A refreshing Prickly Pear Margarita

Brian Rung

    Spring has sprung in 2017, and in a few short months the Desert Southwest will be full of pinkish-purple blooms of the nopales cactus, also known as the prickly pear cactus.
    The folks in Arizona, Texas and New Mexico know a thing or two about beating the brutal heat of the summer months with refreshing cocktails. The standard Margarita may not get the job done when the mercury hits 105 degrees. At that point it's time to call in reinforcements: the Prickly Pear Margarita.
    As far as I know, there is no claim of invention to the Prickly Pear Margarita. After all, this cocktail is a standard three-ingredient Margarita with a splash of prickly pear nectar. Prickly pear juice has been added to teas and lemonades for generations, no doubt that the Margarita was given a dash of cactus juice upon its arrival in the Southwest.
    The prickly pear has been consumed in the desert since pre-historic times, but was not widely available in grocery stores outside of the Desert Southwest until recently. Today prickly pear nectar, puree and syrups are widely available both online and in your local grocery store.  
    The fruit of the prickly pear is called a “tuna” and the raw fruit may be available to you if you are fortunate enough to have a Mexican import grocery store nearby. Organic chain grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Sprouts also carry prickly pears in season.  
    When shopping for prickly pears, be sure to purchase the purple pears, not the green. The green fruit is delicious, but will not give you the brilliant purple color that you are looking for in a Prickly Pear Margarita.  
    If you wish to use a fresh cactus pear in your Margarita, skip the syrup and simply cut a slit across the pear and remove the skin.
    After the skin has been removed, drop the pear into the shaker with the two ounces of tequila and muddle the fruit into the tequila. Once the fruit is muddled, simply add the remaining ingredients and follow the recipe.
    Many, if not most of the Prickly Pear Margaritas in bars and restaurants are prepared using commercially available syrups.  Like any other fruit, you can start with puree and make your own syrup, but there are some excellent options available if you are looking to purchase a nectar or syrup. A few of my favorites are Monin Cactus Pear Syrup and Pera Prickly Pear Nectar.  
    Cactus pears have a unique flavor profile that will lend a sweet kick to cocktails, candy, jam, as well as gourmet vinaigrettes for salads.  
    Before we get started, let's take this opportunity to review the basic Margarita. In its purest form the Margarita is simply 100 percent agave tequila, lime juice and something sweet such as agave nectar, simple syrup, or triple sec.
    Agave nectar is my preferred sweetener in the Margarita simply because tequila is the main ingredient in the cocktail and tequila is made from the agave plant. The flavor profiles seem to mesh together better when agave nectar is used as opposed to a store-bought mix full of high fructose corn syrup.
    When using lime juice in cocktails, fresh-squeezed is always best. Avoid the temptation to buy lime juice from concentrate, or “sweetened” lime juice.
    Take your time, do it right. Pick up a lime squeezer if you do not have one, both in the interest of time and getting the most juice out of your limes.
    A typical lime will yield between .5 to 1 ounces of juice, something to keep in mind if you will be hosting a large group. Be sure to buy the heavier, larger limes as they will yield more juice and typically are the same price as the smaller limes.
    Only use 100 percent agave tequila in the Margarita and every other tequila cocktail. Reach for a blanco or plata (white or silver) tequila when making the Prickly Pear Margarita as a clear tequila will yield a brightly colored finished product.
    The Prickly Pear Margarita is built in a shaker and served in your favorite Margarita glass.
    Fill shaker with ice.
    Add 2 oz 100 percent agave tequila (blanco or plata).
    Add 3/4 oz agave nectar.
    Add 1/2 oz prickly pear nectar or syrup.
    Add 1/2 oz fresh lime juice.
    Shake and strain into Margarita or cocktail (Martini) glass, over fresh ice.
    Garnish with lime wheel.
    Until next week, enjoy responsibly.