You may be surprised to learn that cactus is a staple food in certain parts of the world. One variety, Nopales (also know as Prickly Pear or Paddle Cactus) originated in Mexico and is almost synonymous with the Sonoran Desert but has adapted to locales as far reaching as Australia, Tunisia, and the Galapagos Islands.
For years I resisted cooking with this versatile food, preferring to feed it to my iguana (note: iguana LOVE nopales) before I faced my fear of the spiny thorns, thanks to a chef and about ten cases of cactus. You can read about that experience here. Both the paddles (leaves) and fruit of this plant are tasty. It is easy to try it yourself, just pick a method of preparation: juiced, jammed, brined, canned, sauteed, and, yes, grilled.
This nopales salsa recipe is adapted from Chef Rick Bayless, host of “Mexico, One Plate at a Time” and owner of Frontera Restaurant in Chicago, Illinois. It uses the paddles of the cactus, not the fruit. I did add my own spin, creating my version.
I’ve provided the link to his recipe in case you want to compare the two. The biggest difference is the amount. I typically only cook for two people. If you are cooking for a crowd I recommend doubling or even tripling this recipe!
Check out the video below to see just how easy it is to scale and grill nopales.
- 3-4 nopales, thorns removed and grilled
- 4 vine ripe tomatoes, grilled
- 1 poblano chile, grilled
- 2 jalapenos, grilled
- 3 bulb onions (mexican onions)
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- ¼ cup lime juice, fresh
- 2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp cilantro, minced
- Prepare the nopales by scraping off the thorns and trimming the edges.
- Grill the nopales until they show grill marks. Depending on the thickness of the paddle, this shouldn't take long.
- Grill the rest of the vegetables until they are slightly blackened on the outside.
- Remove from grill and let the vegetables cool down.
- Chop up the nopales. Puree the tomatoes, chilies, and onions in a food processor.
- Mix all the vegetables together with the vinegar, lime juice and salt.
- Add the cilantro at the end.
- Serve at your next gathering mixed in with quinoa, or as a dipping salsa.