Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Nopales Salad (AKA Cactus Leaf Salad)

The fascination with cacti began with our trip to Albuquerque in March. Looly, Bean, and Roo had never seen a cactus in person and found it highly unlikely that such menacing plant life actually existed outside of cartoons. This is somewhat ironic since from my vast research (Wikipedia) I know that prickly pear cacti are a prominent feature at Illinois Beach State Park just north of Chicago. Apparently we don't get out much.

They were already impressed. Then I told them we could eat the beasts.

The first challenge was buying prickly pear leaves, or nopales. Note I didn't say we had trouble finding cactus. Buying the dang things, however, proved a bit of an issue, being that no one, including the manager of our local Dominick's grocery store seemed to have the faintest idea how cactus pads might have made it inside their store, let alone what to call them, or how one might go about ringing them up at a cash register. Many tense moments passed before I agreed to a haggled price of 88 cents per pound. Is this a fair price for nopales? I've no idea.

Slicing off thorny spines with the Santoku occupied the next half hour. I didn't even impale myself. Much. Then I gave each child a small sample of raw cactus to try which they promptly spewed back at me with tortured grimaces and vile curses. Turns out chopped raw cactus is a little slimy. Just saying.

That was the moment I realized I didn't know what I was going to with all this cactus. Back to the Internet. Someone mentioned that boiled nopales taste a little like green beans so I decided to trust them and put together a salad.

Note: I started with 8 cactus leaves. You probably don't need that many. As it was my first time I'm pretty sure I shaved off way more leaf than I needed to in order to avoid eating spines later. There are a few YouTube videos of people cleaning cactus leaves much more efficiently that I did. So as I was saying...

Nopales (AKA Cactus Leaf) Salad

5-8 prickly pear cactus leaves (nopales), spines and edges removed, sliced into small strips or pieces
1 medium onion (half to boil in water with nopales, other half chopped for the salad)
1 Tbsp. salt
1 large tomato, seeded and chopped
1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 medium ripe avocado
3 Tbsp. cilantro, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano, chopped
1 serrano pepper, seeded and minced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 cup queso fresco, crumbled
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add half an onion, 1 Tbsp. salt, and the nopales. Boil about 12 minutes. Be careful it doesn't boil over.
2. Remove nopales from stove, drain, rinse in cold water. Discard onion.
3. Combine cold nopales, chopped onion, tomato, bell pepper, avocado, cilantro, oregano, serrano pepper, garlic, lemon zest, and queso fresco in large bowl and toss together.
4. In separate bowl, whisk lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. Pour over salad and toss to coat.

Gotta admit, even I'm a little impressed with me. Isn't it lovely? And it tasted awesome. Next time, tortilla chips on the side.


  1. I love nopales, and they are super good for you to boot!

  2. For the next summery supper club, let's grill some.