I decided to make a Moroccan style meal for dinner tonight, and as I looked in my fridge and saw these cactus paddles staring back at me, I knew I wanted to do something with them, and that they'd be perfect for a Moroccan meal.
Here's the thing. The flavors I used were completely traditionally Moroccan, and the dish is too, pretty much, but surprisingly, this recipe is not something you'd ever find in the standard Moroccan home. Though originally from Central America, the Middle East is now scattered with large numbers of prickly pear cacti, and you'll find their fruit, the prickly pear, in almost all grocery stores and the souks, come the season, but I have yet to find a Middle Eastern recipe using cactus paddles, the part of the plant, that, in my opinion, is even tastier and more versatile than the prickly pear.
Nopales, aka cactus paddles, however, are very popular in Mexican cuisine, which, if you think about it, isn't that different in flavor from Moroccan cuisine. (Cumin and tomato and garlic and hot peppers play a large roll in both.)
I wanted to make Moroccan chicken kebabs, and many recipes call for bell peppers and lemon juice in addition to the chicken chunks, and I decided that the cactus paddles would be a perfect substitute since they taste somewhat like lemony green peppers (with green bean flavor thrown in as well). Cactus paddles release their mucilage, a fancy way of saying slime, when cooked, so cooking these as kebabs let the mucilage drip out, making their texture perfect.
These were a hit- absolutely delicious- and completely represent Moroccan cuisine in my mind, even if they are really Moroccan Mexican fusion. I highly recommend it.
If desired, serve this with tahini dressing, but it truly doesn't need it.
For the rest of the meal, we're having a celeriac "rice" based vegan paleo Moroccan pilaf (shown above), a chicken wing and root veggie tagine (made in my cast iron dutch oven), cucumber mint salad, radish orange and mint salad (a traditional Moroccan recipe that reminds me a lot of picado de rabano, a delicious Guatemalan salad), pickled lemons, and broccoli roasted with lemon.
Moroccan Inspired Chicken Cactus Paddle Kebabs Recipe- Gluten Free, Paleo, Allergy Friendly, Sugar FreeIngredients:
3 large chicken breasts, cubed
2 cups chopped cactus paddles/nopales (this was approximately 2 large and 6 very small cactus paddles- probably about 3 or 4 large ones)
1 onion, if desired (I left this out because my kids aren't a fan of onions on kebabs)
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika (leave out to make this nightshade free)
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper flakes or 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper (optional)
1. Chop up chicken breasts into one inch cubes.
2. Chop up cactus paddles (thorns removed first, as instructed here) into one inch squares.
3. Chop up onions into large chunks.
4. Mix all of them together.
5. Mix the spices together with the salt. Drizzle oil on the veggie/chicken mixture and add spices, mixing well to ensure even distribution.
6. Let marinate for an hour in the fridge.
7. While marinating, soak your skewers in water if using wooden skewers and cooking on the grill. If using metal or cooking in the oven, no need to soak them.
8. Put your chicken, nopales, and onion on skewers, alternating them, and not putting them too close together to allow them to cook fully, and leaving skewers exposed at both ends. This made about 9-10 skewers for me.
9. Grill on a BBQ if desired, but if you don't have a BBQ going, you can cook these in the oven, as I did. To do so, take a 9x13 baking pan, and lay your skewers across them widthwise, so that just the ends of the skewer are leaning on the sides of the pan and the food is over the inside of the pan. This will allow the mucilage of the nopales to drip out and into the pan, so the kebabs don't sit in that juice while cooking (which would make these too acidic, not to mention changing the texture). Cook in the oven at 350 until the cactus paddles change from bright green to a muted olive green color and the chicken breast fully changes color as well.
10. Serve hot.
Variations: If you don't have cactus paddles and aren't able to forage some, feel free to replace the cactus paddles with chopped bell peppers, whatever color you prefer, and add a splash of lemon juice to the marinade for the acidity.
Ever eat cactus paddles before? How did you make them? Ever see cactus paddles on kebabs before or used in Middle Eastern cooking, Moroccan recipes specifically?
Are you a fan of Moroccan cooking?
Does this look like a recipe you'd try?