Nopales (Cactus Paddles)

Rancho Gordo Cooking Salads Recipe Suggestions and Tips for nopales or cactus paddles

Nopales are the prickly pear cactus paddles that you can find in most Mexican markets and some supermarkets. The flavor is unique but you may taste hints of string beans, asparagus or even green pepper, all with a citrus, or sorrel-like undercurrent. They need to be cooked before eating but they remain both soft and crispy when cooked correctly.

Clean the nopales by holding the base with tongs or a wad of newspapers. Using a sharp knife, shave off the spines, trying not to remove too much of the skin. Shave in both directions until all spines are gone. Cut along the edge of the cactus paddle, removing a thin strip. Cut off thickest, woody end of the base. Rinse with water. If you should get a spine in your skin, try to remove it with adhesive tape.

Cut the nopal paddle into strips or cubes. Simmer in water for about 10 minutes with some cut onion and garlic. Strain. Some cooks rinse in cold water but there will be a loss of nutrients and possibly flavor. The paddles should be cooked but still be very al dente.

Alternatively, you can make some long slits on a paddle (leaving the base intact), coat it lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and grill it over direct heat until soft.

Your cactus is now ready for your recipe.


  • Mix nopales with your favorite tomato or tomatillo salsa.
  • Use a healthy portion with scrambled eggs.
  • Use as a salad ingredient. Try┬ánopales, red bell pepper, corn, onions, garlic, chiles and your favorite dressing.
  • Grill two paddles with cheese in the middle for a cactus sandwich.