Salsa de Nopal — the cactus in my kitchen

Salsa de Nopal is one more reason why I love living in Mexico. I know it sounds crazy, with all the awful news about the violence in Mexico, to say that I love living here, but I do. Our part of Mexico remains safe, thank goodness, and I keep discovering new salsa recipes that add spice and color to our tropical life.

This recipe comes from Marie of Cooking for Community. Marie is the head chef for Bosque Village, a rustic retreat in rural Mexico near Patzcuaro in the state of Michoacan. She included this recipe in an article she wrote for Another Day in Paradise, an article that was a eye opener for me, as I did not know that the infamous sap of nopal cactus pads, known in Spanish as baba, is used as an ingredient in traditional paints and roof sealants.

Now don’t let that factoid put you off from trying nopales. They really are good for you. Nopales, the tender pad segments of prickly pear cactus, come loaded with amino acids, vitamins and minerals, and studies show that if eaten regularly, they lower LDL cholesterol levels and reduce blood glucose. So listen to your madre y come tus verduras.

Salsa de Nopal

  • 2-3 nopal pads, small dice
  • 1 tomato, small dice
  • 1/2 red onion, small dice
  • 1/2 to 2 jalapeños, seeded and minced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • large pinch of salt
  • 1 handful cilantro, chopped
  • kernels from 1 tender ear of corn, quickly blanched, optional
  • 1/2 cup of cooked black beans, optional
  • 1 avocado, cubed, optional
  1. Blend diced nopal, tomato, red onion, jalapeño, garlic, olive oil and salt in a small bowl.
  2. Add optional corn and beans, if using.
  3. Let salsa rest for 1-2 hours for flavors to blend.
  4. Add cilantro and optional avocado, if using.
  5. Adjust salt and serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.

Russ remembered we had left-over beans from the other day when I made Enfrijoladas. He suggested tostadas with beans, grated cheese and Salsa de Nopal for lunch and was that ever a great combination. He also told me that although he isn’t crazy about nopales, he would eat this salsa anytime, commenting on how its acidity was balanced by the other ingredients. I think he was scraping the bowl empty as he said this.

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    16 thoughts on “Salsa de Nopal — the cactus in my kitchen

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    5. Vicki in GA

      How could I miss your recipe for nopales? Delish. I’m drooling.
      Without a doubt, one of my very favorites.
      I love that nopales always settles well in my tummy – and often makes me feel good.

      1. Your comment that nopales settle your stomach is interesting. Here in Mexico, they are sold in powder form in a capsule to be taken as a supplement to aid health. I prefer them in their natural form, but they seem to have a good effect on how one feels.

    6. Lisa

      Hi Kathleen,
      I just saw your comment for Marie, and it got me thinking how my mom cooks nopales. We sautee it in sesame oil and red chilli peppers. You sautee it until the nopales are pretty flimsy, but not cooked all the way just so that you have that distinct texture in your mouth. It’s pretty good as an appetizer or even as a side dish w/rice!

    7. tckfoodie

      I used to live in Mexico for 8 years and I still miss the food over there. I love reading your blog as it reminds me of the food culture I crave every week. It’s definitely not the same trying to make the same recipes here than over there. Must be the different soils. Tomatoes and cilantro are the two main differences I taste. Can’t get the same cilantro in the states, which is unfortunate. I’m glad I stumbled upon your blog. It keeps me intact with my Mexican culture ;)

      Muchas gracias!

      1. Thank you for your comments. I agree that it is not as easy to cook Mexican food when out of Mexico. It can be more challenging to find the right ingredients, and soils and climate do make a difference. But with the increase in agriculture on a large scale in Mexico, it is not always easy to find a flavorful tomato even here anymore.
        I hope you visit again and maybe try some of the recipes.

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