Nopales (Grilled Cactus Paddles)

30 Apr

With spring upon us, I’ve been looking to expand my grilling options. The idea of cooking and eating a cactus might sound intimidating, but the reality is much simpler than you’d think. All you have to do is scrape off their thorns, and grill them – it’s that easy.

Nopales are the paddles of oputina (prickly pear) cactus, commonly found in Mexico. They are a common vegetable in Mexico, and taste a little like green beans, but slightly more acidic. They are a great addition to grilled meat dishes, or tasty just on their own. They are also often sliced/diced and served with eggs or in salads.

Serves four

6-8 nopales
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 tsp each salt and pepper

Using a sharp knife, hold the nopales by its stem and scrape off its thorns. Then hold it on the other side and scrape down its stem until you get to the soft part. Rinse and pat dry.

Brush the oil onto the nopales, and sprinkle on the salt and pepper. Grill on direct, medium heat, and flip once it is slightly charred, about two minutes. Grill for another two minutes – you’ll know they’re ready when they are soft and dark green. Slice and serve.

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19 Responses to “Nopales (Grilled Cactus Paddles)”

  1. justagirlfromaamchimumbai April 30, 2013 at 11:04 am #

    Have never tasted a cactus before. Although I can totally imagine this in a salsa with some mangoes :) you got me thinking . . .

  2. Gina April 30, 2013 at 11:44 am #

    Even before we started on Paleo, nopales were part of our diet. Grilled them, chop them, add chopped onion, cilantro, a pinch of salt and few drops of lime juice and you have a tasty nopales salad!

  3. mjohnson9706 April 30, 2013 at 12:28 pm #

    I love nopales, but only ever have them grilled when dining out. We will have to try them at home now, thanks for the recipe :)

  4. yanniesaurus April 30, 2013 at 8:08 pm #

    We have prickly pear here in Australia (not sure if it is the same one..) but I know that maltese farmers used it as a wind breaker for there crops. So, they start to fruit, my nuna and nunu (Grandma and Granddad) always have the fruit frozen in the freezer, and we eat them like Iceblocks! I would have never thought to eat the paddles..

  5. Lindsey April 30, 2013 at 9:09 pm #

    I have made this once. I found it much harder to do at home than I expected. I didn’t care for it either. Did you like it?

  6. Be Brain Fit (@BeBrainFit) May 1, 2013 at 12:28 am #

    Another way to get rid of the thorns on the pads and prickly pear fruit is to wave it over a flame, like on a gas stove. Oddly, nopales are also called “tunas” but have nothing to do with fish. I live in Tucson and prickly pear cactus are a common site in the wild and in gardens. This time of year they have yellow, orange, and pink flowers – gorgeous!

    • Susan Thomas May 3, 2013 at 12:26 am #

      I’ve always wondered what people did with these. This sounds interesting!

    • Marianne June 14, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      “Tunas” are actually the fruit of the prickly pear cactus. You take off the outside peel and eat the sweet flesh inside, preferrably chilled (careful with the seeds..). Nopales refers to the pads of the same plants.

  7. sisterecipes May 6, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    I am from Canada and this sounds interesting and delicious. I don`t know I could purchase these to grill around here but I would sure love to try it.

  8. Lanni Fish May 7, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    Nopales are delicious when properly prepared, and highly nutritious. Just for the record, “nopales” is plural. One paddle is a nopal. One nopal, two nopales. Also, the “tuna” someone mentioned refers to the fat little globe-shaped fruit that appears after the beautiful flowers fade. That little fruit is where the common name “prickly pear” came from. The pears, or tunas, are quite tasty, and can be purchased in some ethnic grocery stores, just as you can buy nopales – usually already cleaned and dethorned for you.

    • Gina May 8, 2013 at 12:14 am #

      Tunas are delicious fruit. Just clean them carefully, put them in the fridge for a quick ‘cool’ time and they are ready to eat!

  9. Chels May 20, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    <3 you for writing a post about the glorious nopal! Nopales are very common in most Mexican/Mexican American households you can add them to almost anything. I <3 them with eggs, you can soak them in lemon/lime and salt and add them to a salsa, add to stews, meats whatever your heart desires. If you don't want to clean them most latino markets, at least here on the West Coast, sell pre-cut cleaned nopales in the refrigerated vegetable section.

  10. meatified May 21, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    I was looking at some of these in the store the other day – I’m totally going to try this out when it’s warm enough to get the grill out!

  11. Deena Kakaya September 7, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    I tried cactus at a Mexican restaurant first and was pleasantly surprised.. Reminded me of gherkin, great to see people writing about it x

  12. Alison January 10, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

    We eat Nopale Salsa quite often, delicious.

  13. Sterling March 22, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    I heard a story on NPR tonight and thus the reason I found this on the internet. The expert advised that cactus paddles are chock full of anti-oxidants, loaded with vitamin C, are a good source of fiber and that since I live in Texas and have two ranches, I’M GONNA BE FILTHY RICH :) The NPR piece also stated that paddle cactus is very good for people having issues with blood sugar problems.


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