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Cactus leaves salad/Ensalada de nopales

This is an authentic Mexican cactus leaves salad or ensalada de nopales, as it is called in Spanish. Nopales are a staple in the Mexican cuisine and wildly used in salsas, salads or stews.

Ensalada de nopales just may be the perfect salad. It’s aromatic and delicious, very nutritious, and easy to make. It can be served in a variety of ways, from stand-alone appetizer to side dish to (for example) plain grilled meats, to the main dish when used as a topping for Mexican tostadas.

Nowadays, jars of chopped, cooked nopales are relatively easy to find at Tienda Movil.

Like green beans and okra, nopalitos love being paired with tomatoes and onions. This classic Mexican salad is sort of like a hefty pico de gallo mixed in with nopalitos.

Note: If using canned nopalitos, just drain them and mix them in with the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients. No need to cook them as they are already cooked.


  • 1 tomato, chopped

  • 1 small white onion, or purple onion, chopped

  • 2 cups chopped nopales, jarred or cooked fresh

  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro, leaves and stems

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

  • 2 tablespoons Mexican lime juice, freshly squeezed

  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

  • Queso Fresco, crumbled, for garnish

  • Onion, thinly sliced, for garnish

  • Avocado, sliced, for garnish

Steps to make it

1. Blanch and rinse nopalitos:

Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the nopalitos, return to a rolling boil and cook for 1 minute. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Rinse with water for 1 minute.

2. Toss with remaining ingredients:

Place rinsed and drained nopalitos in a bowl with the chopped tomatoes, radishes, and onion. Toss with lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Fold in cilantro.

To Use Fresh Nopales:

If you are able to find fresh nopal cactus pads, buy them with the spines already removed by the vendor. Many people prefer the smaller, thinner, younger pads because they tend to be more tender, but cactus pads of any size will work. Rinse them off, then cut into long strips about a half-inch wide.

Place cactus pieces into a pan (choose one that seems a little large for the amount of cactus it contains so that there will be plenty of “headroom”) and cover with water. Boil gently for about 20 minutes or until all of the cactus pieces have changed from a bright green to an olive green color and are tender. The nopales will let loose quite a bit of viscous liquid in a way similar to how okra does when it is cooked.

Once cooked, strain the nopales and rinse under running water until most of the slippery substance has washed away. (Any remaining “slime” is completely harmless). Use cooked nopales in the same way you would use cactus pieces from a jar.

I hope you enjoy this healthy salad!


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