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Surprise salads from Mexico City; among other things, the surprises include chile, cheese, cactus.

Laced with lively Mexican flavors, but lean in calories, these salads from Mexico City offer interesting variations on the standard green classic. Both are accented with diced cactus and Mexican cheeses. They make light lunch entrees, or supper companions for barbecued meats.

Tender, mildly flavored pads of prickly pear cactus (Opuntia) or nopales--the same kind grown in many Western home gardens--taste somewhat like cucumber. They're sometimes available fresh, whole or diced. Fresh nopales or canned diced nopalitos are sold in Mexican markets or supermarkets having a good selection of Mexican foods, where you can also find the other ingredients or alternatives.

Purchased cactus pads usually have the prickly spines removed. If you harvest your own, select the smaller, thinner pads; hold with tongs and cut free at the joint. Clean and cook as directed (following).

In the first salad, spinach and watercress are moistened with a chili oil dressing and crisp-fried strips of mild, dry Anaheim chilies. Cubes of lightly cooked cactus and queso asadero (a firm, mild white Mexican cheese similar to mozzarella) give the salad substance and texture. Spinach Salad with Crisp Red Chilies

6 large dry Anaheim chilies

1/4 cup olive oil or salad oil

1 pound fresh whole or diced cactus (nopales) or 1-1/2 cups drained canned diced cactus (nopalitos)

Water

1 pound spinach, stems and yellow leaves removed, washed, and crisped

1/4 pound watercress, tough stems and yellow leaves removed, washed and crisped

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 cup sliced radishes

1 pound queso asadero or mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 large ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and sliced

Cider dressing (recipe follows)

Wipe chilies clean with a damp towel. With scissors, cut chilies into thin crosswise strips; discard seeds and stems. In a 10- to 12-inch frying pan, combine oil and chilies; stir over low heat until chilies are crisp, 2 to 3 minutes (watch closely to avoid burning). Lift chilies from oil; set aside. Save oil for dressing.

If the cactus pad has spines or prickly hairs, hold the pad with tongs and use a knife to scrape them off (wear gloves). Trim around edge of pad to remove skin, then peel remaining pad if skin is tough. Cut into about 1/2-inch squares. In a 3- to 4-quart pan, bring about 2 quarts water to boiling. Add fresh cactus and simmer, uncovered, until cactus is barely tender when pierced, about 5 minutes. Drain and rinse well with water. (Cactus is mucilaginous, much like okra.) If using canned cactus, omit cooking; drain and measure.

Tear spinach into bite-size pieces; you should have about 4 quarts. In a large salad bowl, place half of the spinach. Top with half of the watercress, onion, radish, cactus, and cheese. Repeat layers. (If made ahead, cover and chill up to 4 hours.) Before serving, arrange avocado and chilies over top. Spoon dressing over salad and mix. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Cider dressing. Stir together 2/3 cup cider vinegar, reserved oil from chilies, 1 clove garlic (pressed or minced), 1 tablespoon soy sauce, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

The second salad bands romaine spears with poached onion slices, diced cactus, and queso tipo cotija (a dry, tangy cheese quite like Parmesan). A cilantro-spiked lime vinaigrette adds a refreshing accent. Romaine and Cactus Salad

Water

2 large white onions, sliced

1 pound fresh diced cactus pads (nopales; if whole, prepare as directed in spinach salad) or 1-1/2 cups drained cannaed diced cactus (nopalitos)

1 pound romaine lettuce; wash and chill leaves

1 cup coarsely grated queso tipo cotija or Parmesan cheese

2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges

1/2 cup large ripe pitted olives

Cilantro dressing (recipe follows)

In a 5- to 6-quart pan, bring 3 quarts water to boiling. Add onion and cook until it wilts slightly, 1 to 2 minutes. Lift out with a slotted spoon and drain. Add diced fresh cactus to boiling water and cook until tender when pierced, about 5 minutes. Drain, rinse well, and drain again. When onion and cactus are cool, cover, and chill 30 minutes to overnight.

On a large platter or 6 plates, arrange the romaine leaves. Place a band of cooked onions over romaine, then top with cactus and cheese. Garnish with tomatoes and olives. Drizzle with cilantro dressing. Makes 6 servings.

Cilantro dressing. Mix 1/2 cup salad oil, 1/4 cup lime juice, 1 clove garlic (pressed or minced), and 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro (coriander).
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:recipes
Publication:Sunset
Date:May 1, 1984
Words:749
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