Nopalitos Cactus Salad


Ever eat cactus? Nopalitos are so GOOD! This easy, budget-friendly salad is a classic Mexican cactus salad with chopped prickly pear cactus paddles (nopalitos), tomatoes, onions, and radishes.

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.)

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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 pound (450 g) fresh chopped nopalitos
  • 1 pound cherry tomatoes, quartered (about 3 cups)
  • 1 cup chopped red radishes
  • 1 cup finely chopped red onion
  • 3 tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin 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

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

More from Elise

17 Comments / Reviews

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Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Ann

    Can you freeze the cactus salads

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Elisa

    Mexican here, you have to cook the nopalitos longer than 1 minute. They are supposed to be soft and not really that crunchy. My mom says it should be for a few minutes until they actually are soft but not to long.
    Also, if you cook them on a copper pod they don’t loose color and become super green!

  3. Suzy

    easiest recipe! my grandmother made these as a kid, and i hated them. Now i miss her and her nopales. She added a can of pinto beans, which i also did. hearty!


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  4. Henrietta Bojorquez

    My mother used to make nopales for us growing up. She fried them along with cut up wieners and a red sauce. I want to make this recipe and another but all recipes seam to have cilantro in them. I hate cilantro, so what can I use? I have heard about using parsley instead.

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  5. Marie Schick

    can you freeze chopped Nopalito?

    Show Replies (1)
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