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Nopales Recipes

In Season: Nopales

One of the perks of Summer is that all sorts of produce, commonplace and unusual, start to appear out of nowhere. Case in point: nopales, or cactus pads, have showed up in Northern California markets. Pronounced "noh-pah-lays", these vegetables are the leaves of the Nopal or prickly pear cactus. They're not only edible but possess a mellow flavor that's similar to that of green beans. Keep reading to learn more about preparing cactus paddles.

Look for these low-calorie, high-fiber green paddles through Summer and Fall; you'll find them in the dry, warm-weather gardens of California, and at specialty stores, Latin grocers, and occasional farmers markets. At the grocery store, keep an eye out for dethorned paddles that are larger in size, bright green, thin, firm, and glossy. They should be free of wrinkles and squishy spots.

To prepare nopales, cut away the stem of the cactus paddle, tough areas, and any spiny parts of the plant with a paring knife to create a smooth surface. Wash it with running water, then use within several days. (If storing, seal tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.) If you're harvesting nopales directly from a cactus, be sure to wear heavy-duty gloves and proceed with caution.


Cactus can be prepared in a variety of ways, both raw and cooked:

  • Blend raw nopales with pineapple or other fresh fruit juice for a refreshing smoothie.
  • Dice them into nopalitos, then serve with eggs for breakfast.
  • Roast cactus pads in the oven, drizzled with olive oil, as you would any other vegetable.
  • Batter nopales in egg wash and breadcrumbs, then deep fry for a delectable snack.
  • Grill paddles and toss with seafood, acid, and oil for a warm salad.
  • Use sautéed cactus leaves, enhanced with a squeeze of lime, as a filling for tacos.

What's been your past experience eating and cooking nopales?

Source: Flickr User Gary Soup

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