Nopalitos with Tomatoes and Onions

Nopalitos are the edible young paddles of the prickly pear cactus, grown throughout their native Mexico, the southwestern United States, and the Mediterranean (brought back by the conquistadores). The paddles are widely available in Mexican markets in the US, either whole (with spines) or prepared (cleaned, spines removed, chopped). They are tasty cooked, and are used in many traditional Mexican dishes. Here is a quick, easy, and delisioso nopalitos recipe prepared for me by my Mexican friend and caterer Arturo Vargas.

Do you have a favorite nopalitos recipe? Please let us know about it in the comments.

Nopalitos with Tomatoes and Onions Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 15 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 3 to 4.



  • 1 lb nopalitos, nopales prickly pear cactus paddles that have been stripped of spines, cleaned, and chopped
  • Olive oil
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stem and seeds removed, chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, roughly chopped
  • Salt and pepper


nopalitos-tomatoes-2.jpg nopalitos-tomatoes-3.jpg

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan) in a large sauté pan on medium high heat. Add red onion, garlic, and jalapeño. Cook for a minute, stirring occasionally, then add the nopalitos. Cook for several more minutes. Then add the chopped tomato. Continue to cook until all vegetables are cooked through. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

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Cactus Salad, Ensalata de Nopalitos from Morsels and Musings
Nopalitos Frittata from What's Cooking
Hominy and Cactus Soup from the Perfect Pantry

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Showing 4 of 22 Comments

  • Lydia (The Perfect Pantry)

    Fresh nopales are hard to find here in Rhode Island, except at the Compare Market in Providence, though I can occasionally order them through one of the Whole Foods-type markets. However, I can buy nopalitos in the jar in most of the Latino markets. Are they suitable for this dish?

    Great question. Diana Kennedy says there are two kinds of canned nopalitos, those canned in brine and those canned in a light pickle solution. She recommends those lightly pickled in general. I have no idea if they would work in this dish. ~Elise

  • Darby "The Dessert Diva"

    My Grandma on my Fathers side used to make us a stick candy she would refer to as ‘doces do nopalito’. She used the prickly pear cactus and created a syrup from the juices, included the finely chopped cactus and let them harden into a “log” or stick of candy she hand rolled herself. I have never had anything like these again since I was a child, and she has since passed away. Of course nothing was written down. She was an amazing woman. She did all of her cooking, I swear, by the seat of her pants. I hope to recreate this amazing treat, and I thank you for putting that special memory back into my mind.

  • Scott

    Nopalitos like this are fantastic in a taco (soft corn tortilla of course), with some goat cheese, a little cilantro and lime.

    Also, I’ve used a canned variety that comes in a glass jar (can’t remember the brand), and they are packed in a viscous liquid which I always rinse off. They are fine, but fresh is better.

  • L

    Funny… I cooked my first nopalitos this week (for a cookbook photo shoot). They were great in the dish… chorizo & nopalito taquitos. I was able to get the fresh paddles at Whole Foods here in Seattle, although the check-out clerk & I had a fun conversation about whether they were edible or not.

    Great to have another idea of what to do with them, esp. since I have two paddles left.


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