Taste of Place: Prickly Pear Margaritas

by | Nov 15, 2015 | Native Plants

Party on a cutting board: prickly pear syrup and your standard margarita components. Photo: Amy McCullough

Party on a cutting board: prickly pear syrup and your standard margarita components. PHOTO Amy McCullough


FOR THE TEETOTALERS AMONG US, there is also a nonalcoholic lemonade recipe using prickly pear syrup below. Choose your poison — or lack thereof!

But first, you’ll need some prickly pear juice. Lucky for you, I describe the method for extracting prickly pear juice at length in this similarly useful-for-the-holidays recipe for prickly pear-cranberry sauce.

Prickly Pear Margaritas

In a former life, I worked as a bartender for a place called the Bagdad Theater & Pub (part of the popular Pacific Northwest chain McMenamins; perhaps you’re familiar). While I’m sure many a debate has taken place regarding the quality of their burgers and craft beer, I can say they taught me one very valuable thing about cocktails: You cannot lose with fresh-squeezed juice. They squeeze all their fruit juice fresh right into your drink, and that is now the basis for any fruity cocktail I make. A tart, sunny-tasting margarita more than fits the bill.


  • 3 ounces tequila (I used Hornitos Plata)
  • 2 ounces freshly squeezed lime juice
  • 1/2 ounce orange liqueur or triple sec (I used Stirrings brand)
  • 1 ounce prickly pear (Opuntia spp.) simple syrup, which is made just like simple syrup but with prickly pear juice in place of water
    • equal parts prickly pear juice and sugar, heated until sugar is dissolved
    • most sources recommend adding a little citric acid or a squeeze of lemon to “brighten” the flavor
  • Coarse or kosher salt for the rim if you please


If you prefer a margarita with salt: Sprinkle salt on a small plate or dish the size of your preferred margarita glass. Moisten the rim of said glass with a lime wedge. Press the rim into the salt pile.

Squeeze some limes. If you’re making a lot of drinks, be prepared to squeeze a lot of limes. I’ve found that smoother, more supple limes yield more juice. Maybe that’s just me.

Combine all ingredients besides the salt in a shaker with ice and shake it up! (I shook the classic margarita ingredients, less sugar, separately and added the prickly pear syrup on its own because I knew it would be pretty, then shook the whole thing again before drinking … ah, the labors of beverage photography.)

LEFT: Juice it. CENTER: Syrup it. RIGHT: Drink it. Photos: Amy McCullough

LEFT Juice it. CENTER Syrup it. RIGHT Drink it. PHOTOS Amy McCullough


Strain into your salted or non-salted glass over fresh ice cubes. Garnish with a lime wedge if you’re classy (per the photo above right, I guess I’m not). Enjoy!


Please drink lawfully and responsibly.

Prickly Pear Lemonade

Prickly pear syrup can be used just like sugar or simple syrup in beverages, and lemonade is no exception. For kids or non-drinkers, give this recipe a try.


  • 1 cup prickly pear syrup (see above)
  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 2 cups freshly squeezed lemon juice


Pour the lemon juice and prickly pear syrup into a pitcher.

Add most of the water (less a few cups) and taste. If it’s too lemony or strong, add more water; if it’s too sweet, add a little more straight lemon juice to it. Basically, treat the prickly pear syrup like sugar and adjust to your taste!

Refrigerate for 30 to 40 minutes.

Serve over ice with sliced lemons as garnish.


Either prickly pear beverage would go stunningly with these Spiced Pecans.

Related Stories:

Chile Pequin-Citrus Turkey
Prickly Pear-Cranberry Sauce
Vegan Wild Onion and Tuber Stew
Spiced Pecans
Wild Onion and Chile Pequin Cornbread
Persimmon Dessert Bars
Chile Pequin Vinegar