Prickly pears are delicious on the inside but vicious on the outside. Here's how to get past their prickly exterior and into their sweet, succulent soul.
You'll need kitchen tongs, a sharp knife, a fork, a cutting board, a big bowl, a plate, and a food mill.
You'll probably also want some tweezers or duct tape on hand to remove the inevitable hairy thorns that will get stuck in your skin despite your best efforts.
Step 1: Use Tongs to Get the Prickly Pears Off the Cactus
The cactus itself is dangerous with its sharp needle-like thorns. But the fruits are really nasty, looking so coy and friendly with fuzzy dots on them. Those fuzzy dots are actually zillions of hair-like thorns that will sneak into your skin like shards of glass. Trust me, you don't want to touch them.
There are a few ways to get the fruits off the cactus. You could wear thick gardening gloves, but the problem with that is that your gloves will then be covered with insidious hair-thorns that will attack you next time you touch them. I opt to use kitchen tongs that keep me at a safe distance and can be washed clean without ever touching my skin.
Grab a prickly pear in the tongs and gently twist it off the cactus. Ripe ones are more red and will easily release from the tree. I gather a bunch of fruits in a large bowl and run the whole thing under water before the next step. 10 good size fruits will yield about a liter of juice.
Step 2: Carve the Prickly Pear
Using the tongs, place a prickly pear on your cutting board and cut off each end with a sharp knife. Then cut a seam about 1/4" deep from end to end.
Be careful to use the tongs or fork the whole time - never touch the skin of a prickly pear!
Step 3: Peel the Skin
Using a fork to hold the fruit steady, gently peel the skin away from the fruit with the knife. If the fruit is really ripe, the skin will easily fall away with just some gentle nudging. Once the skin is peeled from both sides, you can safely grasp the fruit to pull it off the bottom without touching the skin. Place the fruit on a clean plate. Use your fork to move the discarded skin aside. Repeat with all your fruits.
Another reminder to not touch the skin. Seriously.
Step 4: Remove the Seeds
You probably think you're home free now, right? Ha! Our demonic cactus fruits have another surprise in store to prevent you from enjoying their deliciousness. Packed within the fruit are zillions of hard little seeds. You can't just eat around them - it's like trying to suck through a mouth full of gravel. You'll have to separate the seeds from the pulp.
There are a few ways to do this. The best way I've found is to use a simple food mill. This handy, old fashioned, mechanical device isn't used much nowadays, except by people who make their own baby food. So, if you've had a baby, or if you're just into antiquated equipment, dig out your food mill and put it to good use.
Chunk up your pile of cactus fruit and run it through the food mill. In no time flat, you'll have a bowl full of delicious pulpy juice.
Step 5: Enjoy!
You've done it! You've successfully removed the cactus fruit from its prickly attack exterior and pried its sweet flesh away from the insidious seeds. Thorn-free and not at all seedy, you have something close to ambrosia. You can enjoy the fruits of your labor as a tasty juice, or as an ingredient in a delicious margarita, or to make into candy. Yum!
(And now you might want to do a search on how to remove cactus thorns. Because, despite your best efforts, you got some in your skin, didn't you.)