Nopales Cactus
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Interested in learning how to prepare nopales or cactus paddles?

This article covers everything you need to know about working with Mexican vegetables! Learn how to prepare nopales below.

Every week at our local Asian market/supermercado, I pick up a couple of paddles and either sauté or boil them to remove the goopy slime (how much am I selling you on these babies right now?)

to make those lovely little strips, which I then throw in chimichurri and serve during our weekly “indulgence” meal, which is normally served on a Sunday night and is the fanciest on the menu plan.

When we went “mainly vegan,” it occurred to me that nopales would be ideal as a “meat alternative” to the now-vegan foods we loved, such as tacos, because of their heartiness, meatiness, and soft, subtle flavor.

Portobello, you’re being replaced, so pack your belongings.

Use these everywhere you’d use vegan “meat,” eggplant, or portobello for a meaty heaviness and wonderful flavor.

They’re great in sauce, but I haven’t tried marinating them yet (as we often do with portobello). I almost died when we tried them in tacos with oyster mushrooms and a vegan aioli (all coming soon!).

You should be able to get these in any well-stocked Latin or Asian market, or if you live in the West, Texas, or somewhere else with a large Hispanic population, you should be able to find them at your local grocery store! When I lived in Austin, I remember HEB having a lot of them.

How do you pick nopales?

Nopales Cactus Easy
Food: Nopales Cactus (Source: The bossy kitchen)

Paddles that are flexible but not soft are ideal. To test them at the store, I pull them up by the thick stem and bend them over on themselves.

I keep looking for paddles that bend but give a little if they’re really flexible. Smaller paddles are more delicate, but they need more effort.

How to prepare nopales

You could guess, as an astute reader, that these paddles have spines on them… spines that can prick you. When you’re initially getting used to preparing nopales, try doing so with rubber gloves.

You’ll eventually get the hang of working with them and won’t require gloves.

When I first learned how to prepare them, I thought those individuals were mad, but after about four rounds, I’m not sure why I needed gloves in the first place.

Scrape off the small brown knobs with the blade of a knife or a peeler first. You can achieve this by sawing inward from the end of the nopales to the thick base with a very gentle and shallow stroke.

You want to leave as much skin on as possible while only removing the knobs and spines, therefore focus on the taller knobs while ignoring the flat nopales skin.

Holding a knife perpendicular to the nopales and scraping inwards towards the base with the knife’s edge is another option. Finally, a peeler is pretty self-explanatory, but mine… stinks. Knives are something I almost always use.

The Laidback Vegan explains how to prepare and cook nopales (cactus).

Trim the margins of the nopales by 1/4′′ and the thick base by 1/2′′ once the knobs and spines have been removed. Wash. If desired, cut into strips or squares, or leave entire. Whatever you want.

There are two cooking processes.

1. Bring a kettle of water to a boil, seasoning with a generous teaspoon of salt and a couple of smashed garlic cloves if desired. Boil the nopales for 15-20 minutes, or until they are soft.

The gelatinous stuff that will seep out of the nopales should be boiled off. Drain well once tender, then add to the recipe.

2. Heat a small amount of oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, but not too much. Cook for a few minutes after adding the nopales and a touch of salt (to taste).

Reduce heat to medium and cover with a lid. Allow 20 minutes to cook and sweat, or until the goo has leaked out and dried.

Nopales concepts

Try it inside a tortilla for a delicious vegan dinner–recipe coming soon! Salads, tofu scrambles, salsas, you name it, they’re great.

They’d make fantastic fajitas and would be ideal stuffed into a tortilla. Yum! What is your preferred method of consuming nopales?

How to prepare Nopales (cactus)

5 minutes to prepare
20 minutes to cook
25 minutes total

Nopales (cactus) cooking instructions: a superb meaty veggie for vegan recipes. Excellent in Mexican-inspired dishes or tossed with chimichurri!


  • 4 whole Nopales paddles
  • 1 tbsp Oil optional
  • 1 teaspoon Salt to taste
  • 3 cloves of garlic smashed, optional

Instructions For Nopales (Cactus)

Nopales Cactus Simple
Food: Nopales Cactus (Source: The bossy kitchen)
  • Choose flexible but not soft nopales paddles. They should contribute a small amount, but not too much. Paddles that are smaller are more delicate.
  • With a knife or peeler, remove the knobs and spines. For further information, see the post. Trim the edges and base by 1/4″ and 1/2″, respectively. After washing, cut into strips or squares as desired.
  • There are two cooking options. To begin, boil a kettle of salted water with a couple of smashed garlic cloves. Cook for 15-20 minutes, or until nopales are soft and the gelatinous stuff has leaked out. Drain the water and use as needed.
  • Second option: Heat a small amount of oil in a medium pan over medium-high heat on the stove. Cook for a few minutes with the cactus and a pinch of salt. Cover and reduce heat to medium. Allow for 20 minutes of sweating and cooking, or until the clear substance has evaporated. Use how you wish.


For additional information on selecting, preparing, and cooking nopales, see this post.

Nutrition Information

Serving: 4g, Calories: 34kcal, Carbohydrates: 1g, Protein: 1g, Fat: 4g, Saturated Fat: 1g, Sodium: 582mg, Potassium: 9mg, Sugar: 1g, Vitamin C: 1mg, Calcium: 4mg, Net Carbs: 1g