Culinary Chronicles – Mexican: Stir Fried Nopales

As I have said before, having an International Farmers Market open up nearby has been the making of us. We’ve discovered fresh produce in a whole new way and we are totally inspired. One item in particular, that I never thought I’d buy, is nopales, or cactus. Have you ever had nopales before? Does it sound a little too adventuresome? I’d encourage you to consider otherwise. It really is a delicious food when prepared right.

Before buying the produce, I looked online for the proper way to prepare and cook them. I found a few YouTube videos that gave me the general idea and some recipes that sounded good. My first recipe with them was a simple dish, Fried Nopales. I chopped some fresh onion and garlic and put them all in a skillet. Unfortunately I cooked them too long and the result was a strong, sort of sour flavor. Its hard to describe.

The first thing you’ll notice when preparing nopales is that they secrete a thick goo. At first this may seem unappetizing but don’t worry, there’s a way to handle that. My second recipe was to boil the nopales. The goo reacts with the water and causes a foam. I drained the foam, and water, and refilled the pan to reboil. I did this a handful of times and I had a sort of green bean-tasting dish, very bland compared to the last one.

My third recipe I tried was a keeper though, and that is the one I will share with you today. But first, lets cover how to prepare the nopales. Making sure it is prepared right is crucial to the ‘safety’ of your guests. Stickers can be very uncomfortable, I am told.

Preparing Nopales

Choose pads that are about a handbreadth in length and width. Any larger and they won’t be quite as tender, plus they have bigger stickers.

Step 1: Wash the cactus pads.

Step 2: CAREFULLY, using a sharp knife, cut off the base of the nopales and trim around the whole pad, making it easier to remove the stickers on the outside.

 Step 3: Scrape off spines and stickers on both sides and then lay pad aside.

Step 4: Rinse all the pads in cool water, rubbing gently to make sure all the stickers have been removed.

Step 5: Chop pads into small chunks or as desired.

Now you are ready to cook!

Stir-Fried Nopales Recipe


  • 8 nopales (cactus pads) about a handbreadth in length and width
  • 6-10 green onions
  • one bunch garlic cloves
  • 2 bell peppers (in the picture below you’ll notice I used mini peppers)
  • 4 tomatoes (I used Roma)
  • fresh cilantro
  • coconut oil
  • red wine vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Serves 8

Add a little coconut oil (or any cooking oil) to a medium sized skillet and turn on a low heat. Once the oil is hot enough for sautéing add the chopped nopales and a little salt. Stir it around real well and by now the nopales should be secreting more of its goo. Put a lid on the skillet and cook until all the goo is gone, (10-15 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, cut the remaining vegetables and set aside. 

This is what your nopales should look like when all the goo is gone.

Now add onions and garlic and mix in. Cook for 5 minutes with the lid off.

Add peppers, salt and coarse ground peppercorns, and cook another 5 minutes.

Lastly, add chopped tomatoes, cilantro, and 2-3 tbsp of red wine vinegar. Cook for a few more minutes.

Now you have a delicious side to go with burritos, enchiladas, and anything else.

I hope you like this recipe and if you have any questions, just leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you.

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