It must have taken a very hungry person (or a very thirsty one) to figure out that behind the extremely prickly exterior, some types of cactus are edible. Of course, you have to remove the exterior - taking extreme care not to let the fine, sharp cactus needles poke you - in order to get to the edible part. Called nopales in Spanish, the wide, flat "paddles" are taken from the prickly pear cacti, which also bear bright, beautiful fruit.
To avoid getting poked, wear a rubber kitchen glove on the hand holding the cactus paddle. With your other hand, use a sharp knife to scrape off the spikes, then rinse it well. When cooked, the flesh releases a mucous-y slime, similar to that of okra, which many people find unpleasant. To rid it of some of the slime, blanch the cactus flesh, rinse it, then repeat, before drying it well. It's now ready to use.
Nopales makes a delicious salad. Slice the prepared cactus paddles and mix with tomatoes, sliced onion, chopped coriander leaves, salt and freshly squeezed lime juice. This mixture is also delicious wrapped in a fresh, hot corn tortilla.
Prickly pear fruit makes a tangy sorbet. Remove the skin, then purée the flesh. Weigh the purée and mix in two-thirds the amount of sugar syrup (water and sugar - in proportions of 3:2, boiled until the sugar dissolves, then cooled). Add some fresh lemon or lime juice and a small amount of vodka (to prevent the sorbet from freezing too hard), then process the mixture in an ice cream machine.