Nopalitos with Tomatoes and Onions

Nopalitos, chopped prickly pear cactus paddles sautéed with onions, garlic, jalapeno, and tomatoes.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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


1 Sauté onions, garlic, jalapeño: 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.

2 Add the nopalitos, then the tomatoes: 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 and Corn Salsa here on Simply Recipes

How to Cut and Prepare Prickly Pears from Garrett

Hominy and Cactus Soup from the Perfect Pantry

Nopalitos with Tomatoes and Onions

Showing 4 of 19 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

  • David

    Are all nopales eatable?…I live in Thailand and theres nopales here are they the same, they look the same

    Great question. I would ask a local nursery. ~Elise

  • Barbara Nevarez

    I make my nopales with pork meat, onions, and red chili. My mom use to make them with eggs, and onions. She is waiting to try mine which I will be making tonight.

  • Yoko

    I just purchased a “cactus pear” at a local produce market..I’m assuming it’s a nopales.

    I’d really like to taste it before cooking it since it’s the first time buying it. Is it possible to eat it raw?

    Yes. Here is how to cut and prepare prickly pears. ~Elise

  • Alva P.

    The only thing missing, and probably the most important thing, is cilantro! You add the cilantro with the other ingridients and sautee, then you add your nopales. Super delicious! My mom likes to add eggs and scramble it all together, and that is really good too. I’ve tried the nopales in a jar, through a co-worker, but they had a strong pickled taste. Nothing is better than fresh nopales. I personally have never purchased them from a store since since my parents have nopales in their back yard (they’ve always grown their own). My lovely grandmother cleans them off, chops them up, cooks them and then puts them in jars. They last a while and she is pretty well known for selling them, especially during Lent. She also likes to make an “ensalada de nopales” which consists of: nopales(cooked), kidney beans, garbanzos, onions, chile serrano, cilantro and tomato; all chopped of course. My dad likes to wrap the whole nopal in foil and throw it on the grill, they compliment your carne asada perfectly! Anyone can grown their own! it’s something to consider since they require almost no maintenance!

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