With a texture similar to roasted chilies, nopales add a southwestern flair to a meal.
Nopales are the pads from the Opuntia cactus, otherwise known as a prickly pear. They are a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine and are a versatile addition to dishes both sweet and savory.
Nopales have been part of the western human diet for thousands of years, with earliest recorded use around 1000 BC. They are indigenous to the western hemisphere but have since made their way to appropriate climates around the world. Records suggest that Columbus carried the cactus back to Lisbon in 1493 as part of his discovery cargo. The opuntia cactus is a very versatile plant, with edible pads and fruit (just remove the spines) and tough fibrous membrane that can be used for a variety of domestic ventures, including fabric. The pads of nopales have also be used as a type of water storage since they are easy to carry once despined.
From a culinary perspective, nopales are interesting in texture. Once they are skinned and despined they can be used in stir fries, sautees, scrambled with eggs, diced into stews and soups. I find them to be a little bit like okra in their texture once cooked, so as far as I’m concerned a little bit goes a long way. They have a subtle flavor that can be enhanced by grilling.
From a health perspective, nopales are a great source of nutrients; macro, micro, and phyto. They are high in fiber and things like pectin, which help the gastrointestinal tract repair and replenish. They are a great source of Vitamin C and B complex. They are high in minerals like magnesium, potassium and even calcium.