Prickly Pears, Feta Cheese, and PubCakes
What's Fresh at the Markets Sept 29-Oct 6
Prickly Pears, Tunas, Fichi d’India? It’s All the Same Fruit
They have to be among the least charming of fruit, what with their prickly spines and home on the spiky pads of nopals or edible cactus. But prickly pears, are grown and popular around the world—hence the variety of names this cactus fruit has. And, despite their challenging origin, they have a definite place in the kitchen. In San Diego, you can find them in many Hispanic and Middle Eastern markets. I picked up several—both green and pink—at North Park Produce in Normal Heights. The sharp needles already are removed. All you need to do is slice them in half lengthwise and gently pull the thick skin away to make use of the very seedy and juicy pulp. Yes, their texture, flavor, and that seediness should remind you of a kiwi or dragon fruit. Dice it and add to fruit salad, top ice cream or yogurt, or add to a smoothie. It’s often made into sweet preserves. I went a different way and pressed the pulp through a sieve into a bowl, using the juice to make a vinaigrette, along with mild white wine vinegar, olive oil, honey, salt and hot pepper flakes. It’ll be perfect for a refreshing salad of greens and grilled fish.
While I was at North Park Produce, I just had to go to the deli counter. It’s unlike any other in San Diego. Do they have olives? Well, yes, 14 kinds. And humus and dolmas and all sorts of other prepared foods. But what always stops me is the feta cheese display. They have 11 kinds of feta, including French (my favorite), Sharp Greek, Danish, Bulgarian, and Goat. I took a taste of the goat feta and loved the salty, tart flavor. I’ll use the piece I bought in a salad with the Prickly Pear Vinaigrette and save some to dab onto pieces of hot sangak, a delicious Middle Eastern flatbread, which I expect to be baking soon in the new ovens over at Balboa International Market. They’re in test mode now. Hopefully, next week I’ll have lots to say about it.
North Park Produce is at 3551 El Cajon Blvd. in San Diego, at 12342 Poway Rd. in Poway, at 877 East H St. in Chula Vista, and 432 East Chase Ave. in El Cajon
Cupcakes and beer aren’t exactly an obvious match, but they are when you taste Misty Birchall’s creations. The former Navy linguist loves to bake. When a beer-loving friend celebrated a birthday, Birchall searched for a cake recipe that included beer and gave away the resulting cupcakes at her favorite pub, North Park’s Toronado. That foray became an obsession and now a business she’s named PubCakes. She’s made a match with hefeweizen and coriander and citrus that has become her Cup O’Hefen. Karl Strauss’s Tower Ten IPA was combined with cayenne caramel, cherry, and ancho chiles to become her Top Ten Cake. Her Punkin’ Vegan is made with North Coast Brewery’s Old Stock Ale, pumpkin, and maple. Altogether Birchall has six flavors in three sizes. While she has no formal pastry training Birchall has a clear gift for flavor combinations and an ability to turn out a moist and delicious cupcake. You can buy them at Toronado, The Tipsy Crow, KNB Wine Cellars, and The Tap Room. Or you can order them online for her to deliver.