Nopales means cactus stem. They are the pads on the prickly pear cactus, the fruit of which we’ve also covered here. The pads are purple or green, flat and about the size of an adult hand. They’re fairly common in Mexico, the plant’s native country, and used in many Mexican dishes. They are most commonly found fresh, but recently bottled and canned versions have been exported more.
Nopales contain vitamins A and C, as well as B complex vitamins and iron. Also, interestingly enough, the liquid inside the pads is extracted and sold as a soluble dietary fiber supplement.
To prepare the pads for eating, use a knife to remove the spines and scrub them with a stiff brush or vegetable peeler. Once you have removed all the spines and protruding nodes, you can eat them raw in salads or cook them by grilling or boiling (which removes the mucilagenous liquid). A lot of people compare the taste of boiled nopales to green beans, which we found to be pretty true. They are tender and very succulent, somewhat similar to a bell pepper, but thicker.
Russ made a hearty, comforting stew with nopales, pork and beans. One could easily make this a vegetarian stew by adding more beans, omitting the pork, and using vegetable broth in place of chicken broth.
Nopales and Pork Stew
Makes 8-10 servings
- 1 1/2 lbs. pork roast, cubed
- 1 red onion chopped, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, chopped
- 3 nopales leaves, spines removed and chopped
- 3/4 lb. potato, roughly chopped
- 1 15-oz. can of black beans
- 1 15-oz. can of pinto beans
- 2 15-oz. cans of whole tomatoes
- 1 C chicken broth
- Tortilla chips
- Aged white cheddar cheese
In a big 8 quart pot, brown off pork. Once all sides are browned, remove and set aside. In the same pot, sautee onion, garlic and bell pepper until tender. Add pork back to pot, along with nopales, potato, beans, tomatoes and broth. Bring to a simmer for around 4 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish bowls of soup with crumbled tortilla chips and grated cheese.