This is one of my favorite dishes from Mexican cuisine. If the cactus leaves in the grocery store or farmer’s market look intimidating, don’t let it stop you from trying it. The result is a crunchy, flavorful salad that adds a wonderful tangy flavor to any Mexican meal.
Try to find cactus leaves (nopales) that are already de-spined. In some Mexican grocery stores, you’ll find some that are already chopped up in little bags. I prefer to work with the whole leaf, but if you can only find the chopped-up kind, don’t despair, it will work, too.
Now, let’s talk slimy. Nopales, like okra, release a slimy liquid when cut. A good way to loosen the slimy from the cut leaves is to throw a very clean copper penny into the pot when you are boiling them. Apparently it neutralizes the slime. I don’t know if it’s an old wives’ tale or if it really works, but try it and see what you think!
Ensalada de Nopalitos
4-6 large cactus leaves (a little more than a pound)
2 cups water
2 small white onions, chopped, divided
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp dried oregano, divided
1 dried chile de arbol, wiped clean & toasted
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 copper penny
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 Tbsp olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
1. Slice the nopales into 2 inch x 1/2 inch strips that are all equally the same size.
2. Place the nopales in a saucepan with the water, vegetable oil, one of the onions, chile de arbol, oregano, salt and the penny and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the water has evaporated and the nopales toast slightly in the pan. Remove the copper penny.
3. Allow the nopales to cool to room temperature. Place them in a salad bowl and add the chopped tomato, the other chopped onion, olive oil, jalapeno, cilantro, lime juice and dried oregano.
4. Add salt and pepper to taste – serve!