Cooking with EL CHAVO! : Nopales

Que Pasa Gente!
Did you finally get bored of that Croissan’wich? Great! It wasn’t very good for you anyways. I suggest you try some of the foods of your ancestors, you might find out the viejitos were right! In this installment we take a look at nopales, aka nopalitos, aka cactus paddles. It’s the Mexican-est food there is, it even plays a role in calling out Mexicans that have turned their back on their heritage. There is a popular phrase “tiene el nopal en la frente” (he has the nopal on his forehead) which is used when some person of Mexican descent tries to deny their background, even though everyone else knows the truth; you’re a commoner like the rest of us. I think I’m going to start using that phrase much more regularly, it needs to make a comeback.

Even if you don’t care about it’s Mexican-ness, you still might be interested in this recipe as Nopales are healthy, tasty, and cheap! They tend to remind me of cooked green beans, but more, uh, nopaley tasting. Plus you can amaze your friends with the fact that yes, you do know how to cook cactus! Besides, with the pending financial collapse we might all be forced to scrounge around in the deserts for stuff to eat and you’ll have a leg up. Don’t say I never did nothing for you! Enough with the wiri wiri, click here to get started.

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82 Responses to Cooking with EL CHAVO! : Nopales

  1. Hugo Rune says:

    Brilliant! I bought one of these cactii a couple of years ago for my son who wanted a small cactus garden. Since then this one has grown to 4 foot high with no sign of stopping. I look forward to taming it somewhat and trying out this recipie at the same time!

    Am I going to be the first Irish person to try this? I hope so 🙂

  2. Another way to rid yourself of the “babas” from the nopales when cooking is to add any or a combination of the following: garlic, lemon juice, baking soda, ash, piedra volcanica, hoja de maiz, cascara de tomate . . .

    Making some right now, as a matter of fact, with ajos and lemon juice.

  3. Domingo Rochin says:

    Thank you for the recipe.

    Here are my two cents: When I was a boy grounig up in Tecate BCN (Mexico) we use to say to someone who was acting stupid to “through in a veinte in his pocket”. A veinte was the old 20 cents coin -that stopped circulating in 1975, Yes I am that old (52 now). The reason was that the coin was made of copper, and it was use to remove the slime of nopales when cooking them. Slime, in Spanish, is also connotates with BABOSO -or someone who acts dume and stupid.
    Any how, It is true, however, that if you put a oiece of copper in the pan when cooking nopales, it will dissolve the slime. Do note that the US penny are no longer made of copper. So the best piece would be some copper wire like the ones use in electrical wireing.
    I am a chemist by profesion and I can assure you that it is safe. The copper only acts as a catalist.

    Another note: THe Aztecs use the slime of the nopales to purify murky water. This is still use today by survivalist. Slime traps all kind of bacterial, dirt, and some toxins. You just mix the slime with water and let it settle. The water supernatant is clear and clean to drink. Try it

    Thanks again

  4. E says:

    I remember eating nopales with red chile powder (maybe paprika), onion, tomato, and eggs for breakfast when I was a kid. My mom used to make them this way. I know that some people like to add dried shrimp to them, though I haven’t tried them that way. I’ve had them grilled under a piece of fajita at a restaurant in New Braunfels TX and they taste great this way. I gotta try them as a salad, looks tasty.

  5. Sharon Torres says:

    lol! i love this! the pictures are great & there’s humor! for someone like me who needs pictures to illustrate exactly how a dish should be prepared, this is done absolute simple & excellent! the end result..DELICIOUS!!!!!

  6. domingo sanchez says:

    put a little sugar, salt, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, lime and mayo, chile in the fridge
    nice cold tostadas in the summer. no chile distroys refreshing taste

  7. rosaluz says:

    Thanks for the recipe, however, I just can’t get passed the sliminess. It makes me gag.

  8. Cara says:

    Thanks so much for the advice and recipes! I’m cooking with cactus for the first time today. I’m making Tlacoyos with sauteed cactus and fried potatoes. I hope it comes out good. Your food looks amazing! Thanks again.

  9. Francisco Perez says:

    Zacate is what I use to clean my self in the shower…Hahahaha…
    Chavo I have a secret to cook the Nopales so they do not have almost hardly any Babas left. Just cook them on a Stainless steel pot with out the water, they will cook on their own Babas and the Babas will dry out, you just have to stir them more often. Please try it out and tell me the result see if it work and if you like it… Thanks Chavo

  10. Betty Rocker says:

    I recently found your blog after looking up how to cook nopales. A boricua that was born and raised in Cali, I learned to love Nopales almost as much (or more) as gandules and rice:) Interesting tip: University of Australia, which does lots of research on the glycemic index, has shown that eating Nopales actually causes a reduction in glucose spikes, basically reducing how high your blood sugar gets with any meal that they are eaten. Good info since Latinos rate of diabetes is growing faster than any other culture right now… xoxo

  11. Patty says:

    This article had me laughing out loud! I googled how to cook some raw (cut up) nopales I bought at the grocery store and this article was just the answer I was looking for.. However, I did not pay 25 cents for mine. At $2 for a sandwhich bag full of cut-up nopal, I think I was ripped off!
    Anyway, I’m in the process of boiling them now. I’d like to use them for the “salad” version of nopales, which I am all too familiar with, except we always used the canned nopales. Hopefully, this turn out well.
    Thanks for the info and your sense of humor…it was well received 🙂

  12. Gloria Lambie says:

    You have a wonderful sense of humor. I grew up in Cd. Juarez eating nopalitos just about everyday, anyway you could fix them. I also grew up eating morcia but can’t find it in the US. Any suggestions? By the way, I too use that phrase…el nopal tatuado en la frente. Looking forward to your recipes!

  13. Melynda Nuss says:

    Thanks for the recipe! My wonderful friend Suhei Zamarippa just showed me how to harvest nopales. After she left I’d forgotten some details of the recipe, so I found your site.
    But Suhei, a native of deep south Texas, has some tips for cleaning the nopales that I think you’ll like. After harvesting only the tender pads from my backyard cactus, she held them with a clothespin and removed the spines with an exacto knife. The clothespin provides a great way to hold and turn the pads without exposing yourself to the thorns — much easier than keeping the pads on a cutting board. And the exacto knife provides a quick and flexible way to remove the spines.
    I’m about to boil them with the ajos and lemon as specified. Wish me luck!

  14. Lidia K says:

    Thank you for the reminder on how to cook fresh nopales, my mother used to make them but I never paid close attention to what she was doing. Now I can make them. I know I will enjoy. By the way, I did pay very close attention when she made mole from scratch, we liked it so much that I sat down with pen and paper on hand, it is a very long recipe but worth it. Thanks again.
    Lidia K

  15. Dave says:

    I have been a fan of Nopales for a while because of their taste and recently learned of the health benefits. I have been buying them in the jar and thought they were great. The sodium content was a bit high but the taste was wonderful. I would use them in a simple salad of tomatoes and onions with an oil base dressing. Recently a market I shop at started making Nopales and corn tortillas. They are excellent and less fat and calories as a regular corn tortilla. Well today I bought some fresh Nopales due to the low cost and such. I was able to scrape the thorns off and get them sliced up. Now my task will be to boil them and decide how to use them. Maybe some eggs and chorizo with onions, and of course some cheese. I am hooked on them and hopefully I can cope with buying and cooking them fresh, I get lazy sometimes. Thanks much for the prepping and instructions that were very helpful. The pictures also helped immensely. Will keep you posted on how this “gringo” does and will share any new recipes I come up with. Well off to the kitchen.
    Thanks so much,

  16. Aleta says:

    Thanks very much for the photos and humorous description. Our Mexican neighbors invited us over for a barbecue and they made fresh nopoles salad cut from the cactus plants growing in their yard. It looked much like salsa and was delicious. We have a Mexican market around the corner and they sell the cactus pads. I’m looking forward to giving it a go. (Yes, I DID check out your grocery list. lol)

  17. J says:

    Maaannnn….I bought some yesterday, and was looking up ways to cook them and forgot about the dang babas. Ho well! Never cooked them, but I remember my mom used to have the plants in the kitchem for when my dad wanted them. Since I was a girl and a sissy, my brothers used to headlock me, and ram me into them. Ahhhh…the sweet memories!!! Thanks and enjoy your day!

  18. annette gandara says:

    I make frijoles de la olla, serve a soup bowl, add a large spoonful of nopal salad, add a tablespoon of crumbled mexican cheeze, VOILA!, delicious dinner, extra healthy

  19. Diana Haselmyer says:

    I just found your site today when I Google searched “nopalitos”. You have done an excellent job in describing, instructing and informing us of what we need to do and look for. Thank you.

  20. My employer brought nopales home and asked if I was up to the challenge!
    I found a recipe for a soup with lentils and cooked nopales, so I went looking, thank heaven I found this site.
    Looks easy enough to cook the nopales, just wanted to thank you for making me look like a master at everything I cook.

  21. El Shaggy Sanchez says:

    Ya dijo carnal! Al 100%

  22. azul cruz says:

    I really like your article. I know how to prepare just needed a refresher course, in case I was doing it wrong. Glad I checked because I usually don’t pay attention to the quality of nopales I select. Good to know! Thanks for the tip! AC

  23. Esquincle says:

    Chavo, muy bien hecho. Mighty good web site and cooking tips. Native to Texas and having lived in Mexico, I always loved opuntia and make a delicious jelly from the tuna.
    Getting the snot out of the tasty leaves has always been a problem. Going to try your method of twice boiling. Gracias, mano.

  24. MEIDIN BRUNO says:

    Thank you for your instructions it was a lot of help. I appreciate your tips from the website. Hello from Chicago!

  25. Victoria says:

    Chavo, you are like the Maria Sabina of nopalitos. jeje. “wiri wiri”–I never saw that spelled out before. I knew you would have a how-to on this. I just bought a big bag (for $2, because its all cut-up–soy moderna). I can’t deal with the canned ones, too many preservatives–yuk. I think the babas have all the healing powers in them—a few left behind “is a good thing” –como dice la Martha Stewart.

  26. Aslan Balaur says:

    Thanks for the recipe even this gringo can understand. I won’t let any sort of cooking go, I’m just too French. Will be doing this with the nopal I have, tomorrow.

  27. M Soliz says:

    Nopalitos are great! My mom taught me to cook nopalitos with some salt to cut down the babas.

  28. Juan r. Medrano says:

    Nopales , have been my way of Life. Some gringos I know like them when I grill the on the Pit! Thanks JRM

  29. Kimmi says:

    This was very helpful! I had nopales at a restaurant and wanted to try it myself.

  30. Another gringo named Dave says:

    First time I had nopalitos it was out of a jar, and I hated them. Liked them a lot better a number of times since, getting them from the condiments table to dress up tacos at taquerias. Now I’m looking forward to seeing how I like them when I cook them for myself. Thanks for a very informative (and entertaining too) article.

  31. Roberto Sanchez says:

    My dad was a military man, so I grew up all over, Japan, Virginia, even our Madre Patria Spain, so I only returned to my Mexican/New Mexican Culture later in life. After Western Medical School, I was alienated from my heritage and only started to re-discover it when a Russian-Jewish friend from Medical School moved to New Mexico after her Residency. I had always heard from my grand-father that he ate Nopales for his Diabetes and did not have to go on medications because of the cactus “Jel”. Well I tasted them and they were horrible. So ignored them for years. then after going on high doses of Insulin and a trip to see my great aunt in Corrales NM for her 95th Birthday and to pick up 300lbs of XXX Hot Hatch green chiles, (along with beans my first promt to return to my heritage) I tried them again, grilled on the plancha with a little olive oil, salt and oregano, they were great, I added some Red Hatch, with some ajo, onion and I did not want to stop. Well three weeks out, back here in California, and having found a Food 4 Less that sells them already cleaned of thorns, I’ve been able to reduce my inulin dose. Why even my more adventurous male dog likes them and sits at my feet begging for a piece or two of grilled nopal. ( I have to say here, consult your M.D. before changing your doses of meds. Even I do that with my endocrinologist, as I’m not a Diabetes Specialist)

  32. chimatli says:

    I just tried your recipe and it went really well. I’ve always been afraid of the spines but I had no need to worry, they came off quite easily. I tried the double boiling for less babas method but still had a bit of babas in the salad but you said that might happen. Nopalitos are really good for balancing high levels of blood sugar so is Jamaica (hibiscus). See, we Mexicans know what’s up.

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