Nopal is from the Nahuatl word nohpalli for the pads of the cactus plant. There are over 100 known species of cactus in Mexico. The nopal pads are eaten raw, cooked and even grilled. They are used in stews, soups, jams and salads.
The best way to start this classic Mexican salad is to buy fresh cactus pads at a Latin American or Mexican supermarket. Here’s what a cactus pad or nopal looks like (don’t forget to buy this with thorns removed!):
Since nopales are abundant in Vitamin C and Manganese, you’ll enjoy a cactus salad that is delicious and good for you. Buen provecho!
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Serves: 4 to 6
6 to 8 nopales (cactus leaves), thorns removed
½ of a brown or white onion
3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
½ of a red onion
2 medium, vine-ripened tomatoes
1 Serrano or Jalapeño chile
1 cup loosely-packed cilantro leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
salt, to taste
1. Working on a chopping board, cut the cactus leaves into ¼-inch thick strips.
2. Cut the strips into ¼-inch pieces; set aside in a bowl.
3. In a 4-quart saucepot, bring water to a boil. Add half of the brown or white onion and garlic cloves to water; boil for 3 to 5 minutes.
4. Add chopped nopales to the onion-garlic water; cook on medium, uncovered, for 5 minutes or until the green color has become lighter.
5. After 5 minutes, add ¾ teaspoon salt and taste a few nopal pieces – the texture should be crunchy-tender, not overcooked.
6. Place a colander in sink and drain the nopales. Run cold water through nopales; set aside in colander set over a bowl to drain.
Prepare Remaining Salad Ingredients:
1. Finely chop red onion and place it in a bowl, covered with cold water; set aside.
2. Cut each tomato in half; scoop out and discard the pulp.
3. Cut tomato flesh into ¼-inch strips; cut each strip into 1/4-inch pieces.
4. Place chopped tomatoes in a 2-quart glass or porcelain bowl.
5. Add drained nopales to the tomatoes in bowl.
6. Lift chopped onion out of water; squeeze out the excess water. Add onion to nopales mixture in bowl.
7. Finely chop Serrano or Jalapeño chile; add it to the nopales mixture in bowl.
8. Rinse cilantro in cold water and finely chop it; add cilantro to nopales salad.
9. Stir in the extra virgin olive oil with about ½ teaspoon salt; taste salad and adjust seasonings. Serve immediately.
Text & Cactus Salad Photograph ©2017 Nancy DeLucia Real