Cactus Paddle (Nopal) Salad
Cured cactus is cool
Psst! Some shortcuts just for you...
August 31, 2022
Prep: 6h 0min
If you crave cacti, but refuse to turn on the stovetop or oven because summer is hot enough already, here is the answer to your pleas. Salt-cured cactus with just the right amount of tang.
You may have noticed that my last recipe was published back in July. The hawk-eyed readers among you will then notice that "July" was thirteen months ago. Oops. Oh well, I’m back and fingers-crossed I’m here to stay. Please don’t shame me, and please make this recipe.
I recently took a trip to Guadalajara, Mexico. The trip was fairly spontaneous and my travel style during it ended up being quite different than what I’m used to. Normally I spend a minimal amount of time exploring a city and spend the majority of my travel time doing non-city activities like hiking, hopping around on rocks, and sitting on buses and trains for way too long. This trip ended up being a mostly stationary, in-the-city, culinary-oriented adventure. I consumed so many unique meals and drinks, and my taste buds just totally exploded. What you are making today was inspired by a specific meal I enjoyed on the last day of my trip. Shout out to the chef who patiently spoke Spanish slowly enough for me to comprehend more or less his preferred way of preparing nopales.
If you’ve never eaten cactus before, imagine eating a tart, raw green bean. While not exactly the same, I find them not too dissimilar. It’s pretty common to see recipes that have you steam, boil, or sautee cactus paddles. Today, however, you will not be doing any cooking with heat, rather you’ll be using salt to cure the cactus paddles. Yay for not heating up the kitchen in the summer!
Cactus paddles, like okra, contain large amounts of mucilage. Mucilage is that slimy goop that comes out as you cook something like okra or cactus. Eating the slimy substance is not the most enjoyable, so by coating the cactus in salt and allowing it to rest, you are able to draw out much of that mucilage. Then, after a few nice water baths, the cactus strips will be relatively slime-free and ready to hang out with their tomato, jalapeño, and onion friends.
This cactus paddle concoction can easily be served alone as a side dish, as well as a condiment for tacos or any other meal you decide to serve. Most likely I will reference this recipe down the road when I publish other recipes that utilize it as a condiment. So no better time than now to start practicing, you know.
(click each step as you go to keep track of your progress)
Finished and want to make it again?
Cactus Paddle (Nopal) Salad
- Prep time: 6h 0min
- Cook time: 20min
- Serving size: 8
- 500 g (1 lb) cactus paddles
- 35 g (6 tsp) coarse kosher salt
- 1/4 white onion, finely diced
- 1/2 roma tomato, finely diced
- 1/2 large jalapeño, seeded and finely diced
- 30 mL (2 Tbsp) fresh lemon juice
- 2 Tbsp chopped cilantro leaves
Remove the thorns from the cactus paddles. Be careful. You can use kitchen gloves to protect your hands, though I usually just grab the paddle with a pair of tongs. Place the paddle flat on a surface, holding the stem end. Take a long, sharp knife and place it flush with the paddle surface. Move the knife away from your hand to remove the thorns. Be observant and remove all thorns.
Take a vegetable peeler and peel along the perimeter of the paddle to ensure all spines are removed.
Cut the paddle lengthwise into strips about 0.5 cm (1/8 in) wide. Then cut these strips into lengths of about 4 cm (1.5 in). This doesn't have to be exact, so don't stress.
Place cactus strips in a bowl and add all of the kosher salt. Use your fingers to massage the salt into the strips for about 5 minutes. The cactus strips will exude a decent amount of liquid during this process.
Cover the bowl with a towel and leave on the counter for 3 hours.
Add water to the bowl of cactus strips until the strips are more than covered. The more water the better. Use your hand to stir everything around for a minute or so. Drain the strips in a colander. Add the strips back to the bowl, and repeat this step twice more so that you have rinsed and drained the strips three times.
Place the cactus strips back into the colander and allow to drain for two to three hours.
Combine the cactus strips with the jalapeño, onion, tomato, cilantro, and lemon juice. Serve alone as a side salad, or use as a condiment.
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