Nopales - Recipes

Desert Lil's Delicacies - A DesertUSA Food Feature

Nopales is the Spanish name for Prickly Pear Cactus pads. Prickly Pear Cactus are members of the Opuntia genus, and produce both nopales, a vegetable, and tuna, a fruit.cactus

Native Americans used Nopales to poultice bruises and dress wounds. They also boiled and crushed the pads, then added the sticky juice to mortar or whitewash to increase adhesiveness.

Nopales have been more popular as a food source in Mexico for hundreds of years. Recently, they have gained increasing popularity in the United States as well.

As a vegetable, Nopales can be used in salads, casseroles, soups, grilled and prepared in a variety of other ways. Nopales are somewhat tart and have a green bean- or asparagus -like flavor.

Nopales are often compared to Okra, because of the sticky substance they release when cooked. This should be rinsed off before serving or before further preparation as an ingredient.

Nopales can be purchased year-round in Mexican markets and some grocery stores in the U.S. They can also easily be harvested from your own Prickly Pear Cactus growing on your property.

Selection & Preparation

Select small or medium sized, firm pads. Make sure the pads you select are not wrinkled, soggy or too soft. These pads (or paddles) are modified branches, which range in color from pale to dark green. They also contain sharp, thorny needles, which are modified leaves.

These, thorny needles must be removed with a knife or vegetable peeler before cooking. Remove any nodules, the thick stem, and trim the edges off of the pads as well. Make sure you wear rubber or leather gloves when handling Nopales to avoid injury from the thorny needles.

Wash thoroughly and follow the recipe instructions below. Nopales can be tightly wrapped and stored in a refrigerator for one to two weeks.

 Nutritional Facts  
 Serving Size 1 cup raw (142g)  
 Calories 60  Calories from Fat 10
 Amount Per Serving  % daily value
 Total Fat 1g  1%
 Saturated Fat 0g  0%
 Cholesterol 0mg  0%
 Sodium 5mg  0%
 Total Carbohydrates 14g  5%
 Dietary Fiber 5g  20%
 Sugars NA  
 Protein 1g  
 Vitamin A  0%
 Vitamin C  32%
 Calcium  8%
 Iron  2%



Nopales on The Grill

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, they are ready for the grill. Cook each pad for approximately 10 to 12 minutes on each side. While grilling, brush each side of the cactus pad with olive oil or a flavored oil of your choice. Pepper or garlic-flavored oil are often used on grilled Nopales.

Scrambled Nopales

  • 1 or 2 cactus pads
  • 8 Eggs
  • 1/4 lb. of cheese (your choice)
  • salt & pepper to taste

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, slice into bite-size pieces. Sauté the sliced pads in a small amount of butter for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside. Beat the eggs in a mixing bowl; add shredded cheese and the sautéed cactus pieces. Pour the egg mixture into a skillet and scramble. Serve warm with salt and pepper to taste.

Nopales Rellenos (Stuffed Cactus Pads)

  • 12 tender cactus pads
  • 3 cups of water
  • 6 slices of Machego or Panela cheese
  • 1/4 onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 can of tomato sauce (12 ounces)

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the ads, boil in 3 cups of water with the garlic, onion, and salt. Drain.

On each of 6 cactus pads place a slice of cheese and 3 to 4 pieces of onion. Top with another cactus pad, secure with wooden toothpicks and coat with flour.

Beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then add the yolks and beat for 1 to 2 minutes more to create a batter.

Heat the oil in a frying pan, dip the stuffed cactus pads into the egg batter and fry until golden on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Serve drenched with cooked tomato sauce.

Nopales Salsa

  • 1 lb. cleaned cactus pads
  • 1/2 lb. tomatillos
  • 1 small white onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 1/2 tsp. of salt
  • 2 tsp.of fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 tsp.of cumin
  • 2 Tbs. cilantro

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, grill for about 7 minutes on each side. Slice the grilled pads into strips. Place tomatillos, cubed onions and garlic in a baking dish, then cook in a 450-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Roast poblanos on grill or under the broiler, then peel them and remove the seeds. Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until well chopped. A little water may be needed to moisten the salsa. Serve chilled with chips or use to season tacos, burritos or other Mexican dishes.

Nopales Salad

  • 2.2 lbs. Nopales (cactus pads)
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 green chiles - serrano or jalapeno - chopped

Prepare the cactus pads as described in the preparation section above. Once you have removed the needles, nodules and thoroughly washed the pads, chop into bite-size pieces. Place the chopped Nopales into a pan with the 4 cups of water, halved onion and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30-45 minutes or until tender. Drain Nopales and combine with remaining ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt if necessary. This dish gets better if you let is sit a few hours in the refrigerator before serving. Serves 4 or more.

More Nopales Recipes

Here is a recipe I enjoy here in Louisiana. We have a reputation for
good food. If you like okra and tomato, you will love this with Nopales.

  • Boil Nopales paddles in salted water. Drain.
  • Boil second time in chicken or beef boullion.
  • Let cool in boullion water. Drain and slice/dice.
  • Put one diced large onion, diced bellpepper (large)
  • Diced celery (one cup), one large jalapeno chopped,
    and Nopales in large skillet or dutch oven style pot.
  • Simmer untill all vegtables are tender. Serve over a
    bed of long-grain rice.
  • Meat is optional but does add
    flavor.....I like shrimp added at the last moment and
    cooked until pink

!!!!!!!!!! Enjoy! Harry Carley

Desert Lil is seeking your help in adding to her cyber cookbook of Desert Delicacies. She is looking for original recipes that:

  • Use native Southwestern ingredients
  • Are good for camping or backpacking
  • Have a Southwestern flair

If you have a tasty, quick or unique recipe that you'd like to share with Lil and DesertUSA readers, please submit it Here, or to - subject DesertUSA Recipe

Complete Index of Desert Lil's Delicacies


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