Southwestern residents should try nopales at least once. Nopales are the young, tender, prickly pear pads, which were a staple food of Native Americans and are still used in Mexican cuisine. They are nutritious; a serving provides about half the daily requirement of vitamin C, as well as vitamin A and potassium, iron, and calcium.
Choose small, tender, dark green pads, preferably those that bend easily in spring. Scrape off all spines and glochids with a paring knife. Rinse. Peel off the tough outer skin like you peel a piece of fruit. Chop the pad into pieces and parboil it for 5 to 10 minutes. Then use it in any recipe in place of green pepper, okra, green beans, or asparagus or saute nopales plain with butter and a bit of salt.
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension recently launched a gardening Web site called Arid-Southwest Gardening, which contains lots of information for home gardeners. It offers links to plant images at the University of Arizona herbarium and Arizona State University Arboretum, pest and disease identification, low-water-use plants and xeriscape topics, and information on community gardening, how to become a master gardener, and weather.