Ensalada de Nopalitos (Grilled Cactus Paddle Salad)
People in Mexico have eaten various species of cactus since pre-Columbian times, and it continues to be one of the healthiest foods in their diet. According to nutritiondata.com, 1 cup of chopped cactus (nopalitos) contains 22 calories and provides 2 grams protein, 3 grams fiber, and no fat.
Makes 8 servings
2 pounds whole cactus paddles, edges trimmed and thorns scraped off (see note)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for brushing the cactus paddles for grilling
Salt, as needed for sprinkling on the cactus paddles
1 to 2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced
Pico de gallo, to taste (recipe follows)
Crumbled queso fresco cheese, to taste
Prepare a barbecue grill for medium-heat direct grilling. Brush both sides of the prepared cactus paddles with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt. Place the paddles on the grill and cook until grill-marked and tender, 6 to 8 minutes per side. Set aside to cool while you make the pico de gallo.
When ready to serve, slice the cactus paddles into ¼ inch wide sticks, toss with the 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, minced garlic, and pico de gallo to taste. Divide between plates and garnish with crumbled queso fresco.
Makes 2 cups salsa
Pico de Gallo
1 1⁄2 cups Roma tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons white onion, small dice
2 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1–2 serrano chiles, or to taste, finely minced
3 tablespoons lime juice
Kosher salt to taste
Mix the ingredients together and add salt to taste.
Other Recipe Ideas for Nopales
For a quick appetizer: Top whole grilled cactus paddles with slices of panela cheese and return to the grill just long enough to soften the cheese. Serve immediately.
To make a high-fiber, low-calorie breakfast smoothie: Place ½ cup prepared and roughly chopped raw cactus paddles in a blender along with 2 cups orange juice and a handful of ice cubes. Blend at high speed until smooth.