Here in southern Mexico nopal cactus is part of the landscape. It is good to eat, too. Very nutritious, high in vitamin C, experts say it has other health benefits like reducing cholesterol, controlling diabetes, and preventing hangovers.
Plus, it’s that stunning visual treat of Green, White and Red, symbolic of Mexico and her flag.
Since I live in the campo, nopal cactus is abundant. A friend brings me a small package of baby-size paddles periodically and I also buy them in the village market. I just planted some Opuntia ficus-indica next to the casita. You stick the mature paddle about 2″ into the earth and it becomes a fence or sustenance.
I sometimes add Julienne or diced nopal to a vegetable soup stock for flavor and thickening. It has a consistency like okra. The process I use below gets rid of the slime.
I call this Nopal Ceviche because the cactus is “cooked” in salt and lime juice. No heat necessary. In fact, this way, the nopal retains its crunchiness and healthfulness. Believe me, you will love it. The trick is to find small nopal paddles in the U.S. I’m lucky. I get mine already de-spined and cleaned.
Mexican Flag Nopal Cactus Salad or Nopal Ceviche
- 15-20 small cactus paddles, about 4″ long and 2″ wide
- 3 large plum tomatoes
- 4-6 young onions, small
- 3 cloves garlic
- 2 T. sea salt
- juice of one large lime
- 1/4 c. EVOO (extra virgin olive oil)
- optional: 3 T. diced cilantro and the flesh of 1 small avocado, diced
Nopal cactus paddles: First slice the paddles lengthwise into approx. 1/2″ cuts. Then, cut crosswise into 3/8″ to 1/2″ dices. You should have about 1-1/2 C. of diced nopal. Put into bowl. Sprinkle with sea salt. Set aside for 20-30 minutes.
Tomatoes, Onions, Garlic: Wash and clean the tomatoes. (Here in Oaxaca, I clean tomatoes, and all vegetables, by immersing them in a bowl of purified water into which I have added three sprays of biodegradable anti-bacterial disinfectant.) Dice tomatoes using a serrated knife into 3/8 to 1/2″ pieces. Add to a second bowl. Keep the juice. Dice onions to same size. Add to tomatoes. Gently smash the garlic cloves with side of a chef’s knife or Chinese cleaver. Peel skin. Dice into 1/8″ cuts. Add to this tomato/onion mixture. Set aside.
Rinsing the Nopal: Here in Oaxaca, in fact all of Mexico, we use purified bottled water. I use this to rinse the nopal after it has “cooked” in the salt. You won’t have to do this in the U.S. I add water to the nopal, stir, and pour the water out through a colander. I do this 4 times until the thick, mucous-like water begins to run clear and thin. Shake the colander to release all the liquid. If you wish, pat the nopal dry with a paper towel.
Combining Ingredients: In a large bowl, combine the rinsed nopal with the tomatoes, onions, and garlic. Toss. Add the fresh squeezed lime juice. If you want it less tart, reduce the amount of juice. Taste. Add more salt if needed. Add olive oil, and stir. Now, you can add the cilantro and avocado, if you like.
Refrigerate until ready to serve. Will hold for 24 hours covered in the refrigerator.
Serve with fresh tortillas or crispy tortilla chips.