3 Ways to prepare cactus

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A fantastic Mexican ingredient to kick up your cuisine.

3 Ways to prepare cactus

More than likely, cactus (specifically nopales) are not something you've ever gone out of your way to eat, but maybe you should. You don't have to be too scared of them, it's not like you're eating the typical desert cactus with its hard exterior and lots and lots of spines. Instead, the nopales you find in supermarkets are the pods of the prickly pear cactus and feature a light tart/bitter flavor and high nutritional content.

So, if you like delicious ingredients that are good for you, go ahead and give cactus a try. However, if you've never had it before, go ahead and buy it fresh. It takes more effort, but the bottled and canned nopales have a much more bitter flavor and just aren't as good as fresh. Don't worry, though, we'll show you how to prep the fresh cactus for maximum enjoyability.

Preparing cactus for cooking

First, put on a pair of gloves to protect yourself from the spines. Then, using a sharp knife, peel the cactus and remove any needles. Cut it into 1/3- to 1/2-inch strips and boil for 15 minutes or until soft.

Now, how are you going to cook that cactus?

Nopales relleno

Yields 4 rellenos


  • 4 poblano peppers
  • Cooking spray
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 cup black beans
  • 2 cups prepared cactus
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese


  1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Slit the tip of poblano peppers and remove the seeds without tearing the pepper too much.
  3. Place them on a baking sheet that has been greased with cooking spray and bake for 15 minutes or until they soften.
  4. While the peppers are baking, pour the olive oil into a skillet and let them get hot over medium-high heat.
  5. Add the onions, garlic, and salt and sauté until the onions turn translucent.
  6. Add the cumin and ground beef and cook until the pink is gone from the beef.
  7. Add the black beans, nopales and tomato. Cook until hot.
  8. Mix in the cheese.
  9. Stuff the poblanos with the beef-cactus mixture and bake until the cheese is melted on the inside.

Nopales salsa

Yields about 2 cups of salsa


  • 2 cups prepared nopales
  • 3 tomatillos
  • 1 jalapeño
  • 1 Vidalia onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • Salt to taste
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • 1 cup cilantro


  1. Put all ingredients into a blender and pulse until they have reached the desired consistency.

Nopales stir fry

Yields 4 servings

Nopales are great in more than just Mexican cuisine.


  • 4 tablespoons olive oil or peanut oil
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
  • Salt
  • 2 chicken breasts, sliced thin
  • 1 cup prepared nopales
  • 2 eggs, scrambled
  • 3 cups day old rice
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 4 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 cup chicken broth


  1. In a skillet or wok over high heat, add the two oils and let them get very hot. When hot, add the onion, ginger and a pinch of salt.
  2. After about 4 minutes, add the chicken and nopales and sauté until the chicken is cooked all the way through.
  3. Push the onions, chicken, and cactus to the sides of the wok and add the eggs.
  4. Cook the eggs until they are no longer runny and add the rice and garlic powder.
  5. Stir the rice so that it starts to cook.
  6. Add the soy sauce and about half the chicken broth.
  7. The rice should start to plump. If not all of the rice does, however, add more broth.
  8. Once the rice is hot, serve.

More cactus!

Nopalitos (cactus) salad
Texas traditions gourmet foods
3 Egg roll recipes with a twist