Ensalada De Nopales (Cactus Salad)
Nopales or Cactus is a very common vegetable in Mexican cuisine. Both the prickly paddles and the prickly pear can be eaten. The paddles can be eaten cooked or raw and the pear (fruit) is eaten raw. In this recipe we will be using the cactus paddles to make a nutritious salad that can be enjoyed both warm or cold.
Nopales grow wild all throughout America and have been a food staple for the Natives for hundreds of years. Their flavor can be described as slightly tart and citrusy; and their texture is crisp and gelatinous. The jelly-like-feel can be compared to that of Okra.
Cactus is very nutrient and mineral dense, low in calories and cholesterol, and has been found to aid health in numerous ways. A source of fiber, potassium, iron, phytochemicals and many other minerals and nutrients means that cacti has been found to improve digestion and metabolism, aid in weight loss and improve skin's appearance. Cacti also increases bone mineral density and improves sleep, reduces inflammation, lowers blood glucose level helping manage diabetes, helps treat gastric ulcers and has been shown to have anticancer effects.
Cleaning the Nopales:
Nopales are spiky and slimy! Be careful when handling them but don't be afraid, just take your time if it's your first time working with them.
Cactus can be found in various ways: (1) whole, (2) whole, despined, (3) chopped, (4) jarred or (5) canned. This recipe calls for nopales like the ones I chopped up here. I will go through the cleaning process incase you found them whole with spines.
Option to wear gloves
Rinse the cactus under cold running water.
Carefully hold the cactus down firmly on a cutting board and cut about 1/4 inch off the edge, or just enough to remove the spines.
With that same knife or a vegetable peeler, shave off the rest of the spines on the paddle. I hold the knife close to parallel and flush to the cactus and move the knife away from my body. Try to keep as much of the outer, dark green layer as you can.
Rinse again, checking for spines that may have gotten away. When done, they should look something like the picture below
4 pounds nopales, (squared/chopped)
305 grams or 3 roma tomatoes, (chopped)
115 grams or ½ Onion, (chopped)
1 garlic clove, (minced)
1 teaspoon Kosher salt and a lot more to cover (maybe 1/4 cup)
40 grams or 1/2 a bundle of cilantro
1. Chop the cactus into small squares (see above cleaning instructions if needed), place them in a colander and cover them with a generous amount of salt to help remove the cactus slime. Mix in the salt and leave them to draining for about 20 minutes.
2. In the meantime, chop the onion, garlic, tomatoes and cilantro and put them on the side in separate containers.
3. In a large 8 quart pot boil enough water to generously cover the nopales.
4. If it's been 20 minutes since you salted the cactus, go ahead and rinse them off under cold running water for about 3 minutes to remove as much of the cactus slime as possible.
5. Boil the cactus for 15 minutes. Drain, rinse and let them sit for another 15 minutes to allow the remaining slime to drip off.
6. Place the same pot over medium-low heat, add a teaspoon of cooking oil and add the chopped onion. Move it around until it becomes translucent or for about 4 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and stir constantly until fragrant or for another 2 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and let them cook for another 4 minutes.
7. Finally, add the drained cactus squares and cilantro and give it a good mix. Turn the burner off.
The salad is ready to serve. It can be eaten warm or cold. You can serve it by itself, with tortilla chips, on a tostada, in a taco, a stir fry or in a burrito with black beans and rice. The possibilities are endless.