Salad of grilled nopal with carrot, jícama and beet

Salad of Grilled Nopal with Carrot, Jícama and Beet owes its existence to two inspirations. The first was a conversation with my friend Maria who told me about a salad of grated jícama and beet dressed with freshly squeezed lime juice she makes for her boys. When she told me about it, I pictured the garnet color of beets set against the clean white of jícama, forming a palette of edible art. I accented the colors with the addition of carrots to make it even more brilliant. The second inspiration was a photo of a nopal cactus pad serving as the “plate” for a banana dish featured on the cover of the 2011 calendar by Muy Bueno Cookbook. I wanted to make this salad and I wanted to eat it off of a nopal, one of my favorite Mexican veggies.

Nopales are the young pads of prickly pear cactus and dished up in many Mexican restaurants as a salad or appetizer. I like to seek out new and unusual foods — part of the joy of being a foodie in Mexico —  and learned to love nopales many years ago.  Most of my friends make a face when I mention nopal and say something like, “Oh, it’s so slimy!” Well, yes it is if it is overcooked. The secret is to cook nopal only until it starts to get tender, but still has its crunch and most of its green color. If it has turned gray and has slimy threads oozing out, sorry, but you cooked it too long. And I have to say that en mi opinión, most Mexican cooks overcook nopales. You will have to cook it for yourself to see how fresh and crisp it can be.

See a past article from Cooking in Mexico on preparing jícama if you are not familiar with it.

Update: this recipe for Salad of Grilled Nopal with Carrot, Jícama and Beet has been selected as the winning entry by Muy Bueno Cookbook for their calendar give-away contest. (Dec. 28, 2010)

Salad of Grilled Nopal with Carrot, Jícama and Beet serves 4

  • 4  small, tender nopal cactus pads
  • olive oil
  • 1 large raw carrot, peeled and grated
  • 1 large jícama, peeled and grated
  • 1 large raw beet, peeled and grated
  • freshly squeezed lime juice
  • coarse sea salt
  1. Pre-heat your grill.
  2. Brush nopales with olive oil and grill no longer than 1 minute per side. (Thicker, more mature nopales may need more time.)
  3. Arrange grated vegetables on the nopales.
  4. Serve with a cruet of olive oil, wedges of lime and sea salt.


Nopal is from the Nahuatl word for pads, nopalli. A branch of the Uto-Aztecan language, Nahuatl is still spoken in Mexico today.

Many families have a few nopal plants in their yard to supply the table, and they are also common in supermarkets, large and small. Look for young, small pads that are bright green. Don’t worry about any cactus spines — they are removed at the grocery store.

Nopales are rich in fiber, vitamins A, C and K, as well as high in minerals. When eaten in a mixed meal, it is thought that nopales reduce the glycemic effect.

Avoid nopales that are in cans or jars. They will be gray and limp and will make a poor introduction to this great vegetable.

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19 thoughts on “Salad of grilled nopal with carrot, jícama and beet

  1. Pingback: How to clean nopal cactus pads without becoming a pin cushion « Cooking in Mexico

  2. Pingback: Nopal licuado — cactus in a glass « Cooking in Mexico

  3. Cranefixer

    This is amazing will become a weekly add to on the menu
    to me Beets are way underutilized especially fresh
    The crunchy of the ingredients is amazing and refreshing.

    CONGRATS on winning !!!!!!

  4. Pingback: Salad of grilled nopal with carrot, jícama and beet wins recipe contest « Cooking in Mexico

  5. Pingback: And the Winner is… « Muy Bueno Cookbook

  6. Pingback: Salsa de Nopal — the cactus in my kitchen « Cooking in Mexico

    1. Thank you for the inspiration!

      Readers, Muy Bueno Cookbook is donating a part of their calendar proceeds to The Denver Foundation which “helps residents in 10 struggling Denver neighborhoods improve their communities “from the inside out.” The Grants help pay for resident leadership training, and community projects such as food pantries, tutoring programs, neighborhood gardens, and school safety patrols. They have also helped with park and school cleanup, among other projects.” If you are interested in learning more about this innovative program, please visit their website Strengthening Neighborhoods.

    1. I liked eating each of the four vegetables separately, so that I could taste and appreciate each one on its own. I hope you can find jicama in Berlin. If not, I think apple would make a good substitute with its freshness, crispness and sweetness, all similar to that of jicama.

  7. With the baba we are mixing it with cal (lime) to make a homemade paint. We had a metal guy in town create a large extension for a drill to make it into a blender. Then we blend it for a while, extracting a lot of the baba. I should actually experiment and cook the nopal paddles first, and then have them try blending it – not only would it perhaps produce more baba, but it would be significantly easier to blend.
    Then we drain out the nopales and mix the baba with lime. This produces a white paint.
    And for the earth floor, which is in experimental stages, we are making cob (formed adobe) to make a flat surface that is quite smooth. Then layers of cob mixed with baba, and then a fine layer of baba. I have no idea how this has worked out since I’m not currently there, but we are hoping for a completely natural earth floor. (Some visitors helping to mix the cob for the floor)

    I’m really glad you enjoyed the article! It was fun investigating nopales… what a great food!

    1. This is such a great use of nopal baba, something usually not appreciated. Perhaps in your nopal research, you came upon this practice, probably used by Mexican builders for hundreds (thousands?) of years. I loved hearing about this wonderful application. Thank you for the explanation and also for the photo links. They are so interesting — I think this use of nopal baba would make a very interesting article for your blog.

      I used to live in New Mexico where the rural hispanic residents mixed ox blood with adobe for a durable and beautiful floor. It would dry to an oxblood color that was very attractive.

  8. Great idea! I make a salad of jicama, beets, and carrots often (or combos therein) but hadn’t thought of combining them with nopales.

    And interesting point on overcooking the nopales… I recently wrote an article about nopales for ADIP in Zihuatanejo… from my travels and cooking with various people, I’m under the impression that it isn’t the length but the method of cooking. I’ve had nopal raw and find it slimy still… and at the Bosque we actually blend the heck out of raw nopales to generate baba (slime) for use in building. I’ll try cooking it in various ways as you suggest, but I think nopales are similar to okra. Slimy veggies! :) But soooooo nutritious and yummy if cooked right!! And despite the slime issue, I do agree with you that nopales are often overcooked.
    (It could also be that grilling nopal versus boiling generates different amounts of baba – I’d think grilling dries things out? And maybe gets ride of some of the moisture in the slime, and thereby decreases the amount of slime?) – the article is on page 8, but the website they put their magazine on it a bit hard to use.


    1. Thanks for your interesting comments, Marie. How nice (and rare) to be able to have a nopal conversation.

      First of all, what are you building with the baba (slime)? I can’t imagine, and am very intrigued. Secondly, you taught me a new Spanish word. I checked my dictionary and read that baba translates to spittle or drivel. Not necessarily a word that will entice someone to try cooking nopal for the first time, but an interesting word nonetheless. What a cool word to say with nopal, as in “Avoid nopal baba at all cost”. Unless you are building,that is. :)

      I often sauté nopal strips in a bit of olive oil and then add beaten eggs for a quick breakfast, or I add nopal to Asian type stir-fries. When cooked like this in a skillet, they can get just as slimy if cooked too long.

      As far as grilling possibly drying out the nopal, I don’t think this is happening because they are on the grill for such a short time. And I know from experience they will form excess baba if left on the grill long enough. In my experience, I have found that brevity is the key for slimeless nopal with a bit of crunch, regardless of the cooking method.

      As you know, Mexican cooks favor boiling nopal, then draining the water, which must do away with any accumulated baba, but also drains away much of the nutrition.

      Thanks for the link. I checked it out — it is the best article I have read about nopales. The recipe for nopal salsa looks great. I plan on making it. Good to hear from you.

      Faithful readers: Marie has a very nice blog, Cooking for Community, about cooking for groups, with an emphasis on healthy eating and living at Bosque Village in the highlands of rural Mexico. I recommend it.

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