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Venison Carne Guisada con Nopalitos
(Venison Stew with Cactus)

Mexican flavors are deeply integrated into Texas cooking. This is my comfort food. Whenever I'm out of Texas for more than a few days I start craving carne guisada with warm, fresh tortillas.


Ingredients

2 dried ancho chile peppers
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 lbs Broken Arrow Ranch Venison Stew Meat
Salt and pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves
2 large tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2-3 tablespoons cumin powder
1 cup beef stock or water
1 cup cooked nopalitos, cubed or in strips*

Add dried ancho peppers to a small pot of boiling water. Boil peppers about 10 minutes until they are soft. Drain the peppers and set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove stems and rinse away seeds. Using a food processor puree the peppers with a splash of water. Set aside to add to stew later.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season venison with salt and pepper. Working in small batches, brown the venison on all sides. Set browned venison in a bowl to add back to the stew later. Add onion and sauté until transparent, about 5 minutes. Add the browned venison, pepper puree, garlic, tomatoes, tomato paste, cumin powder and 1 cup of water or beef stock. Cover and simmer over low to medium-low heat until meat is fork tender, about 1 hour. If the stew looks like it is drying out add more water a little bit at a time - you want a thickened gravy when it's done cooking. After about 30 minutes of cooking taste and adjust seasonings adding more salt, garlic, and or cumin as desired. When the venison is tender, stir in the nopalitos and cook 5 minutes more to heat them through.

Serve with flour or corn tortillas, refried beans and Mexican rice.

Note: Like all stews and braised dishes this one tastes even better the next day. If possible prepare a day ahead and allow the flavors to really meld and set in overnight.

*Nopalitos are the small pads of prickly pear cactus that have had their thorns removed, cut and boiled until tender. Their taste and texture is similar to stewed green beans. Depending on your location you may be able to find fresh nopalitos at the market. Pre-cooked jarred varieties work well and are more easily found in ethnic aisles and stores. Give the cooked nopalitos a quick rinse under before adding to the stew. If you can't find nopalitos you can still enjoy this dish without them.