Preparing Nopales (Cactus Paddles) for Eating

There's a delicious surprise in store for you if you've never tried cooking with nopales before. This versatile and nutrient-dense Mexican vegetable is a pantry staple. Here, I'll demonstrate the most typical preparation method for them and suggest some tasty dishes that feature them. The preparation of any of them takes barely any time at all.

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Find Out Which Cactus Paddles Are Best for You!

As the days grow longer and warmer, I've been enjoying a healthy Ensalada de nopales salad prepared with a blend of lemons, olive oil, and spices in honor of the season. This cactus salad is to die for.

The lack of access to fresh nopales is a bummer, but I guess we can't be too picky. They appear to be nearing their expiration date, as evidenced by the occasional dark spot in the photos, but they are still crispy, which is what really matters when selecting the nopales. (Avoid purchasing them if they are pliable and weak)

Since I still have some paddles, I thought I'd write up some tips for preparing nopales and some of my favorite ways to use them in the kitchen.

Mexican nopales

The Origins of Nopales

The nopal cactus, which grows naturally in Mexico, has been used for food preparation for centuries. The Aztecs relied on it as a daily staple as well. Nahuatl "nochtli," meaning "prickly pear," is where we get our word "nopal." Prickly pear cactus paddles, cactus leaves, and cactus thorns are all names for the same plant part. "

As a member of the cactus family, the nopal cactus is a succulent. It thrives in dry environments and, depending on the variety, can grow as tall as 15 feet. The paddles of this plant are long and flat, and they are covered with tiny spines.

The paddles are the edible part of the plant that we are using in today's meals.

Nopalitos cocidos

🙋‍♀️ FAQ

Before I give you my recipe, I'll answer some common questions about cooking cactus.

Nopales, do you know if they are safe to eat raw?

Yes, you can eat raw nopales is the short answer. One of the most well-liked preparations in Mexico is to blend raw Nopales into a green smoothie. Though delicious when cooked, many people find that eating them raw results in a slimy texture (baba) and an overall lack of flavor. If you want to try them raw, slice them thinly and sprinkle them over a salad. Look at this link for our raw Nopales salad.

Can you eat cactus paddles without getting sick?

Yes Many people use nopales because of their many health benefits. Fiber, vitamins A and C, and minerals like calcium and iron are all abundant in them. Also, the calorie and fat content is low.

Is there a way to prevent the sliminess of nopales?

Some Mexicans use a copper cauldron, others use green tomatillo husks, and still others add a tablespoon of baking soda to the water before cooking.  

Cooking cactus pads thoroughly is the key to preventing their sliminess. You want to cook them until they're soft, but not so long that they turn mushy.

Exactly how do nopales taste?

In terms of taste, they are frequently contrasted with green beans, okra, and asparagus.

The Staples of Nopales Cuisine

In order to prepare nopales, you will need the following items.

  • Cactus paddles, or nopales.
  • Shell from a tomatillo
  • Allium hirsutum (white onion)
  • Cultivated garlic
  • Salt

Please refer to the recipe card at the post's end for precise amounts of the aforementioned ingredients.

PROCEED TO Detailed Guidance

Hint for the Kitchen:

  • First-time cleaners of Nopales To avoid pricking your fingers while handling nopales, use kitchen tongs or, better yet, gloves. You can clean cactus paddles without gloves once you've gained experience using them.

Preparing Nopales: The Step-by-Step Guide

I'll simplify the process of preparing nopales for you.

Get the nopales clean.

  • In order to remove the sharp edge from the cactus paddle, place it on a cutting board.
  • In order to remove any remaining spines, thorns, or "eyes," run your knife from back to front along the surface.
  • The cactus paddles should be flipped over and used in the opposite direction.  
  • The remaining nopales should be treated in the same way.
  • When you're done, put the cactus paddles back on the clean cutting board.

Learn to clean the spines, thorns of the cactus paddles. Preparing Nopales for Cleaning

  • Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot.
  • The cactus paddles should be sliced into thin strips.
  • The cactus, onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and tomatillo husk should be added to the boiling water.
  • Medium-high heat, uncovered, for 6 to 8 minutes, or until tender.

Take note that the cactus will produce a sticky juice and foam frequently. If you don't want the foam to overflow, this is where you need to focus your attention.

easy way to cook nopales

  • Cactus, after it has been cooked, should be drained and subsequently rinsed.
  • Please allow them to air dry or drain thoroughly.

You can now use your nopales in any recipe calling for raw vegetables, such as salads, scrambled eggs, Mexican stews, etc.

Nopales (cactus paddles)

I like to experiment with new flavors and preparations whenever I cook a large quantity of cactus paddles.

A raw nopales salad is my go-to. Nopales, tomatoes, onions, serrano peppers, queso fresco, avocados, and lime juice are all included in this dish. It's perfect for a quick lunch because it's not too heavy but still provides enough nutrition.

Healthy and easy nopales salad Salad with Mexican Nopales

For a quick and easy breakfast, I also enjoy preparing these nopales and eggs. My husband loves a fresh, crusty bolillo and some refried beans for breakfast.

Grilling the nopales and serving them with melted cheese or in corn tortillas as tacos is another popular preparation method. After removing the spines, make 3–4 shallow cuts in each nopal, then brush with olive oil and grill for 3–4 minutes per side over medium heat.  

Additional Traditional Mexican Dishes

If you liked the cactus recipe, you might also like these other traditional Mexican dishes:

I'm crossing my fingers that you'll try cooking up some nopales and incorporating them into some of your favorite dishes. Please report back with your results if you try this recipe. Please share your thoughts and opinions with us by commenting below.

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Martnez, Mely

It's a real treat if you've never tried nopales in the kitchen before. You can use this versatile dish in many different Mexican dishes. Here, I will outline the most common method of preparing them and suggest some tasty dishes that can be made with them. All of them can be prepared in minutes.

Use kitchen tongs or, better yet, gloves to avoid getting pricked while handling nopales. In time, you may even be able to clean cactus paddles without wearing protective gear, but only if you're used to handling them carefully.

Get the Nopales clean.

  • Using a sharp knife, remove the sharp edge from the cactus paddle by placing it on a cutting board. Remove any spines, thorns, or "eyes" by scraping them with a knife from back to front. The cactus paddles should be flipped over and used in the opposite direction.
  • To finish up the remaining cactus paddles, simply repeat the previous steps. Finally, return the cactus paddles to the clean cutting board and rinse them again.

To Prepare Cactus Discs for Cooking

  • Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a medium saucepan.
  • The cactus paddles should be sliced into thin strips.
  • Cactus, onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1 quart of water, brought to a boil. using only salt and tomatillo husks For about 8-10 minutes, or until tender, boil uncovered. As the cactus begins to exude its sticky substance, it will likely begin to foam; this is the stage where care must be taken to ensure that the foam does not overflow.
  • The cactus should be drained and rinsed after cooking. Put them in a strainer and wait for them to drain or dry them with paper towels. You can now use your nopales in any recipe calling for raw vegetables, such as salads, scrambled eggs, Mexican stews, etc.


  • Chopped tomato, onion, serrano peppers, and cilantro should be added to the nopales in a large bowl. Combine the components. Combine the lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper in a separate bowl. Toss this into the pot with the nopales and stir. Crumble some fresh cheese and lay some avocado slices atop the salad. (The salad would be delicious with radishes as well.) Consume with tostadas or corn tortillas.


  • Put the oil into a skillet and heat it over medium. Stir-fry the mixture for one minute before adding the chopped green onions. Cook the nopales for 1-2 minutes after adding them. Cook the eggs until they are done, stirring occasionally. Depending on your personal preference, salt the food.

When grilled and served with melted cheese, nopales are delicious. After removing the spines, simply make 3–4 shallow cuts in each nopal, coat with oil, and grill for 3 minutes on each side.

Serving: 1 cooked nopales Calories: 14 kcal Carbohydrates: 3 g Fiber: 2 g Sugar: 1 g

Kindly report back on the experience.

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