Saturday, September 08, 2007

N is for Nopales

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“If you want to know where nopales come from,imagine the cacti in cartoons. They are like the ones with the huge Bugs Bunny ears.”
My nopales therapy session took place on the telephone with a Mexican food wholesaler. There I was kneeling on the kitchen floor, surrounded by an array of phone directories pursuing an edible cactus. I hadn’t even got dressed yet. Finally I had found someone kind enough to give me a free thumbnail sketch of nopales.
Nopales have been giving me a lot of trouble.
I have marched round countless supermarkets. I have scoured the Mexican food aisles.Store managers have looked at me as if I am one nacho short of a full mexican picnic. In the end, it is the phone book that rescued me. But my Mexican food wholesaler had saved me from failure. “I’m afraid we can’t sell you any fresh nopales. We used to stock it but no one was buying it. But you can come along and buy some pickled nopalitos in jars.”
So on the way back from work I picked up my jar of nopalitos. Nopal means cactus in Spanish and nopales (no-PAH-les) are cactus stems. Getting ever more diminutive, the nopalitos are the cactus pads once they have been cut up and prepared. And that is what I brought home.
“What are we having for supper?” asked Freddie.
“A bit of cactus," I replied.
Freddie, who has eaten nettles, horseradish and seaweed was impressed. I reassured him that there would be no thorns to remove. Not knowing quite what to do with our nopalitos, I made Tacos with Mexican chilli beef, on which we scattered our nopalitos. I can’t help thinking it would be more exciting to try it fresh but until then we can recommend trying them from a jar. They have a firm succulent texture and are mild tasting. Freddie rated this meal 8 out of 10.

Serves 4
500g lean minced beef
400g can of chopped tomatoes
1 green pepper, finely chopped
3 tbsp tomato paste
1.5 tsp of smoky sweet mild Spanish chilli powder or mexican spice mix
2 small pieces of dark chocolate
1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
6-8 Tacos

To fill Taco
Sour cream
Shredded lettuce

Finely chop the onion. Cut off the stalk of the green pepper, cut in half, deseed and finely cut. In a large pan heat a tbsp of oil and fry the pepper and onion for 2 minutes. Add the beef and the mild chilli powder. We buy something called “Smoky Sweet Chilli Powder” but you can use a mexican spice mix. Stir the beef with the onion and pepper on a medium hot heat for 8 minutes. Add the tinned tomatoes and tomato puree and stir. Lower the heat and simmer for another 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add two small pieces of dark chocolate. The liquid from the tomatoes should reduce, leaving you with a lovely rich filling for Tacos.
Follow the packet instructions to heat Taco shells in the oven. Fill with the meat and add some shredded lettuce,a little sour cream and of course the nopalitos.



  1. Good one there, Charlotte. Never heard of Nopalitos before.

  2. I use nopales in a Spanish-Mexican Rice sorta-thingy... Sautee onions, chopped nopalitos, corn, red sweet bell pepper and add 1 cup mild tomato salsa, 1 small-ish can tomato sauce and 1 can well-drained black beans. Mix with a couple cups cooked rice and some Mexican type seasonings. Yum.

    I'm vegan so haven't trid it, but I know people also like nopalitos in scrambled eggs and baked egg-and-green-chile-and-cheese dishes.

  3. I'm lost on nopales - but was with most things I would eat the, especialy if served on these fantastic tacos! I'm sure somebody provides them fresh, have you tried ringing some of the Mexican eateries in London?


  4. Tofu Mum - Thanks for those ideas.
    I think the scrambled egg approach would go down well.
    David. Yeh I rang around a few but didnt track them down.

  5. Charlotte, we travel to Mexico whenever we can and love nopales just about any way we can get them. Do you have corn tortillas there? Even flour tortillas would do. Make cheese and nopales quesadillas, simply stuffing a Jack cheese or something similar with the nopales inside the tortilla, then folding it in half and toasting it gently in a "comal" or heavy skillet--or even on a plane griddle--until the cheese melts. You could also add sauteed onions, or use your imagination. Quesadillas prepared this way, with all sorts of fillings, are one of the favorite quick foods of mexico. Serve with a side of beans, rice, tomato salad.

  6. Ed - this is a great idea. We do have tortillas and the children both love quesadillas. So we will try this with some Monteray Jack cheese..
    We have half a jar to finish and this is the perfect way.

  7. schmoof12:42 PM

    I think I've had them fresh - my parents brought some back from france, sliced them like runner beans and threw them in a salad. They were a bit too slimy for my liking, so maybe I'd prefer them from a jar!

  8. Schmoof - our jarred nopalitos were quite firm in texture and not at all slimy. We can recommend them.

  9. Nopales are something I'd never heard of before, but they sounds absolutely fantastic on your gorgeous tacos! I'm going to have a look for them next time I'm at the supermarket.

  10. I love nopalitos from the jar!!!
    In college my best friend and I were addicted to burritos (vegetarian mostly) - for breakfast with eggs, for lunch and dinner with beans and cheese and maybe some veggies and rice. When we discovered pickled nopales we were transported to a whole new level of burrito heaven!

  11. Mmm... nopales. Extra tasty when charred on the grill on a gas stove and then cut into salsa.

  12. There's a book by Anna Thomas called "From Anna's Kitchen" (for the British market)
    She has a few recipes for nopalitos, including how to prepare them from scratch.
    For a nopalitos salad she suggests dicing 175gms of them (your jarred ones should be suitable), 1 tomato in chunks, 3-4 chopped spring onions, up to one tblspn minced fresh green jalapenyo chili, 4 tblspns chopped coriander, 125 mls cooked pinto or black beans, 1/2 tbspn lemon juice, salt/pepper.

    Toss together, season to taste (more lemon/chili etc)
    suggested garnishes are avocado, feta cheese, fresh chili salsa and corn tortillas.

    I live in London but will be in Spain this weekend. I stumbled here looking for information on sourcing fresh nopales. Prickly pears grow nearly everywhere in the South East of Spain, I want to be reassured that nopales from the same plant are edible!

  13. Great you guys love veggies! Nopales are the oldest (and newest) discovery of culinary arts and a perfect healthy meal. You can even have a nopal with orange juice in the morning! Nopalitos will balance insulin and are proven to be a strong antioxidant, better yet, the ones that grow in Gomez Farias Tamaulipas (yea... hard I know) are the best! people call it "Nopal Real" and it does not even have thorns and lasts weeks before lossing it's properties. If you guys know who or where could we offer this Royal Nopal it would be really helpfull for our people... promise we'll even avoid jumping the fence! ;) I would even throw in a deal for you. Thanks and keep it green, God knows we all need to give a break to mather nature for our own sake.


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