Master Cooking Cactus (and Boost Your Digestion) With These 10 Fiber-Rich Nopales Recipes

Photo: Stocksy/Cameron Whitman
While nopales (cactus pads) are a common part of Mexican cuisine, registered dietitian Krista Linares, RD, says they're severely underutilized by many here in the U.S. "Nopales are the big, green paddle parts of the cactus plant and they can be eaten in a whole variety of ways," she says.

Linares says that nopales grow wild throughout Mexico and in many parts of the U.S., particularly where the weather is warm the majority of the year. They're also really easy to grow at home.

Nopales are a lot easier to cook than you may think, too, and they're extremely versatile. "There's so much you can do with nopales," Linares says. "It's really common to grill them, either whole or in strips. You can serve them with scrambled eggs, chopped up with tomatoes, or pickle them." Linares says the one part of cooking with nopales that can trip people up is removing the thorns. "If you buy nopales from a grocery store or Latinx market, often the thorns are already removed," she says. If you do it yourself, wear gloves to protect your hands and use a chef's knife to gently peel off the thorns before cooking your nopales.

Experts In This Article
  • Krista Linares, RD, Krista Linares, RD, is a registered dietitian specializing in diabetes, PCOS, and food allergies and sensitivities.

However you choose to consume nopales, Linares says you'll be reaping a lot of nutritional benefits. "Nopales are a really good source of fiber," she says, adding that this directly benefits the gut. Besides fiber, she says nopales are full of other nutrients too, including calcium, potassium, magnesium, and vitamin K.

Looking for some ideas for how to cook them up? Rounded up here are ten delicious and healthy nopales recipes, showing a variety of ways to enjoy the gut-friendly plant. Work your way through the list and by the end, you'll be a cactus-cooking pro.

Keep reading for 10 fiber-filled nopales recipes.

nopales recipes
Photo: Mexico In My Kitchen

1. Nopales and tomato salad

This simple dish can either be enjoyed on its own as a salad or tucked into tortillas for a veggie-centered filling. Besides the nopales, all you need are tomatoes, onion, serrano peppers, onion, garlic, cilantro, and olive oil. With a cook time of only 15 minutes, you'll have this dish on the table in no time.

Get the recipe: nopales and tomato salad

nopales con huevos
Photo: Mexican Made Meatless

2. Nopales con huevos

This simple recipe covers your fiber, protein, and healthy fats bases with just a few simple ingredients. (Eggs: The miracle, multi-tasking food!) The nopales give a layer of brightness while serrano peppers, onion, and garlic add plenty of kick.

Get the recipe: nopales con huevos

nopales and jalapenos
Photo: Familia Kitchen

3. Nopales and pickled jalapenos salad

You can incorporate this flavorful salad in just about any dish, pairing it with eggs, meat, fish, or tofu. Besides having different taste notes, it's also layered with different textures including creamy avocado—a stark contrast from the chewy nopales.

Get the recipe: nopales and pickled jalapenos salad

grilled cactus
Photo: The Spruce Eats

4. Grilled nopales

One of the easiest ways to enjoy nopales is to simply grill them with a little sea salt and olive oil. Served this way, they taste similar to asparagus with a chewy, meaty texture. Feel free to incorporate your favorite spices into this easy recipe too.

Get the recipe: grilled nopales

grilled cactus and corn
Photo: House of Nash Eats

5. Grilled cactus and corn salad

Here's another nopales recipe that incorporates grilling. While you have the grill fired up, throw some corn on there too. Then, chop 'em up and throw them in a bowl, add chopped onions, garlic, lime juice, and enjoy!

Get the recipe: grilled cactus and corn salad

pickled cactus
Photo: La Pina en La Cocina

6. Pickled nopales

As Linares mentioned, pickled nopales are commonly used in Mexican cooking. Here, they're pickled with jalapeños, carrots, onion, jalapeños, and a few key spices. Jars of the pickled goods last a full six months, so once you make them, you'll have them on hand to incorporate into many future meals.

Get the recipe: pickled nopales

nopales con chorizo
Photo: Mama Maggie's Kitchen

7. Nopales con chorizo

Nopales con chorizo (seasoned pork) is another dish that can be made in a big batch and used in a variety of different meals. It only takes a handful of ingredients to make and then you have it to incorporate into your breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.

Get the recipe: nopales con chorizo

vegan tacos
Photo: Thyme and Love

8. Vegan breakfast tacos

Typically, eggs are the central ingredient in breakfast tacos but this recipe subs them out for tofu, giving the dish a vegan makeover. The nopales are roasted in the oven and then added to the tofu scramble. The end result is a well-rounded breakfast bursting with benefits.

Get the recipe: vegan breakfast tacos

nopalitos con arroz y pollo
Photo: Sweet Life

9. Nopalitos con arroz y pollo (nopales with rice and chicken)

Once you try this dinner, it will quickly become one of your go-tos. The rice is baked in a salsa verde sauce giving each bite is full of flavor. Chicken serves as the primary protein source while the nopales of course ensure you're getting plenty of fiber.

Get the recipe: nopalitos con arroz y pollo

shrimp patties
Photo: Mejorando Mi Hogar

10. Shrimp patties with nopales and red sauce

This recipe is a little more time-consuming than the others, but the end result is so worth it. The nopales serve as a bed for shrimp patties. A tomato-based red sauce tops it all off, making every bite tangy and juicy.

Get the recipe: shrimp patties with nopales and red sauce

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