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A Cactus pear / Prickly pear and Watermelon Smoothie recipe, refreshing, vegan inspired by the Maltese Opuntia fruit, full of nutrients!
It is incredible how travelling can be such an eye-opener when it comes to things that we are used to have under our nose but were never bothered to try or learn about! Having said that, even if in Greece we have many opuntia fruits or, most commonly known as, prickly pears (we call them φραγκόσυκα aka. French figs, so many names for such a not very common fruit, phew!) , I had never paid attention to them. I can not remember if I had ever tried them before my trip to Malta.
This has changed dramatically since I arrived here and I realised that the prickly pears cacti (officially called cactaceae) are everywhere!! Maltese use the fruit in cocktails, spirits, desserts, ice creams, beauty products etc. and the cactus itself as a natural fence or just decoration –oh, how could I forget, we have a big one in our garden! So, since I have been watching this and its fruits for the entire summer (and their light yellow colour turning into orange/red!) Megan and I decided to do something with these colourful prickly pears we had on our doorstep!
Unfortunately, there are not many recipes online about the prickly pears and the existing ones are mainly about cocktails and jams- not my cup of tea! Also many recipes do not use the fruit as the main ingredient – well, we had over 20 prickly pears that deserved to be eaten so we needed them to be the core of our recipe! Long story short, we are presenting you our new cooking invention:
The Prickly Pear and Watermelon Smoothie!
(Ok, we didn’t reinvent the wheel here but please, show some mercy, we are not food bloggers!)
What do you need (nothing extravagant!) for 8-10 people :
- 1 medium cold Watermelon
- 9 small/medium Prickly Pears
- 1 Lime (2 if you are up for bitter smoothies!)
- 15-20 ice cubes
- Fresh leaves of Mint or Basil
- Honey or Maple syrup (optional – remember, honey is not vegan!)
If you buy the prickly pears from a grocery store they should have no spines whatsoever (thanks to Maltese people!) so you just need to engrave each fruit along its body using a knife and then peel the skin off. Cut the fruit in half and remove the seeds. If you prefer to pick them up from the fields/ streets please find some tips from the locals at the end of this post for your hands and stomach safety!
Cut the watermelon in half and remove the flesh and the nutritious rind and mix it with the prickly pears. Do not remove the seeds (especially the beige ones) unless your blender is not powerful enough – believe it or not they have some health benefits as well! Important: Do not ruin the green outer skin as this is going to be the ideal (and eco-friendly!) serving bowl!
Put all the ingredients, apart from the ice and the fresh leaves, in a blender and blend them for at least 2 minutes. If you rather a very sweet smoothie just add 1-2 spoons of honey or maple syrup and blend again. Add slowly the ice cubes and keep blending to achieve the desirable texture.
Pour the smoothie in the watermelon empty green skin and garnish with the fresh leaves! Enjoyyyy! Perfect for a hot, Maltese summer day!
Local Tips for harvesting and preparing the Prickly Pears before any recipe!
If you don’t buy them from a grocery (which is very likely as in Mexico, Cyprus, South Italy, Greece or Malta this awkward fruit is usually everywhere and for FREE when the cacti don’t belong to anyone of course!) please keep reading as it is very very important to prepare them properly! Few cases have been reported to the hospitals in Malta due to insufficient preparation :
- Harvest them in the morning as the tiny, hair-liked spines tend to be more ”elastic” due to the night humidity
- Wear hard gloves and maybe use kitchen pliers to twist the fruits first
- Use a wooden stick to handle the prickly pear while… burning carefully the thorns with a lighter or on a gas stove! Once again, these are so much tiny and you can’t really see them but shall they stick on your palms they will stay there for a heap of days (no joke, it’s annoyingly harmful!).
- After burning the spines , keep the stick on your hand and engrave the skin with a knife.
- Remove the stick only if you are 100% sure that there are no prickles left!! Now you are ready to peel off the fruit skin and either eat or use them for our recipe! Well done!
That’s it! As you may have noticed, we named this recipe the “Maltese Sunset Smoothie” ! Why «sunset»? Hmm, what else would you call this gorgeous pink / orange / magenta colour that we ended up with??
Have you ever tried / cooked prickly pear? If you find any good recipes out there please share them with us because we still have plenty of… tuna fruits (one more name!) in Malta and we have to used them all!