Cactus Salad

Cactus Salad

The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 20 mins
Total: 40 mins
Servings: 4 servings
Nutrition Facts (per serving)
371 Calories
29g Fat
23g Carbs
11g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 4
Amount per serving
Calories 371
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 29g 37%
Saturated Fat 7g 35%
Cholesterol 21mg 7%
Sodium 418mg 18%
Total Carbohydrate 23g 8%
Dietary Fiber 11g 40%
Total Sugars 8g
Protein 11g
Vitamin C 39mg 193%
Calcium 349mg 27%
Iron 2mg 11%
Potassium 1123mg 24%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

Nopal is the Mexican name for a variety of species of Opuntia cactus that is native to Mexico and have been used there as food since time immemorial. One common use of the cactus’s pads is this classic nopalitos salad dish.

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 for sale in Mexican groceries and even some large supermarkets, and they make this salad all the much easier to prepare. However, if you’d like to try your hand at making this from scratch, just follow the instructions below the basic recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 tomato, chopped

  • 1 small white 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 cheese, crumbled, for garnish

  • Onion, thinly sliced, for garnish

  • Avocado, sliced, for garnish

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

    Cactus Salad ingredients

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  2. Pour canned or jarred nopales into a strainer to drain. Rinse under running water until jar liquid is washed off. Leave nopales in long strips or chop into pieces about the same size as the tomato and onions.

    strained cactus in a colander

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  3. In a large glass, ceramic, or stainless steel bowl, toss together tomato, onion, nopales, and cilantro.

    toss together tomato, onion, nopales, and cilantro in a bowl

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  4. Place olive oil, lime juice, oregano, and salt into a small jar with lid on. Shake vigorously until mixture comes together. Pour dressing over salad and toss again, gently but thoroughly.

    cactus salad with sauce on the side

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

  5. Cover bowl and refrigerate salad for at least an hour and up to 24 hours for flavors to meld. To serve, garnish with cheese, onion, and avocado.

    Cactus Salad in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap

    The Spruce / Eric Kleinberg

Variations

  • Not crazy about cilantro, or cheese, or some other ingredient? Just leave it out; make a salad that you love!
  • If you’d prefer a milder onion flavor, briefly rinse the chopped onions under running water before adding them to the salad.
  • Give your cactus some heat. Drain a few canned or homemade pickled jalapeño pepper slices (or pickled carrots), then dice them. Toss with the other ingredients before adding the dressing. Add a small number of cooked garbanzo beans, corn kernels, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds, or some other interesting ingredient to the mix.
  • Can’t get nopales at all, fresh or jarred? Make this same recipe with cooked, chopped green beans; it won't be the same as the original dish, but you will achieve a similar type of salad.

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.