Have you ever wondered how to cook nopales? Yes, those cactus leaves you’ve seen at the store are totally edible and delicious! Let’s make nopales together! We’re walking you through how to make nopales, with step by step photos to help you tackle this intimidating (but delicious) Mexican dish.
I love to cook new foods, especially new produce. There’s just something about learning more about food in general, as well as new cultures, that I just love! I learned how to cook nopales after seeing them in the Mexican grocery store. They may look intimidating, but are well worth the effort.
Cooking nopales is a fun way to add a new veggie to dishes like omelettes, vegetable fajitas, or alongside your other vegetarian Mexican recipes. Their crunch is irresistible and they will complement any flavors you throw at them. This would be a fun one to serve at a gathering where you can introduce all of your friends to this fun new ingredient. Keep a few cactus leaves whole as decor for the party and the perfect conversation piece.
“This makes the best summer salad. Just add equal amounts of tomatoes, half cup diced onions. I squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper to taste!” —Cory
Ingredients for Nopales
Just one – nopales! The texture is akin to a bell pepper with that perfect crispy snap. Yes, you do need to remove those spines so be careful when you pick them up! Grocery stores will usually provide tongs for handling the cactus.
Some reasons why you should try out noplales:
- Nopales is budget-friendly, usually priced around $0.50 per pound.
- Nopales is healthy, being low in calories, high in fiber, and full of vitamins and minerals.
- Nopales is fun. I mean, cactus for dinner? How cool is that?!
Where Do You Buy Nopales?
If you have a large grocery store with a varied produce section, you might get lucky and find these with other interesting items. However, your best bet is to find a local Mexican market where you can snag these beauties in the produce aisle.
How to Cook Cactus Leaves
There are some extra steps, but learning how to cook nopales is so worth the fun flavor and texture. I’ll walk you through how to prepare this fun veggie.
Step 1: Trim Edge
Carefully hold the leaf with tongs while you slice off the outermost edge. It’s best to just use a knife to slice this away to get a clean, safe edge.
Step 2: Remove Thorns
This step makes me think of slicing a fresh pineapple – run your knife perpendicular to the leaf to remove the thorns without too much flesh coming off.
Step 3: Rinse
Rinse well and make sure all the spiky thorns are off, as well as the little micro needles that can be hard to spot.
Step 4: Slice
Slice into strips or dice into cubes. The longer strips would act just like bell peppers in fajitas. I like to dice for nopales tacos as it’s easier to fit in taco shells.
Step 5: Boil
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, add the cut nopales, and cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until tender.
Step 6: Rinse
Strain and rinse the cooked nopales. They can get a bit of a slimy texture similar to okra, and rinsing will help this.
Step 7: Serve
Enjoy these as-is or add to your favorite recipes with lots of seasoning. At this point, they’re great sautéed!
Meal Prep: Go ahead and cook, rinse, and dry these cooked nopales. Then freeze just like you would peppers and onions.
Storage: Cook these ahead and place them in an airtight container for 3 days or so in the fridge. This way you can add some to any meal.
Taco Tuesday Any Day!
Nopales are a great veggie on their own, but they also work wonderfully in many recipes.
- Vegetable Fajitas are perfect for nopales. Add them to the recipe for extra or substitute out any peppers.
- Taco Soup is great for adding nopales! It’s especially easy to just add frozen, pre-cooked and diced nopales straight to the simmering pot.
- Sweet Potato Black Bean Tacos have lots of textures already, so adding one more crunchy bite is fun!
- 2 cactus leaves
- Trim Edge: Using tongs to hold the cactus leaf, lay it on a flat surface and trim off the entire perimeter of the leaf.
- Remove Thorns: Turn your knife perpendicular to the cactus leaf and cut off each of the spikes and raised brown bumps, keeping as much of the cactus skin intact as possible.
- Rinse: Rinse the leaf well, ensuring there are no more spikes on it.
- Slice: Slice the cactus leaf into either strips or cubes.
- Boil: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add cactus, cover, and let simmer until tender, about 8 to 10 minutes.
- Rinse: Strain the cactus from the water and rinse again to remove any sliminess.
- Serve: From here you can serve the nopales, or saute them into a number of other dishes, like fajitas, tacos, or with eggs!