Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Nopales Cactus Salad (with Cahones)

Who needs Viagra when you've got this prickly pair?

Mexicans have been eating the potent prickly pear cactus, or nopal, for hundreds of years. And just look at the Aztecs. Talk about testosterone. Now they had a pair to spare.

Nopales is the stem or paddle of the cactus, and nopalitos are the pads that are cut up and ready to eat. So technically this should be called Nopalitos Cactus Salad. But I think my pal, Nopal, with his prickly pair, would find that diminutive emasculating. So I'm going with the more virile Nopales Cactus Salad. Who wants a cutesy cactus when you could have cahones, comprende?

Cooked nopales looks like bell pepper, tastes a little like green beans and has a slightly slimy texture. But don’t let that turn you off. Without a little slime, we’d have no politicians, and who would give all those rich people their tax breaks? Like a politician, the nopales must have their spines removed first. Sometimes you can find fresh, cleaned and diced nopalitos at a Latin store or farmers' market, so you don't have to mess with the needles. But once you have the cleaned cactus in your hot little hands, this is really easy to make. Its bright, earthy flavor is truly distinctive. The Mexican oregano, which tastes altogether different from the Mediterranean kind, really makes it pop. And cactus is full of fiber, amino acids, vitamins A, B6, C and K. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some L-M-N-O-P in there too. Plus, it makes you a bad-ass since you can say you ate a cactus. Just don't call it Nopalitos.

Nopalitos, I mean nopales in the raw

Kick, I mean cook some cact-ass


1 pound cleaned cactus paddles, diced (to clean them yourself, watch video)

½ cup radishes, diced

½ cup tomatoes, diced or cherry tomatoes, halved or quartered

¼ cup red onion, diced (about ½ an onion)

¼ cup packed cilantro, chopped

2 TBSP olive oil

3 tsp lime juice

1 tsp dried Mexican oregano, crushed (available at Latin markets)

Salt and pepper to taste

Serve with crumbled cotija or feta cheese

Blanch diced cactus in boiling water for 5 to 7 minutes or until tender. Drain and rinse well. Let cool, and combine with the remaining ingredients in a serving bowl. Chill several hours until the flavors have blended. Serve cold or room temperature with warm corn tortillas.

Related Links:

Travel Bite: Street Snacks, Mexico City

Travel Bite: Market Day, Chiapas, Mexico

Travel Bite: Xochimilco Snack Vendor

Cultural Musings on Dia de los Muertos

Ode to a Farm Worker


  1. Oh Adair- thanks for the LOL so early in the morning re: slime and politicians.

  2. So funny! I do think i would feel like badass if i said i ate cactus. I hope your next recipe has some L-M-N-O-P. :)

  3. Funny, I just made almost this exact salad – my first experience with nopales. I didn't put it on my blog, and now I'm glad, because I couldn't have written anything as good as this!

  4. You're so funny I'd even read your blog if there weren't any recipes. But I'm glad there are!

  5. I was hoping it was going to be you in the video. Instead it was some guy with cahones. GREG

  6. I love your photographs! And the salad looks great, too. Cilantro and lime juice...count me in!

  7. I love nopales, sans the thorns of course. Now I need to try this salad! Farmer's markets have been carrying nopales, along with purslane, a Bijouxs favorite. PS Thank you for including the video.

  8. Very entertaining Adair - have to admit I have tried to love "nopales" but I just can't do it - guess that's also why I have an aversion to slimy politicians as well!!!

  9. I love nopales but have only eaten them at restaurants because I didn't really know what to do with them. Maybe now I'll be ballsy enough to buy some. ;-)

  10. This is so original. I never would have thought that cacti are edible.
    Now, where will I find these in Holland..? :)

  11. Thanks for the kind words, everyone!

  12. Nopales - are on my list of ingredients to feature. You beat me to it. Waiting til I scavenge for them out in the wild like I did with my mom as a kid. I remember removing the thorny espinas with a pair of pliers.

  13. Next, you're gonna tell me to eat dandelion weeds or something. Oh wait... I hear people do that already.

    I'll keep this in mind the next time I'm lost in the desert. :-)


  14. Wow! Impressive, Adair! I'd love to try this (sans cilantro, though) ;)