Saturday, August 22, 2015

Nopales, a Mexican Staple, Arrives in Oregon Markets

The other day I was at the farmers' market and was delighted to see a vendor displaying a basket of cactus paddles, called "nopales." Terrific in salsas and stews, they also go well with eggs and in salads. The following essay by Jodi Monroy, Director of Mixta Words and staffer at the Beaverton Farmers Market, is reprinted from the most recent market newsletter.


Nopales (cactus paddles) are a staple food in parts of arid Mexico but not so much here in the Pacific Northwest, so we were amazed to find some at Denison Farms last week!  We love it when our farmers are innovative and push the agricultural limits. It makes the culinary possibilities so exciting.  And the very best part: Denison Farms sells them already de-spined! Trust me, that is a really good thing.

Nopales are traditionally used in Ensalada de Nopales (Cactus Salad) and then eaten as a side dish or pico de gallo-style. Ensalada de Nopales makes a unique topping for tacos or mixed with eggs for breakfast. Nopales' flavor has been described as almost like a green bean. Don’t be put off by the slippery texture or “baba” en español (like Okra)—it will dissipate as the nopales cook.

Classic recipes for Ensalada de Nopales almost always include lots of garlic and cilantro, like this one adapted from La Cocina De Leslie.

Ensalada de Nopales

1 lb. of nopales (cactus paddles), washed and sliced or chopped in 1/4" dice
1 bunch cilantro in two parts, half on the stem and half de-stemmed and chopped fine
3 cloves garlic
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
1/2 med. onion, chopped
1-2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
Juice of 1 lime

There are two ways to cook cactus paddles for Ensalada de Nopales. The traditional way of cooking nopales is to boil the cactus in water to cover in a medium saucepan with cilantro sprigs, garlic and a couple of pinches of salt for about 30 minutes. When done, fish out the cilantro sprigs and garlic and discard. Using a strainer, let the nopales sit until all of the liquid drains away.

The second method is one which reduces the amount of “baba” (gooey liquid) that the nopales release. Put the sliced or chopped cactus paddles in a non-stick skillet with the cilantro sprigs, garlic and a couple pinches of salt, without any water at all. Cover and cook over low heat. Within minutes the nopales will start to release their own liquid, which is plenty to completely cook the nopales. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally, until all of the liquid has been absorbed and the nopales are completely cooked with very little to no “baba” (gooey liquid). Discard the cilantro sprigs and garlic.

And now for the ensalada: gently mix together the cactus, chopped onion, tomato and the chopped portion of the cilantro. Toss with vegetable oil and lime juice and season lightly with salt. ¡Provecho!

Top photo by Diógenes el Pacífico/Flickr.

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