Cooking Up a Storm: Oaxaca Potato Salad with Nopal Cactus

It’s the rainy season here. Thus, Cooking Up a Storm! This week I made two different traditional outdoor grills on the anafre (a Spanish word of Arabic origin, as so many are) — one day was chicken thighs, nopal paddles, potatoes, onions and garlic. A few days later, pork loin that marinated for three days in my extra special made-up, homemade marinade. Nopal is filled with health benefits. I buy my meat in the Teotitlan market from Carneceria Teoti.

You can see these photos on my Facebook page. The results, both times, were yummy. I used mesquite charcoal to give off a smoked flavor, and also local pine wood for fuel. (I learned these techniques from my neighbors.)

Meat and potatoes in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca

Yesterday was Tlacolula Market day. I bought a large bag of about 20 small, red, organic potatoes for 10 pesos. That’s 52 cents. Maybe two pounds worth. A bunch of fresh spring onions, also 10 pesos. A bag of cleaned baby nopal paddles (spines removed). Ten paddles were 10 pesos. Lots of things get sold in bunches of 10 pesos! It’s easy to eat here at home for about $35 USD per week. I had the garlic cloves at home.

Spring onions or baby onions on the comal, low heat

I was going to grill all the ingredients, but decided it would be quicker to just boil the potatoes. That’s when I decided, Why not potato salad? Some of you know that a long, long time ago in another land far away, I used to own a gourmet cookware shop and cooking school. I still carry those cooking genes and yearnings with me in an improvisational sense. I like to cook based on what’s available and what inspires me. In Oaxaca, it is a dream come true.

Nopal cactus paddles, cleaned, drained, before cooking

So, here is the RECIPE for OAXACA POTATO SALAD WITH NOPAL CACTUS

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of small red-skinned potatoes
  • 1 garlic bulb, whole, cleaned and trimmed, stalk and roots removed
  • 2 T. salt
  • 6-8 small nopal cactus paddles, spines removed
  • bunch of spring onions, cleaned and trimmed
  • 1 to 2 T. grainy mustard
  • 1/2 C. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the onions like this …

Utensils:

  • 4 quart saucepan filled with water
  • Metal comal for stove-top searing/grilling
  • Long metal tongs
  • Some bowls, a knife, a cutting board
Before combining ingredients and adding dressing

Note: If you are in Mexico, you first want to disinfect all the veggies. (Even the locals do this.) This means ALL fresh fruit and vegetables; it is essential for good gut health. That means soaking the vegetables in 8 drops of Microdyne per liter of water for at least 15 minutes. (Sometimes, with lettuces and chard, I do this process twice.) This food processing takes time and no short cuts allowed. It is not a convenient part of living here, but the quality of the food makes up for it.

Instructions:

First, soak the nopal paddles in a bowl of salt water for 30 minutes. Use enough water to cover the nopal. Use at least 2 T. salt. This pulls the slime out of the nopal. Remove and drain.

Bring water to a boil. Add salt. Add potatoes and garlic bulb. Cook until potatoes are soft. You can test this with a wood skewer or fork. Remove and drain in a colander. Cool to room temperature. Peel the garlic cloves. Skin will remove easily.

Nopal paddles on the comal turning from bright to olive green

Heat the comal on the stove top. This is dry grilling. Do not add oil. Place the onions on the comal and cook, turning at regular intervals with metal tongs until bulb is soft. Do not burn. Remove and reserve until cool. Chop green stems and cut bulbs in half.

Cuts of the nopal cactus paddle after grilling

Add nopal paddles to hot comal. As they cook and sear, they will turn from bright to olive green. They are completely cooked when the entire paddle is olive green. Remove and cool. Cut into strips and cut again into 1/4 to 1/2 inch cubes.

Olive oil, NOT Gin Mezcal, gracias a dios!

Combine potatoes, onions, and nopal cactus in a bowl.

Mix the salad dressing together: oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper. You can add a few tablespoons of water to thin the mixture if you like. Pour over the mixed veggies and toss all ingredients together. Correct the seasoning adding salt and pepper as needed.

Potato salad, dressed and ready to refrigerate — or eat!

Serve immediately at room temperature or refrigerate. Will keep for two days. Serves 6 to 8 people.

2 responses to “Cooking Up a Storm: Oaxaca Potato Salad with Nopal Cactus

  1. Looks wonderful
    Brenda

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