Nopales: Those prickly pear cactus leaves you see in the market when the season's right…yet you're clueless how to get past the, well, prickly part. Have no fear! These docile lil’ leaves won’t harm you if you treat ‘em right. In fact, they’ll offer you their deliciously light and slightly tart flavor! While nopales can be prepared a number of ways from pickling to steaming, today we’ll teach you how to sauté them for a quick addition to your favorite dishes.
Step 1: Choosing Nopales
When selecting nopales, you want to find leaves that are firm and have a nice green color to them. Some stores sell them de-spined and de-burred (the tiny spines that remain after the larger spines have been removed), but generally you’ll find them with the burrs still in tact (seen here). Take care when handling them!
Step 2: Preparing Nopales
If you purchase nopales with their burrs still intact, you will need to remove them before cooking (unless you want them to bite back!). To do this, first put on dishwashing or similar gloves to avoid pricking yourself. Then, use a knife to “peal” the leaf and scrape its flat sides to remove the spines. Finish the job cutting around the pad’s perimeter to remove any remaining needles.
Step 3: Cooking Nopales
Nopales are quite similar in consistency to green bell peppers, aside from their squishy okra-like texture. As such, you can prepare them as you would a pepper, though you must be sure to cook off the “goop” the leaves emit once heated. Simply dice the leaves, heat up some oil in a pan (with onions, cumin, and salt and pepper if you’re craving something tasty), and sauté over medium heat. Add some vinegar or lime juice to help break up the mucus. After the nopales have exuded all of their viscous liquid and it is completely evaporated, the cactus is done!
Step 4: Enjoy!
One way to enjoy nopales is con huevos. With their tangy flavor, they do exceptionally well served alongside scrambled eggs as a side or incorporated into a frittata or omelet. Since nopales are loaded with iron, Beta Carotene, and Vitamins B and C, they are a fantastic addition to your well-balanced breakfast!