Nopales or in English young tender pads of the Prickly Pear cactus. They are tasty and reported to have several health benefits. These include stabilizing blood sugar and are have anti-inflammatory effects. Nopales are also high in fiber, antioxidants, and carotenoids and help with hangovers. To read more about the health benefits, check out this article by the Mayo Clinic.
Nopales are also a Keto-friendly vegetable. The benefits keep adding up, but all that I care about is they taste good. They are also very versatile; in Agua Prieta, Mexico, I was served a huarache using a Nopal instead of masa dough. Think of it as a taco served on a cooked cactus pad.
Nopales for consumption are harvested from new growth so that they will be tender. After harvesting, the spines have to be removed, and the tough edges cut off. This video shows you how to harvest and prepare them.
Usually, when you find them in the store, the spines are already removed. But ALWAYS look for the spines. I picked up one in a grocery store in Tucson, AZ, one time and got a sharp surprise. Just look and be careful.
They are usually best during the spring growing season. They freeze really well. If you see some that look good or have extras, cut them up, blanch in boiling water for one to two minutes, and then go straight into an ice bath. After they are cool, drain and let dry. Put them in freezer bags and put them into the freezer for up to six months.
For today’s recipe, we will use the nopales that are already cut up. The whole ones will get used for something else.
To cook the cut-up nopales, add them to a pot of water. Bring to a slow boil and cook until tender (texture like green beans). Remove from the heat strain, and rinse with cold water. At this point, you can store them in the refrigerator for a day or two or even freeze them.
When boiling them, you can add garlic, onion, or salt. But since the salsa will have everything, we will not add anything.
Guajillo chili. Mildly but adds a nice earthy flavor. They are dried Mirasol chilies.
Chili de Arbol or tree chiles. These little guys bring the heat. So keep that in mind when deciding how many to add.
Fresh serrano peppers: They also bring some heat but are quite tasty.
Onion: Cause onion.
Tomatoes: We are using roma tomatoes since they are consistent year-round. They bring some acid and bulk to the salsa.
Chicken flavored bouillon; I am using a vegan one from Orrington Farms.
Nopales or cactus paddles. Texture is similar to green beans. Taste is kind of cross between green beans and okra.
Chorizo. I am using soy chorizo, this one was bought from HEB. But my favorite is from Trader Joes.
Garlic. We used fresh garlic but did not show it in the picture.
Some cooking oil. As I have mentioned a few times, my go-to neutral cooking oil is expeller pressed safflower oil. I also cook with cold-pressed olive oil.
Lets make our red salsa.
First, use scissors to cut off the Arbol and guajillo chilies’ stems, remove the seeds unless you want the salsa to be really spicy. I am mainly after flavor, and the seeds can be bitter after blending, so I remove most of them. You should also remove the stems from the serranos, but I did that after boiling.
Then to a pot of water, add the tomatoes, onion, Arbol, serrano, and guajillo chilies. Bring the pot of water almost to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and let sit for five minutes. This rehydrates the dried chiles and softens the other veggies.
To a blender, add the tomatoes, salt, bouillon, 1/4 cup water, onion, Arbol, serrano, and guajillo chilies. And blend until smooth. I used a Breville Immersion Blender; this thing is potent and takes no time to blend. If your blender is not powerful, you may need to strain out the bits of skin, etc.
This salsa can definitely be made ahead of time. Even a few days in the refrigerator is not a problem.
Now that the nopales are almost cooked and the salsa is ready, it’s time to start cooking.
To a pan on medium heat add two tablespoons of oil.
When the oil is hot, add the soy chorizo and start to cook. As it cooks, use a spoon or spatula to break up the chorizo into small pieces. After about two minutes, add the garlic. Continue to cook until the chorizo starts to get some color.
After the chorizo has some color, add the nopales and the salsa. Turn the heat down to low, cover, and simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes. Every five minutes or so, remove the lid and stir. You can cook this faster, but it does turn out better when you cook it low and slow.
After fifteen minutes, remove the lid and cook until the sauce is as thick as you like. At this point, you will need to watch it to keep it from drying out and burning.
This is what it looked like when I removed it from the stove.
Plate it up and serve with tortillas and beans.
- 1 pound nopales Cactus paddles
- 2 Tablespoons Oil
- 2 cloves garlic finely diced
- 3 Roma tomatoes
- 3 Arbol chilies dried
- 2 serrano peppers fresh
- 1 guajillo chili dried
- 1/2 onion medium
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon bouillon Vegan chicken flavor
- 1/4 Cup water
Prepare the Nopales
- If needed remove the spines (thorns) and cut up.
- Add the nopales to a pot of water and cook until almost tender. (mine took 15 minutes)
- Drain into a colander and rinse with cold water.
- Set aside
Make the Salsa
- Use scissors to cut off the stems of the Arbol and guajillo chilies, remove the seeds
- To a pot of water add the tomatoes, onion, arbol, serrano and guajillo chilies.
- Bring the pot of water almost to a boil. Remove from the heat, cover and let sit for five minutes
- To a blender add the tomatoes, salt, bouillon, 1/4 cup water, onion, arbol, serrano and guajillo chilies.
- Blend until smooth. Set aside
- To a pan on medium heat add two tablespoons of oil.
- Add the soy chorizo.
- As the chorizo cooks use a spoon to break it up.
- After two minutes add the diced garlic.
- After the chorizo starts to get some color (around five minutes) add the nopales and the salsa.
- Turn the heat down to low, cover and simmer for fifteen to twenty minutes. Every five minutes remove the lid and stir.
- After fifteen minutes remove the lid and cook until the sauce is as thick as you like.
- The dish is now ready to serve.