Eat cactus? Most Texans would just as soon lick a fire ant bed. About the only cactus dish we’re familiar with is Mexico’s tart nopalito salad. But the much-maligned prickly pear offers lots of other yummy possibilities, as you will discover if you pick up a copy of Carolyn Niethammer’s fascinating new book, The Prickly Pear Cookbook (Rio Nuevo). It answers questions like “How does cactus taste?” (The pads have a mild vegetable flavor with a lemony zip; the fruits recall melon or berries.) It’s full of arcane lore (in one Ethiopian language there are 48 words for prickly pear). And it includes sixty recipes, from fondues to frittatas. Still not persuaded? Prickly pear pads are good for you: They’re high in vitamins A and C, low in carbs, and can lower LDL, or “bad,” cholesterol. So give our version of the book’s cactus fries a try; nobody will ever forget what you brought to the party. PATRICIA SHARPE
2 prickly pear pads (usually available at Central Market and Fiesta stores),
cut into 3/8-inch-wide strips
1 egg, beaten until frothy
3/4 cup flour seasoned to taste with salt,
pepper, cumin, and cayenne
vegetable oil for frying
Dip cactus in egg and dredge in flour (do twice for more crunch). Pan-fry over medium-high heat in at least N inch oil until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve with red or green salsa.