Prickly Pear Margaritas

There are three things you may have gathered if you’ve made my (should be famous) beet margarita or many of the other citrus-focused cocktails featured here on Good. Food. Stories.:

I like my margaritas:

  • on the rocks
  • with salt, and
  • (most importantly) quite tart.

That leaves me disappointed with most of the margaritas mixed up at Mexican restaurants across the country, since too many places rely on pre-made syrups and other overly sugary concoctions.

This also means that ordering my favorite margarita of all time—the stunning prickly pear margarita—is even more of a crapshoot.

prickly pear margarita at the Hotel Paisano in Marfa, TX
Photo: Casey Barber

But it doesn’t stop me from ordering prickly pear margaritas any time I see them on a menu.

And somehow the bartenders of west Texas must have received advance notice of my preferences, prepping accordingly for our road trip/glamping adventures this past August.

Every single one of the prickly pear margaritas I tried out there, whether at the Chisos Mountains Lodge in Big Bend National Park or the Hotel Paisano in Marfa managed to nail the balance of sweet and sour superbly.

(I went with the more traditional-ish margarita at Cochineal in Marfa because damn, that presentation!)

prickly pear cactus in Big Bend National Park, Texas
Photo: Casey Barber

And just like those west Texas bartenders knew what to do for me, the grocery gods must have sensed that I was missing those perfect margaritas (and the wide vistas and compelling vibe of west Texas in general).

Last week, I discovered a heaping pile of ripe prickly pears in my local grocery store.

If you, like me, live in the Northeast or another part of the country where prickly pears don’t grow on trees—er, cacti—and you have a hard time finding fresh specimens, you know you gotta scoop up ingredients when you see them.

fresh prickly pears, aka cactus pears or tuna verde
Photo: Casey Barber

It was time to stock up with a big batch of prickly pear juice for my own margarita mixing.

A fresh prickly pear has a delicate, slightly vegetal sweetness; though the color would make you think otherwise, it’s not a strong taste.

Because most prickly pear syrups, whether bottled or from homemade recipes, tend to mask this subtle flavor with granulated sugar or agave, I wanted to go in another direction.

prickly pear margaritas
Photo: Casey Barber

I didn’t want a super sweet, thick and sugary syrup. So I didn’t make one!

Instead, this quick-simmered prickly pear juice is made with white grape juice (the secret blank-slate ingredient in most of the juices on the shelves at your supermarket; read those ingredient lists, kids!).

I also added aloe vera juice and lime zest to bump up the acidity without going too over the top.

This fresh prickly pear juice is lightly sweetened but not cloying, and it makes enough for four generous prickly pear margaritas.

prickly pear syrup frozen in ice cubes
Photo: Casey Barber

Bonus: you can freeze this prickly pear margarita base in ice cube trays. That’s what I’ll be doing, since who knows the next time I’ll see fresh prickly pears at the market?

My King Cube silicone ice trays each hold 1/2 cup of liquid, which just so happens to melt into a quantity that works just great for a single margarita.

And if anyone knows how to make prickly pear cacti grow in a New Jersey yard, please come over and hook a gal up. I’ll give you free margaritas for life.

prickly pear margaritas
prickly pear margaritas

Prickly Pear Margaritas

Yield: 4 margaritas
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Additional Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 2 hours 25 minutes

Prickly pear margaritas are gorgeous to look at and taste even better than they look. Ditch the bottled mix with fresh prickly pear juice for your margs.


For the prickly pear juice:

  • 2 pounds ripe prickly pears
  • 1 cup aloe vera juice
  • 1 cup white grape juice
  • zest of 2 limes

For the margaritas:

  • kosher salt for rimming the glasses (optional)
  • 1 batch prickly pear juice
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (from 8-10 large limes)
  • 3/4 cup tequila


Make the prickly pear juice:

  1. Slice the prickly pears in half lengthwise. Use a spoon (preferably a serrated grapefruit spoon) to scoop the innards of each half into a 2-quart saucepan.
  2. Pour the aloe vera and white grape juices into the saucepan and zest the limes into the saucepan.
  3. Bring to a simmer over medium hat and cook for about 5 minutes, using a potato masher or silicone spatula to mash the prickly pear pieces until they are mushy and the seeds are loose and free-floating.
  4. Drain the juice through a fine mesh strainer, stirring and pressing gently to extract all the juice. You should end up with about 2 1/2 cups of juice.
  5. Cool completely before freezing or making margaritas.

Make the margaritas:

  1. Cut a lime in half and run it around the rims of 4 12-ounce cocktail glasses or margarita glasses.
  2. Dip the rims of the glasses in kosher salt.
  3. Fill the glasses with ice.
  4. In a 2-quart pitcher, stir the prickly pear juice, lime juice, and tequila together.
  5. Pour the margaritas into the prepared glasses and serve immediately.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 4 Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 283Total Fat: 1gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 0mgCarbohydrates: 52gFiber: 10gSugar: 20gProtein: 3g

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