This is a classic Mexican side dish that is usually eaten in tacos, it often comes with the selection of salsas in many restaurants or taco stands and is really good with beef or pork. It goes well with anything you would serve a salad with or as a side dish at a BBQ or buffet. Nopales, also known as prickly pear, are cheap and healthy and easy to prepare once you know how.
The nopal is a cactus plant native to Mexico, they have a slightly sour flavour and firm texture. It is hailed here as a super-food that is thought to help control diabetes and cure hangovers. It is full of antioxidants, dietary fibre and vitamins and minerals.
Here in Manzanillo you can buy them fresh in the markets, tiendas and from street vendors, you can even get them in the supermarkets although there they come prepackaged. I usually get them either in the little tienda down the road from me or in the market in Santiago from one of the street vendors there. I bought a bag the other day but I had let it sit in the fridge too long so my hubby decided to prepare Ensalada de Nopal this afternoon.. good that he did ‘cos now I (and you) have the secret!
500g Nopales, cleaned and chopped
1 medium onion, leave one half whole and the other half thinly sliced
1 large tomato, chopped into small cubes
plenty of cilantro, finely chopped
a few dry red chiles de arbol, these are quite spicy be careful!
2 tbsp oil
splash of vinegar
queso seco or crumbly dry cheese to garnish
1. Put the chopped nopales into a pot of boiling water with salt and the whole half of the onion and cook for at least 10 mins or until the nopal are cooked. They will be a duller green and look kind of slimy – don’t let that put you off though!
Note: My husband, says that it should be the “hairy” bottom half of the onion used for this, although has no explanation as to why, is guess hairy bottoms just taste better 😛
2. While the nopales are cooking chop the onion and tomato into a salad bowl.
3. Once the nopales are cooked, turn off the heat and drain them before rinsing them well under cold water to get off the sliminess. Then add to the chopped tomato and onion, cilantro and season with salt, garlic salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly then leave to one side to cool.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a small frying pan and fry the chiles until they become black. Let them fry a bit in the oil then turn off the heat and allow them to cool down.
5. Once the chiles are cool, take them out of the oil and throw them away, you are only going to use the oil to dress the nopales.
Pour the oil over the salad and mix well to make sure it is completely covered. Adjust seasoning if necessary then put in the fridge to chill.
6. Serve chilled with a generous sprinkling of queso seco, a dry, salty, crumbly table cheese a bit similar to feta. Makes a great side dish or light snack, good with BBQs and in tacos.
Any other Nopal recipes anyone?
- Roasted Cactus Salad with Shrimp (marksdailyapple.com)
- It’s Prickly…..prickly pear cactus !! (mycucinablog.wordpress.com)
- Cactus Salad (girlfriday.typepad.com)
- Nopal cactus fruit from the Sonoran Desert (eerb1018.typepad.com)