it back to a simmer so that the cornstarch thickens the sauce. Drizzle with toasted sesame oil and stir. Serve over hot cooked long grain rice.
*For a completely vegetarian recipe, substitute another tablespoon of soy sauce for the fish sauce
Tomatillo salsa was just for starters for our last taco night. I made carnitas- style pork tacos with cumin slaw and these vegetarian cactus tacos with avocado cream and cotija cheese. Poblano rajas was the base for the taco filling- strips of seasoned poblanos cooked with charred sliced onions and spices. Poblano rajas are great as a side with meat, burgers, scrambled eggs, mixed with cream or cheese. Adding the nopal cactus strips made them a substantial and succulent taco with the creamy avocado and salty cheese.
Nopal (prickly pear cactus paddles) are similar to both aloe leaves and okra. They hold moisture in their fleshy paddles with the soluble fiber called mucilage. Cooked, they are a bit like a green bean and a bit like pickled okra, the tender crunch of the green bean and the silky tangy texture of pickled okra. They add a bit of body to soups, a bright crunch to huevos rancheros, and pickled, would probably be great in a Bloody Mary!
I’ve seen cactus in several forms in markets: canned in jars, de-clawed and diced in plastic bags, or whole with the larger spines removed but still a bit prickly. I usually try to buy them whole. Most vegetables start to deteriorate once they are cut at all and it can be hard to see their condition when they are wrapped in plastic. If you are shopping in a place with a lot of turnover in the produce department and a clientele that will buy enough pre-cut cactus to make you confident in its freshness, buy them. It will save you a step or two (and possibly a prick in the fingertip). But don’t be intimidated by the whole paddles. It’s a pretty simple matter to de-claw them at home; either stick a fork into the fleshier end and scrape them with a sharp paring knife or singe them over a gas flame until the spines are burned off. Once the spines are blackened, a quick rinse will wash away anything that is left.
Nopal Poblano Rajas
3 large poblanos
4 nopal paddles
1 red serrano for color
1 large onion
2 cloves garlic
pinch Mexican oregano
pinch ground cumin (if desired)
salt to taste
Start by preparing the nopal. Using tongs, hold the paddle by the thicker end over a gas flame until any spines are singed. Rinse briefly to remove any charred bits of spine. Slice them on the bias into 1/4 inch strips.
Remove the stem ends and seeds from the chiles. Slice them lengthwise into thin strips. Remove the stem and root end from the onion and cut into thin strips.
Smash the garlic and mince into a paste.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the slices of onion to the dry skillet and cook, stirring often until the onions begin to char just a bit. Scrape the onions out onto a plate and set aside. Lower the heat under the skillet to medium low and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Add the chile strips, salt, garlic, and spices and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chiles are beginning to soften. Add the onions and the cactus strips, stirring to mix. Cook, stirring occasionally and watching that the vegetables don’t stick to the pan until the onions and peppers have collapsed into a silky sticky savory tangle and the cactus has lost its vibrant green color and becomes a soft olive green. Taste for texture- the cactus should still have a bit of a pop between the teeth but be very tender- and salt to taste.
Serve in a taco with corn tortillas, avocado and cotija. Or use as a filling for omelette, on top of a burger, with a smoky roast chicken.