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Nopalitos, a Pantry Special (Recipe: cactus salad) {vegetarian, gluten-free}

Pantry Specials are great ingredients that find their way into my pantry from time to time, but not all the time.


Try finding nopales (fresh cactus pads) in Rhode Island. Not an easy thing to do, though an upscale market in Providence did special-order them once when my cooking group wanted to make cactus soup. More often, nopalitos -- strips of prickly pear cactus, spiny bits removed, cooked and ready to use -- find their way into my pantry. Cactus tastes somewhat like green beans or asparagus, with a gelatinous center and a slightly citrus undertone. High in fiber and extremely low in calories, nopalitos are believed to be a natural aid in the management of diabetes and cholesterol. Rinse and dry the nopalitos from the jar, and you're ready to cook or add them to a salad.

Is this Pantry Special new to you?


Where to buy online:
Mex Grocer (15 oz jar, $3.50)
Amazon.com (28 oz jar, $4.95)

How to use nopalitos:
Roasted nopalito tomatillo salsa
Nopalitos frittata
Mexican chili beef tacos with nopalitos
Nopalitos with tomato and onion
Eggs and cactus
Carne asada and nopales tacos


Cactus salad

A popular salad in Mexico and in Mexican restaurants everywhere, ensalada de nopalitos is light, healthy, and filling. Ted took the photo above at Chilangos, a restaurant in Providence's Olneyville neighborhood. The salad is almost always served on a platter instead of in a bowl. Adapted from a recipe on Gourmetsleuth.com, this recipe serves 4 as a vegetarian main course.


3 cups nopalitos
1 tsp canola or vegetable oil
3 Tbsp chopped sweet onion
3/4 cup chopped cilantro, divided
1/2 tsp dried Mexican oregano
2 Tbsp fresh lime juice
Romaine lettuce for the base of the salad
3 ripe tomatoes, sliced
1/3 cup crumbled queso fresco, Monterey Jack or feta cheese
1 avocado, peeled and sliced


Rinse and dry the nopalitos, and place in a bowl. In a small saute pan, heat canola or vegetable oil, and saute the onions for 2-3 minutes, until just beginning to brown. Add to the nopalitos along with 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, plus the oregano and lime juice. Toss to combine, and set aside for 30 minutes.

Line a platter with lettuce leaves. Spread the nopalitos on top, and arrange tomatoes, cheese and avocado here and there on top. Sprinkle with remaining chopped cilantro.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]

More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:

Hominy and cactus soup
Albornia de chayote
Mexicali meatloaf
Turkey taco salad

Need more ideas for how to create salads with pizzazz? Get Dress Up Your Salad, my e-book packed with easy mix-and-match recipes, full-color photos and a few fun videos. Exciting salad recipes from everyday ingredients can be just one click away, on any computer, tablet or smart phone, with the FREE Kindle Reading app. Click here to learn more.

Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.


Oh Goodie! I get to be first to make a comment on this unsusal pantry special. One of the things I like best about your site is that you tell a story about the ingredient and then put the item into a recipe. The cactus salad's other ingredients are things most of us already have on hand. I will have to look for this very unusual product in my local stores. Thanks for another wonderful post.

Uh, that doesn't look to good to me, but I always do find cilantro and lime irrestible - staples for me. However, I have seen cactus as jelly a lot - especially since we used to live in AZ!

I don't know why nopalitos aren't used more. They're delicious. I remember being so surprised the first time I tried them on a trip to Mexico.

Looks like I'll be making a trip to C Town - the wonderful Latin grocery store chain in CT. Hopefully I can find these & try this awesome salad.

Might make this the mission of our noon walk and have your salad for dinner! I think they'll have them at my local grocery.

Interesting; I know we get them fresh occasionally, but I've never noticed them in a jar. But I know which aisle to check to see! I'm guessing the canned ones have been at least partially cooked, so if I'd have to change the recipe slightly if I bought them fresh.

Totally new to me as a pantry item. I occasionally see fresh cactus pads in grocery stores although not often, but I had no idea they also came jarred. And thanks for the description of how they taste. I've never had one.

I have seen these and did not know what to do with them. Thanks for the idea.

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

Hmm, looks more like pickled green beans to me! But hey, any recipe that involves cilantro Im game for!! And the end result looks delish, I just might try this one! Thanks!

When I visited Lydia and Ted(and dropped off the pomegranate syrup) we visited a Mexican restaurant and I ordered the Nopalitos salad which I think is the one pictured above. It was delicious and now that we are all trying our best to live up to our New Year's resolutions to lose a few pounds or kilos, it is good to know that Nopalitos are tasty and very light in calories. Ole'

Helen, this is really a light salad -- and if you don't have nopalitos in your pantry, try it with green beans or asparagus instead.

Page, try the salad with other vegetables, and maybe you can sneak in a few nopalitos to give them a try!

Rupert, of course I agree!

HB, I've not heard of C Town, but now I'm going to look them up. If there's one in Hartford or New Haven, I'm getting in the car right now.

MyKitchen, sounds like you have a very well-stocked grocery store.

Sandra, you could just saute the fresh nopales with the onions for a couple of minutes.

Julie, Noble Pig: you're welcome. I hope you can find nopalitos in your local market.

Joyce, so glad you found your way here.

Paulalee, green beans (not pickled, but fresh ones or even frozen) would make a good substitute in this recipe.

Cousin, anything that helps in the struggle against kilos is something I want to keep in the pantry! (Speaking of which, we've used almost all of that pomegranate syrup. Hint, hint.)

A few years ago, a good friend of mine from Mexico got me hooked on Nopalitos. We went cactus "hunting", scraped off the spines, sliced them into thin strips and boiled them. I think we may have roasted them too. Anyway,I was a little hesitant at first, but man, those were some tasty Nopalito Tacos! They also do well served with eggs. Yumm....

I was always somewhat aware that cactus was eaten, but dismissed it as a dangerous culinary endeavor ... but citrus taste and high fiber sounds pointedly appealing.

Ellie, roasted nopales are delicious, and are delicious in scrambled eggs with a bit of hot sauce. I've never hunted them "in the wild", though!

TW, while cactus isn't local to the Northeast, it's definitely worth tracking down. Delicious, and not the least bit dangerous as long as you take off all of the spiky things.

I saw a jar just the other day, right next to a big tin of peeled poblanos that I've never seen here before but immediately bought. If the cactus in the jar is as good as the poblanos I will buy some next time.

Something funny, I saw a carton of cactus juice in the shop of a Polish importer, produced in Poland!

My walk to our close by Albertson's got me nopales! Made the salad and loved it!!

Neil, and all of this culinary cross-culturalism in Australia, too -- the world is such an interesting place!

MyKitchen, I'm so happy that you liked it. Wish my close-by market had nopales.

I grew up with Nopales but my Gram only used fresh. Good to know that they come jarred. I am definitely going to have to try this - I LOVE THEM!

i eat napolitos all the time :) my mother learned how to make them when we lived in southern california and i cant get enough of them !!!!

I went to C Town in Danbury, CT and found both fresh and jarred nopales. I bought the fresh and they were absolutely yummy! Sadly, Danbury is a drive for me, so I am now looking for a closer source to where I live in Shelton, CT.

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