Licuado de Nopal– Cactus in a Glass

Licuado de nopal, a cactus smoothie, has recently become my new favorite breakfast drink. I had it few years ago at nearby El Tigre Golf Club’s Sunday Brunch, and then promptly forgot all about it until I read about this green drink last week on Muy Bueno Cookbook. Their (always) gorgeous photos helped inspire me to make it, and it turned out awesome.

Muy Bueno Cookbook uses water in their recipe, though Yvette, the main MBC hermana, writes me that she is now using fruit in her daily drink. The first time I made it, I used cut-up watermelon, including the seeds, instead of water. The taste was delicious, but the color was murky green, so you will not see a photo of that version. Today I made it with freshly squeezed orange juice. Not only was it a beautiful, green color, it tasted refreshing.  Licuado de nopal  has become a part of  my morning routine. After drinking a glass this morning, I took a 30-minute power walk, something I used to do until a month ago when the morning chill and dark made me lazy. Now Chucha and I are walking again, right after my green refresher.

Licuado de Nopal serves 2

  • 2 medium-sized nopal pads, chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled and chopped
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice or 1 cup cut-up watermelon or other fresh fruit
  • 2 mint leaves, optional, plus more for garnish
  1. Add all ingredients to blender and zizz until smooth.
  2. Pour over ice (optional) and add mint leaf for garnish.

Notes:

Nopales are the young, tender “paddle” leaves of Opuntia cactus, the common prickly pear cactus of Mexico and the American Southwest. They are eaten as a vegetable all over Mexico and are found in Mexican grocery stores in the US, as I learned last year when I visited Minneapolis, Minnesota, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Nopales are quite prickly to handle if the spines have not been removed, but if you buy them in a grocery store, they are already de-spined. We have a thriving prickly pear cactus in our yard (photo above, with an agave in the foreground), but I don’t harvest its pads. Every time I tried, I became a human pin cushion, my fingers stuck with impossible-to-see, minute spines. Mexicans must be born with the knowledge of how to de-spine prickly pear pads, but I lack this skill. I’m now content to buy them from the supermarket and leaving the handsome specimen in my yard untouched.

A bit of etymology and history: Nopal is from the Nahuatl word, nopalli, meaning pads.  An Aztec legend tells of finding a new homeland by looking for an eagle perched on a cactus, eating a snake. On this spot, Tenochtitlan (meaning place of nopal cactus), was settled, taking its name from nochtli, another Nahuatl word for nopal. Tenochtitlan is present day Mexico City, and this image of the eagle on the cactus is depicted on the Mexican flag.

If you live in a small Mexican town, like I do, you will find fresh nopal, de-spined and either whole or pre-cut, at your local carnicería, the meat market. I have no explanation for why they are sold at carnicerías and not in the produce section at the little, corner grocery stores. In large supermarkets, they will be in the produce section, where you will also find sugar, another puzzlement for me.

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32 thoughts on “Licuado de Nopal– Cactus in a Glass

  1. I am going to add you to my CookShare friends list. Your information on one of my favorite foods is just what I needed. Thank you for the great smoothie recipe also.

  2. Anonymous

    Hello, darlings! I wonder if anyone knows if the RAW NOPAL pads they can be frozen, after they are clean and choped? … I bought extra, so I want to have them for later for smoothy. With deep thanks!

  3. Barbara Gamez

    I started making this drink 2 months ago and I love it! My mom wanted to try the nopal powder in case she couldn’t get the fresh nopal but we did not get any instructions on how to use it. I make it with 1/2 a nopal paddle and a lot of green stuff .like, kale, spinach, cucumber, zucchinni and fruit like banana, apple, etc.–so delicious and I have lost weight without even trying. I drink it 2 or 3 times a day and everyone is asking what I am doing different…Also a lot of people are asking what i am drinking since it is so green. I finally let some people taste it and they love it! If anyone knows how much to use of the nopal powder please let me know…:)

    1. I’m glad you are finding it such a good drink. As far as how much nopal powder to use — perhaps the brand of powder has a web site where you can find more information. I went to one web site and it said to use 1/8th. teaspoon. That does not seem like the equivalent of 1/2 nopal paddle. I always use fresh nopal and have never tried the powder. By the way, do you know that you can freeze nopal? I cut up the paddles and put the strips in little zip-lock freezer bags.

  4. Pingback: Licuado de Nopal– Cactus in a Glass (via Cooking in Mexico) | Ninny's Nest

  5. Nopalea

    One thing that might help you get over the hump of drinking cactus juice is all the studies showing how good it is for you. Dr. Oz has named it one of the seven natural wonders of the world and claims that Prickly Pear Cactus helps everything from hangovers to diabetes. Scientists are looking at its positive affects in preventing cancer and Alzheimer’s.

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

  7. Hi Kathleen! You are on a roll with yummy and comment provoking recipes! This sounds great. We have a lot of different kinds of nopal in our yard here in Scottsdale AZ, but I have not eaten any yet. Your recipe sounds delish and so healthy!

    1. Hi Andrea, you are so fortunate to have your own, fresh nopales. I hope you start taking advantage of your bounty. I will be writing another article soon on how to select and de-spine fresh nopal leaves, which I have just learned how to do. Stay tuned! :)

    1. I have not tried it with either canned or bottled, because fresh nopales are always available. If you use fresh ingredients, like cucumber, parsley, celery, spinach, kale, maybe some pineapple for the enzymes (helps digestion), you would still have a very healthy drink. You can use a search engine, like Google, and type in “green smoothie” or “green breakfast juice” or “green drink” for more ideas. Here is one simple recipe: http://hubpages.com/hub/Dr-Oz-Green-Drink-Recipe-Intructions. I hope this helps you.

  8. Hello Kathleen, so many great posts..I will have to catch up ..I love that you tried the nopal juice, I have been also drinking this in the morning and am loving it, orange juice…instead of water ..wow I will try this tommorrow..thanks

    sweetlife

  9. I recently discovered jugo verde at my local market here in DF. It’s also made with nopal but instead of cucumber, mint and orange juice they blend celery, parsley and grapefruit juice. It’s one of my favorites, though now I may have to request the cucumber and mint version – or maybe just make it on my own! It looks delicious! ;-)

  10. LOVE your drinking glasses Kathleen! And your pictures are so vibrant. Glad to see that our recipe inspired you to start making it part of your daily routine. I honestly LOVE it! Its so refreshing and so good for ya! Salud!!! ~ Yvette

  11. Lorin Johnson

    Will have to try this in the spring in Mexico. The nopales here are rarely that young or that fresh. Please take a trip to San Pancho before March and go to Nopalito before it closes and the girls move on. They have fantastic coffees and smoothies and crepes. It is a morning spot and is closed on Mondays. I have their emails if you’ld like.

  12. Kathleen, nopales is the one thing I’ve never been able to eat. My dad jokes I am afraid I’ll forget how to speak english and that’s why I won’t eat it. Truth is I’m a little leary of the “baba”. Texture is really important in my food and slimy doesn’t rank high in my scale. But I am sure it’s great for you and the walk is even better. I like to get 3-4 hour long runs a week.

    1. Paolita, there is no sliminess in the smoothie at all. If you make it, you would not even know nopales can have this characteristic. This morning, a friend cut a young nopal leaf from her plant for me, de-spined it with a paring knife, and handed it to me to eat fresh. It was wonderful! Not a hint of the sliminess they can have, maybe because it was such a young, tender leaf, and it had just been cut. If you read the article I wrote about Nopal Salad with Grated Carrot, Jícama and Beet, you will read that there is no sliminess if nopales are undercooked. They should still be crisp and have a bright green color. When they turn limp and gray from overcooking, they exude slime. I hope you try nopales. Just don’t cook them for very long.

  13. Buenos dias, can’t wait to make this. I have tried it before and it is sooo delish! Now I have the recipe. Wondering… Do you make as much as need each day or can it stay in the refri for a day or two? I am sure it separates…. What is your experience?
    Thanks!

    1. Buenas días a ti, Antonia. I make it daily for maximum freshness. I have not tried making extra for the next day, so I don’t know if it would separate or not. Let me know, if you try this.
      Dear readers: Despite what you may be thinking, Antonia did not make a typo due to the early morning hour. Refri (RAY-free) is Spanish shorthand for refrigerator, just like we say “fridge” in English.

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