Preparing Nopales (Cactus Paddles) for Eating

You're in for a real treat if you've never tried nopales in a meal before. You can use this versatile Mexican vegetable in a wide variety of dishes. I'll show you the most common method of cooking them and suggest some tasty dishes that feature them. Creating any of them will take you no time at all.

nopalitos mexicanos Jump to:

Which Cactus Paddles to Pick and Why

Now that the weather is warming up, I've decided to make a healthy Ensalada de nopales salad using a mixture of cactus, lemon, olive oil, and spices. This cactus salad is to die for.

Unfortunately, fresh nopales are not readily available where I live. You can tell they are about to go bad because of the random dark spots on them, but the fact that they are still crisp is what you should focus on if you want to buy these nopales. (Don't buy them if you can bend them)

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 even relied on it as a primary source of nutrition. The Nahuatl word "nochtli," which translates to "prickly pear," is the source of the English word "nopal." Prickly pear cactus paddles are also known as cactus leaves or cactus fronds. "

The nopal cactus, like other cacti, is a succulent. It thrives in dry environments and can get as tall as 15 feet. In this case, the plant's long, flat paddles are covered in tiny spines.

Today, we're using the paddles, a part of the plant, to prepare a meal.

Nopalitos cocidos

🙋‍♀️ FAQ

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

Is it possible to eat raw nopales?

Simply put, raw nopales are safe to eat. Raw Nopales are a popular addition to Green Smoothies in Mexico. Raw ones often have a slimy texture (baba) and aren't as tasty as cooked ones, though. You can try them raw by slicing them thinly and incorporating them into a salad. If you're interested, you can learn more about the raw Nopales salad we serve HERE.

Is it safe to eat cactus paddles?

Yes There are numerous positive effects of eating nopales on health. Fiber, vitamins A and C, and minerals like calcium and iron can all be found in abundance in these foods. In addition, they contain few calories and no fat.

The secret to non-slimy nopales

Cooking them in a copper cauldron, wrapping them in green tomatillo husks, or adding a tablespoon of baking soda to the water are just a few of the many methods used in Mexico.  

Cooking cactus pads thoroughly is the secret to preventing their sliminess. Cook them until they are soft, but not mushy; overcooking will make them tough.

So, how do nopales taste?

Their flavor has been likened to that of green beans, okra, and asparagus.

Cooking with Nopales: What You'll Need

Ingredients for making nopales are listed below.

  • Succulent cactus leaves known as nopales.
  • The husk of a tomatillo
  • Pure white onion
  • Intensely pungent garlic
  • Salt

Note: The recipe card is located at the end of this post and contains the exact amounts of the above ingredients.


A Word on Cooking:

  • If you've never cleaned Nopales before, To avoid pricking your fingers while handling nopales, use kitchen tongs or, better yet, gloves. When you're used to handling cactus paddles, you can go without gloves when cleaning them.

The Best Way to Prepare Nopales

This article will simplify the process of preparing nopales by providing step-by-step instructions.

Scrub the nopales

  • The cactus paddle should be trimmed by placing it on a cutting board and using a sharp knife to remove the outermost layer of the cactus.
  • You can remove the spines, thorns, or eyes by scraping them with a knife from back to front.
  • To complete the opposite side, flip the cactus paddles over.  
  • Care for the remaining nopales in the same way.
  • The last step is to return the cactus paddles to the clean cutting board after they have been rinsed.

Learn to clean the spines, thorns of the cactus paddles. Purifying Nopales

  • Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a medium-sized pot.
  • Sliver the cactus paddles.
  • The cactus, onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and tomatillo husk should be added to the boiling water.
  • Cover and simmer on medium heat for 6 to 8 minutes, or until tender.

Be aware that the cactus will produce a sticky substance and will likely foam. If you don't want the foam to overflow, this is where you need to focus your attention.

easy way to cook nopales

  • Drain and rewash the cactus after cooking.
  • Allow them to air dry or drain thoroughly.

As of right now, nopales can be used in any number of ways, including in salads, scrambled eggs, Mexican stews, etc.

Nopales (cactus paddles)

Cooking a large quantity of cactus paddles gives me the opportunity to experiment with new flavors.

The raw nopales salad is always my first choice. Nopales, tomatoes, onions, serrano peppers, queso fresco, avocados, and lime juice are all included in this dish. It's perfect for a fast lunch because it's filling without being heavy.

Healthy and easy nopales salad Salad with Mexican Nopales

These nopales and eggs are another favorite breakfast of mine. My husband loves a fresh, crusty bolillo with a side of refried beans for breakfast.

Nota bene: grilled nopales are delicious with melted cheese or in corn tortillas as tacos. After removing the spines, make 3–4 small cuts in each nopal and brush with olive oil before grilling for 3 minutes on each side over medium heat.  

Additional Traditional Mexican Dishes

The following are some other great traditional Mexican dishes to try if you like this cactus recipe so much:

Have fun cooking up some nopales to incorporate into your favorite dishes. Please report back with your results if you try this recipe. Share your thoughts and opinions with us by writing a comment below.

Be sure to follow Us on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest for more delicious recipe ideas! Please Stop By Mexico in My Kitchen if You Speak Spanish!

Have a good day


Mel Martnez

Preparing nopales for the first time is like opening a gift. This versatile Mexican staple is a staple in many different dishes. I'll show you the most common method of cooking them and suggest some tasty dishes that feature them. All of them can be prepared in a flash.

INSANELY IMPORTANT HINT: To avoid pricking your fingers while handling nopales, use kitchen tongs or, even better, gloves. After some practice with cactus paddles, you can try cleaning them without protection.

Spritz the Nopales

  • Set the cactus paddle down on the cutting board and use the knife to remove the sharp edge. In order to remove any remaining spines, thorns, or eyes, simply scrape them off by running your knife back and forth along the surface. To do the opposite, flip the cactus paddles over.
  • Just like before, do the same thing with the remaining cactus paddles. When you're done, return the cactus paddles to the clean surface of the cutting board.

Cactus paddles, in the oven.

  • Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a pot of suitable size.
  • Remove the spines from the cactus and slice the paddles into thin slices.
  • Add the cactus, onion, garlic, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to the boiling water. from the tomatillo shell and salt Prepare by boiling, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until fork-tender. A sticky substance and, often, foam will be exuded from the cactus; this step requires extra care to prevent the foam from overflowing.
  • The cactus should be drained and rinsed after cooking. Drain them thoroughly 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.


  • Mix the nopales with the tomato, onion, serrano pepper, and cilantro in a large bowl. Combine the components. Blend the lemon juice, olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper in a separate bowl. Mix this in with the nopales. Fresh cheese crumbles and avocado slices make a delicious salad topping. (The salad would also be delicious with radishes) Consume with tostadas or corn tortillas.


  • Put the oil in a skillet and heat it over medium heat. Stir in the chopped green onions and cook for an additional minute. Cook the nopales for 1-2 minutes after adding them. Cook the eggs until they are done, stirring occasionally. To taste, add salt.

Grilled nopales with melted cheese is another delicious option. 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 an oven-ready nopales Calories: 14 kcal Carbohydrates: 3 g Fiber: 2 g Sugar: 1 g

Do share your experience with us.

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