Nopalitos with Tomatoes and Onions

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

  • 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.

nopalitos-tomatoes-onions-method-2 nopalitos-tomatoes-onions-method-3

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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  • Roz

    Are they supposed to be slimy and the end result watery? Help!

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi Roz, yes, nopalitos are a bit like okra, they cook up slimy. Instead of sautéing them, you can boil them and then rinse them to rinse away the slime factor as we do in this our nopalitos cactus salad. Or you can just think of them like okra.

      • Nicole

        That is an amazing tip! I made them and had the same result. I remember having them as a kid and them tasting good. Maybe they did that???

  • Kelsey

    I always eat nopalitos raw. Living in Austin, I have no trouble finding them fresh, cleaned, and sliced. I toss them with some Pico de Gallo, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

  • nico salazar

    I had nopalitos as a kid & it was good. My dad had this recipe from his mom in sonora. There is health benefits as well. He added chopped pork & red chili sauce. Yummy …I just got some paddles from my neighbor & I’m getting my menu ready for my Cinco De Mayo party..I’m sure this recipe will b a hit. Thank you.

  • 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!

  • Lynn in NM

    I live on the border of southern New Mexico and my yard is full of prickly pear cactus. I leave tongs for picking them at the gate so anyone in my neighborhood can come by and take what they want. We have made the juice, which is great for you but somewhat difficult to put together. I eat nopalitos every day, which of course I harvest myself. I tried the canned ones, but am probably spoiled due to the abundance of fresh ones available. (One perk of living in the desert). I do lots of things with nopalitos. One of my favorite is the easiest, add them to scrambled eggs, and add tomato, garic, onion, or whatever you like. The recipes above is very good, but I tweaked it a little. I didn’t have fresh tomatos on hand so I used a can of Rotel with chiles instead. I also like more seasoning, so I added oregano and ground pepper. For my meat eating friends, I first brown pork cubes and onions, then add everything else. simmer for about an hour. The great thing about these recipes is that you’re not aware of the gelatinous goo that forms on nopalitos. I love okra so that doesn’t bother me, but some people object, and if you want folks to continue trying nopal, try to disguise that at first.

  • CJ

    Hi Elise-

    Could you do a blog entry about prepping the catus paddles (the stripped of spines, cleaned and chopped part).

    I would prefer to use fresh over canned, but haven’t got a clue where to start.


    Hi CJ, Most markets that carry the whole cactus paddles also carry the fresh already prepped cactus in bags. If you are working with a whole cactus paddle, here are Diana Kennedy’s instructions from The Art of Mexican Cooking “You will need a pair of tongs, a sharp knife, and a glove for one hand. Holding the nopal firmly in the tongs, shave off the tiny bumps that contain the thorns, but do not remove the whole green outer layer of the nopal. Rinse them well. Cut off the thick, fleshy base and discard. Then cut into 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch squares. They are now ready to cook.” ~Elise

    • Pat McMahon

      I purchased a special tool for shaving the spines from the nopalito at my local Hispanic food store (Fiesta ). It cost under $3.

  • Betty

    I like to barbeque them, along side carne asada or pork chops and then slice them up and add them along with the meat in a tortilla.

  • jen maiser

    I grew up eating nopales as a salad — served cold with avocado, tomato, onion, cilantro, oil, vinegar and some chiles for heat.

    When I decided to make it for myself, I bought the cactus paddles and then called grandma to see how to make it. “Why did you buy it like that?” she asked. “It’s so much easier from the jar.” Just when I think I’m cooking authentically, she admonishes me for trying to be too authentic. ;)

    My new favorite way to cook them is to cut into strips and roast on high heat. Then make the salad when they cool. The roasting method avoids the sliminess and results in a good flavor.

    Brianna – to me, they have a bit of a naturally “pickled” flavor, but it’s not strong —

  • Denise

    My Gram’s nopales were fantastic but unfortunately she is gone and so are her recipes. She would make nopales occasionally during the winter but she was famous for making them part of our traditional meatless Friday’s during the Lent season.

    We would use it as a condiment to tacos (non-lent) but would also scramble it with eggs and fill burritos with it. My favorite way to eat nopales is when she added them to lentils (kind of like a lentil soup but thicker) and you scoop up the dish with homemade tortillas. Oh drool… Missing you Gram!

  • Scott


    They don’t have a strong flavor. I would say they are closest to something like green bell peppers, but with a firmer texture and less bitterness.

  • Brianna

    What do nopalitos taste like? Can the taste be compared to another more familiar vegetable?

    • Pat McMahon

      Green beans with a slight lemon snap.

  • Veronica Lamb

    My mom has always cooked scrambled eggs with nopalitos. It’s similar to this dish, but then she would add eggs and chopped cilantro to it and make it a scramble. Delicious and very tasty in a breakfast burrito too!

  • 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.


  • 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.

  • 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.

    • Nicole

      Aww how amazing! I remember my grandma telling me about the homemade candy her grandma would create. Good luck!

  • 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