Nopalitos Cactus Salad

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

Have you ever eaten cactus? Prickly pear cactus paddles, known as nopalitos, are not only edible, but they are darn right delicious! Sort of like a cross between green beans and okra, and good for you too, high in vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and with plenty of fiber.

Perfect for those of us wanting to follow paleo, vegan, gluten-free, or low carb diets. (Note that I said “wanting to follow” rather than “following”. I desire to eat more a more healthy diet than I do most days.)

Like okra, there’s a bit of a slime factor when you cook them, but that can be easily rinsed away.

The prickly pear cactus grows all over the southwestern United States and the mediterranean and the young, tender paddles are a staple in Mexican cooking.

Nopalitos Cactus Salad

You can either buy the young paddles whole, and then prep them by wearing thick gloves and gently scraping off the sharp spines, or you can do what most of us do which is to buy them already de-prickled and chopped. You can even buy them already canned.

Find fresh chopped nopalitos already prepped and bagged at any Mexican market.


Like green beans and okra, nopalitos love being paired with tomatoes and onions. This classic Mexican salad is sort of like a hefty pico de gallo mixed in with nopalitos.

Serve the salad as a side to steak or any Mexican dish, or delight your vegan friends by using this salad as a filling for tacos!

Nopalitos Cactus Salad Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 6

If using canned nopalitos, just drain them and mix them in with the tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients. No need to cook them as they are already cooked.


  • 1 lb (450 g) fresh chopped nopalitos
  • 1 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped red radishes
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 Tbsp lime juice
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro


1 Blanch and rinse nopalitos: Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the nopalitos, return to a rolling boil and cook for 1 minute. Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Rinse with water for 1 minute.

2 Toss with remaining ingredients: Place rinsed and drained nopalitos in a bowl with the chopped tomatoes, radishes, and onion. Toss with lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Fold in cilantro.

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Health Benefits of Nopales from Organic Facts

Cactus and Corn Salsa here on Simply Recipes

Nopalitos with Tomatoes and Onions here on Simply Recipes

How to Cook Cactus Paddles from Mexico in my Kitchen

Nopalitos Cactus Salad

Showing 4 of 8 Comments

  • Rosa Menchen

    I frequently use them in place of green beans; if I run out of green beans, I use the nopales. Soup, salads, casseroles, quesadillas. Use your imagination.

  • Marian

    I had them for the first time about a month ago and the salad was delicious. Living in a small town in MI, cactus isn’t something that’s served every day. I thank my Hispanic friends for introducing it to me. YUM!!

  • Lynna

    Nopales are so great! The whole paddles can also be grilled with a squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of sea salt, or for a real treat, some cheese melted on top! My favorite way to “de-slime” them for a salad like this is using plain salt. Place the chopped nopalitos in a colander (in the sink or a large bowl- they throw off an impressive amount of liquid!) and sprinkle them with a good handful of salt. Rub the salt around to coat all the nopalitos evenly and let drain for 30-45 minutes, emptying the liquid every so often if the colander is in a bowl. Rinse VERY well to remove the salt and slime, then mix in the other salad ingredients as above. I love this method because the flavor is so fresh and it removes even more slime than blanching- they taste almost citrusy and keep their lovely crunch! This salad is also great with some queso fresco and/or chopped avocado thrown in. Another classic is with sautéed onions and fava beans- yum! As we say in Mexico, provecho!

  • Elsa

    I love Nopalitos salad it is so good and refreshing I also add a chopped up serrano chili

  • Victor |

    Interesting. I see fresh cactus at the local Mexican grocery store all the time and I just keep on walking. Never occurred to me to try cooking with it. After reading your post I will definitely give it a try. You never know. Muchas gracias for sharing, Elise.

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