For a long time, I thought I didn’t like pitaya. I thought it was the hot-pink fruit with white polka-dotted flesh. They're gorgeous, but they don't taste like anything. Then I started seeing these things popping up at the markets. The vendors said they were pitaya, too, and that they were a cactus fruit from the órgano (organ-pipe) cactus in Jalisco. I finally tasted one at Mercado San Juan last week. The vendor cleared off the spines with a soft brush and cut the fruit open, revealing a deep ruby red flesh exactly the same color as the nail polish I wear on my toes in winter. (Remind me later to tell you about my Mexican-fruit nail polish-naming idea. Mashed capulín is my second fave color after this.) With its delicate black sesame-type seeds, the pitaya was even prettier than a red prickly pear fruit. I bought a kilo and decided to make an agua fresca. A few days later, the pitayas were going bad and starting to give me the evil eye, so I finally blended the fruit with water and sugar, and strained it. Served a pretty pinkish-red glass to my friend Rebecca and she loved it -- "a cross between cucumber and watermelon," she said. (I'm thinking now that some jalapeño-infused simple syrup and tequila might make a kick-ass cocktail.) Pitayas taste sweeter than a regular prickly-pear tuna fruit, and the flesh is a little more crumbly and moist. If you have other ideas recipe ideas, I'd love to hear them. In the meantime here's a neat article on other types of edible cactus fruits. Pitaya Agua Fresca Makes 10 cups 1 lb. pitayas, spines removed 8 cups water 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar, or sweetening agent of your choice Juice of 1/2 lime (optional) Cut the pitayas in half, and then in quarters. The fruit should easily peel back from the skin, if they're ripe enough. Toss the flesh into the blender jar and discard the peels. Add about four cups water and half the sugar, blend until smooth. Strain into a pitcher and repeat. Taste for lime juice at the end. Refrigerate and serve cold, or over ice.
The oblong, nubby cactus pear is probably the most abundant fruit in the city right now. Markets have got them at four pounds for less than a dollar. They're skinned and sheathed in plastic for people who want to eat them right there, with chili powder and lime. I prefer them plain. The flesh is juicy and so perfumed, you really don't need anything else. A few weeks ago, I picked up a big batch with plans to make a nieve, or sorbet. I am not a stranger to this activity -- two years ago I made sorbet with tuna roja. But this time I didn't have an ice cream maker. I'd lost the little plastic part that fit onto my Kitchen Aid mixer, which enabled the churning. After some fruitless Internet searching, and lots of fretting to Crayton, I emailed Fany. She offered a bunch of helpful tips, including adding an egg white to make the sorbet creamier, and using salt and simple syrup instead of regular sugar. Most importantly, she said there was no reason I couldn't use my ice-cream maker freezer bowl anyway, and just pop it in the freezer and stir by hand every few hours. So, one afternoon, I chopped my tunas and blended and tasted, surprised and delighted at how kick-ass this mixture turned out to be. I was so excited, actually, that I broke out a little mezcal -- for the sorbet, not for me. It ended up giving the nieve a touch of smoke, which fit with the trailblazing theme of the day. This sorbet -- or perhaps it's a sherbet because of the egg white -- did not turn out as dense as I'd hoped. It wasn't as scoopable as my nieve de tuna roja. But it was all mine, and it was still really, really good. I took it to a 4th of July party and Carlos, who is a big fan of tuna fruit, pronounced it a winner. Nieve de tuna with mezcal Makes about 1 1/2 quarts Note: When I was researching the proper texture for a sorbet, I couldn't really find a good answer. I wasn't sure whether to add water. In the end, Fany said that the more water you add, the more crystallized and icy the texture becomes. I wanted something smooth, so I left the water out. Also, I never realized how important salt could be in a dessert. It really pulled everything together, so don't leave it out. Ingredients 21 pieces of cactus fruit (almost 2 kilos or 4 lbs. worth), spines removed Simple syrup, to taste Juice of one large lime 3 teaspoons mezcal salt 1 egg white Directions Peel tuna fruit by cutting off the ends and making an incision length-wise. Open one side like a book and peel off; the thick skin should pull away easily. Cut into quarters and blend until smooth. (I did this in two batches.) Strain out seeds. At this point you should have a pretty pistachio liquid. Add a little simple syrup and lime juice and blend. Add mezcal and adjust the sweetness or acidity if necessary. Then add the salt -- I went with two or three grinds of the salt-shaker -- and taste. Add more simple syrup if needed. Lastly, add the raw egg white and blend until mixture is smooth and thickened. Pour into ice cream maker and blend according to manufacturer's instructions. OR, if you've only got a frozen ice cream bowl and nothing else, pour into the already frozen bowl, freeze and stir every few hours.