Salad: The humble nopal

Foodbuzz dinner

[donotprint]If you have been reading this blog for sometime you probably have noticed that I like simple foods. It’s not that I don’t make complicated dishes. But I think that simple and easy dishes can be as good and tasteful, sometimes even more, than eccentric and fancy ones.

And what gives simple foods an extraordinary flavor? Julia Child (my new heroine) said:

You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.

Yes, the key to great foods is fresh and flavorful ingredients. And when they are natural and nutritious ingredients the results are much better. There is a very humble, yet delicious and nutritious, vegetable that I’ve forgotten for a while. Maybe you’ve seen it or heard of it. It is a vegetable that has been cultivated for thousands of years in what is now known as the Mexico basin and that was very important in the diets of the indigenous peoples of that area. It is even part of the modern Mexican flag. I am talking about nopal.


What is nopal? Nopales are edible young cactus pads from the Opuntia species. They are mainly cultivated in the mountainous states that surround Mexico City, though the Spanish took them with them in the XV century and they’re now also cultivated in parts of the Mediterranean and North Africa. Nopal is also known as prickly pear and it can be bought fresh or canned. Many health benefits have been associated to this vegetable and some products in the form of pills, powder, drinks and even cosmetics made from nopal can be purchased.

I was surprised to find them at Whole Foods last time I was there. Many food memories came rushing down and I decided to make a salad that I hadn’t eaten in years. There are many other ways to eat them and I will post more recipes in the future. This salad is only my way of introducing this amazing vegetable to my readers, in case you didn’t know it existed or if, like me, you forgot about it.[/donotprint]

Nopalitos salad

For this recipe you will need:

  • 2 large nopal pads
  • ½ large onion, sliced
  • 2 fresh Roma tomatoes, cubed
  • 1 TBSP fresh chopped cilantro
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, deveind and chopped (optional for hotness)
  • 1 avocado, cubed
  • juice of one lime
  • salt


  1. Clean nopales with a peeler or a small paring knife. Make sure to remove all the thorns and nods paying special attention to the edges of the pads.
  2. Cut in bite size pieces and boil with onion for 20-25 minutes or until tender. Add salt to taste. Drain.
  3. Mix with the rest of the ingredients in a salad bowl and refrigerate until cool.
  4. Serve with your favorite dinner and enjoy.


This salad is easy to make, delicious and very healthy. Who said salads had to be boring?

Buen provecho!

[donotprint]Useful links for this post:
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  • This sounds fantastic, Ben, and since we have a couple of nopal cactus plants growing here in our yard (we live in the Mayan jungles of northern Guatemala) I think I will try this salad today. I have eaten the baby nopal pads right from the plant, but have never tried cooking with them. Thanks for the great recipe. I will be watching for more.

  • Mmm…I just visited my sister-in-law who is Mexican, and she make some salsa with nopales. It was so delicious I grilled her on it, how she cooks it, where (outside of the grocer) she gets her nopales, and what kind to pick. I can’t wait to try it myself.

    And this salad? Jeez. You know I love avocados. Absolutely delicious.

  • Iam enjoying your blog . In regards to nopales…I bought a jar of them thinking I would recreate a dish I had with them in a cream sauce. Any ideas for a recipe?

  • I have never had nopales. I will have to keep an eye out for them to try. The salad looks good!

  • I love love love nopales salad! Never tried with avocado tho! Looks yummy 😀

  • Hi Ben, I just tried this recipe yesterday and loved. I used a short cut. I bought my nopales in a jar, DONA MARIA brand. I used more cilantro, less tomatoes and it was delicious.

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