About Nopales

April 28, 2008

About Nopales

What is it?
The plant is the genus Opuntia from the Cactaceae family, or what is commonly known as the Prickly Pear Cactus. Nopal means cactus in Spanish and Nopales is term for “cactus stem”. The term Nopalitos refers to the pads once they are cut up and prepared for eating. There are two food crops derived from the prickly pear cactus. One is the “nopalitos” which are the cactus pads and the other crop is the prickly “pear” or fruit of the cactus.

Nopales History
The prickly pear cactus is most likely a native to Mexico. It is has been noted that the Nopales were grown and eaten as a vegetable in Central Mexico, since before the Spanish arrived. The Spanish explorers took the plant back to Spain and the plant spread throughout North Africa with the Moors. The plant is currently grown throughout Mexico as well as parts of the United States and in many areas of the Mediterranean.

How To Harvest and Prepare Nopalitos (Nopales)
Commercially two sizes of nopales pads are harvested which is small (less than 10 cm long) or medium (less than 20 cm, about 100g). The Nopales leaf pads are usually harvested in spring. Select thin pads no longer than 20 cm or 8 inches. Make sure to wear heavy gloves to harvest the pads yourself. The pad will snap off easily or you can use a large knife to sever the stem. Beware, there are large and fine thorns so be sure to keep your hands protected. To prepare the pads remove the thorns and the “eyes” with a vegetable peeler or a small paring knife or this new gadget designed just for spine removal. Wash the pads well with cool water and peel or trim off any blemished or discolored areas. Slice the pads in long slices or in pieces or leave whole depending on the dish you will prepare.

How To Eat and Use Nopales
Nopales is a vegetable that can be eaten grilled, stir-fried or boiled. Over-cooking may give them a slightly “slimy” texture you may want to avoid. Frequently the nopales are added to eggs, or as a vegetable in soups, chilies or a filling in a tortilla.

The best preparation we have tried is to prepare the nopal leaves (remove spines) then grill over hot coals till tender and slightly browned. Then slice into nopalitos strips and toss with a squeeze of lime and a little bit of olive oil. They are delicious.

How To Store Nopales
You may store fresh (not wrinkled) nopales refrigerated, tightly wrapped, for up to two weeks.

Source: GourmetSleuth.com

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