Monday, August 3, 2009

Tuna Ginger Ale

The saga of the disastrous dinner continues.

It's easy, in retrospect, to forget that it was a disaster, because the truth is, we used so many great recipes! In fact, most of them even turned out, they just may have been a bit cold by the time we sat down to eat, due to our fumbling.

I've been on a homemade ginger ale kick lately, much to the delight of both Goor and the guests who visited us, and so it seemed only fitting that I prepare a batch for our "greatest hits" dinner. This, in my opinion, is so much more exciting than a salad, the simplicity of which has kept me embarrassed enough that I haven't actually told more than a couple of people that we even started this blog. Hopefully, after today, I will raise my head high and go public! On Facebook, even!

Like the salad, the ginger ale was an unsurprising success of our otherwise flop of an evening. Granted, it was a touch warm, even though we broke it out for dessert, by which time it should have been crisp and chill. Nonetheless, this was a success, a welcome refreshment that relieved us from the Tel Aviv heat for days to come.

Traditionally fermented (which is why it's an "ale"), ginger ale can easily be replicated at home with just a syrup and some bottled soda water. Of course, it's the syrup that can get fancy.

After hearing about someone else's inspired idea to make rhubarb ginger ale earlier this summer, I immediately set about to make my own seasonal batches. The idea struck deep in the heart of cherry season, when the fruit was running around 12 to 14 shekels/half-kilo, or about $2.95/pound -- a decent price for the treat by any standard. The cherry ginger ale was followed by nectarine ginger ale (which really made me wish I'd used peach), and finally, the subject of this post: prickly pear ginger ale.

Prickly pear, or cactus fruit (called "tuna" in Spanish, which always makes me giggle, hence the title of today's post), has a special place in Israel. Jews born in the Jewish state are known as "sabras" -- the Hebrew name for the fruit, proudly proclaiming that as Israelis they're tough and prickly on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside.

I find this ironic.

Prickly pear, cactus fruit, sabras, tuna -- whatever you want to call them -- are not simply tough and prickly, but difficult, painful, nay, almost impossible on the outside, and stuffed with large-ish seeds that make the flesh only slightly rewarding on the inside. Granted, they're a lovely fruit, with rich reds, oranges, yellows, and pinks, and a skin ranging from green to magenta, but I'd hardly recommend them for an afternoon snack.

Nonetheless, I daresay that I may have made the world's first cactus fruit ginger ale -- and it was good. Not as great as cherry, perhaps, but a nice departure from the usual fare.

My first attempts at cutting the fruit, involving a knife and a towel, left me covered in thorns for weeks, but in the end I found a method that was not only faster, but seemed to protect me from those nasty thorns.

Prickly Pear Ginger Ale

1 to 2 lbs cactus fruit
2 cups sugar
1 to 1 1/2 cups washed unpeeled ginger, thrown in a food processor
soda water

The trick is to avoid at all costs touching the skin of the prickly pear. Empty bag of fruit into a large bowl, and have a medium-sized pot handy for the flesh. Using a fork to hold the prickly pear down, cut into quarters and then slide the knife under the flesh to remove the skin. Discard the skin and, using the fork, put the flesh in the pot.

Add sugar and ginger to the pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. After fruit softens, use a potato masher to break up pieces further. Simmer 20 to 40 minutes, or until the syrup is thick and flavorful. Although the fruit ranges in color, the syrup will turn a pale green color. When it's done, strain the syrup, making sure to press all the liquid from the fruit and ginger. It will cool to a lovely orange color.

Let cool, and pour one to two inches of syrup into individual glasses. Add chilled soda to taste.


  1. As Callie mentioned, Sabras are used as a metaphor for Jews born in Israel.

    Notwithstanding the prevalence of this use, I found the fact that it is not an indigenous plant noteworthy.

    I'm not quite sure when and how it came here from Mexico, but it has been in use by Palestinians for a while. The Sabras can't reproduce on their own here, and have to be planted. It's a hardy plant, grows big and thick. These features lent themselves to using the cactus as fence, delineating land plots amongst Palestinian villagers prior to 1948. As a part of daily life, the plants held a very different symbolic meaning . Since it served a boarder between fields, it was not owned by one side or the other. It was shared by the whole village, and seen a community demarcating food item that villagers from another village were not supposed to pick.

    Today, cacti are visible in the local landscape, but rarely is the Palestinian use of it recognizable. Driving along the highway, one can see what is left of these agricultural clues and relics. In some of the planted forests, cacti can be spotted amongst the trees. A sad reminder that a village use to be close by - emptied, destroyed, and covered today by a national park.