Guajillo  Chile Nopales  Tacos

1 pound of cactus paddles
3 guajillo chiles
3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1/2 of 15-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion, cut in half lengthwise, sliced 1/4-inch thick
sea salt
sugar (optional)

Toasting the guajillos and garlic: Cut open the chiles lengthwise.  Remove the stem, seeds, and veins.  Heat a medium-sized skillet over medium heat.  Lay a chile, one at a time, flat in the pan, and press down with a metal spatula for about 8 to 10 seconds, until very aromatic, flip, and repeat on the other side.  Repeat with the remaining chiles.  Set aside.

In the same pan, roast the unpeeled garlic, turning the garlic from time to time, until soft and blackened in spots, about 10 to 15 minutes.  When cool enough to handle, remove the skins from the garlic.  Tear the chiles into small pieces and add to a blender jar, along with the garlic and tomatoes.  Blend until very smooth.

Clean the cactus paddles: Slice around the edge of the paddles to remove the outer spines, along with the blunt end where the plant was severed (you can use tongs or gloves to keep the paddle in place).  Then with the side of a chef’s knife, scrape along the surface of the paddles to remove their spines.  Flip and repeat on the other side.  When all the paddles are cleaned, chop them into ~1/2″ squares.

Preparing the dish: Heat the oil, in a large skillet or (4-quart) saucepan.  Add the onion and cook, stirring regularly, until nicely browned, about 10 minutes.  Add the cactus paddles, cover, and cook 5 minutes.  Uncover, raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently until all the cactus paddles’ “sticky stuff” cooks out and you hear the cactus sizzling in the oil.

Set a mesh strainer over the pot and pour the chile mixture and press through.  Stir and continue cooking until the mixture has thickened to the consistency of tomato paste.  Stir in 1/2 cup water, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes.  Taste and season with salt (about 1 teaspoon).  Add a little sugar if necessary to balance out the chiles natural astringency.

Serve with fresh corn tortillas, avocado slices, cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds, and/or queso fresco (or crumbly fresh goat’s cheese).