Cactus “paddles” (nopales or nopalitos) are covered with little spines. Usually they are sold already cleaned, but need to be washed to be sure you’ve removed all of the spines. They have a flavor similar to green beans and a sticky substance similar to okra. To combat their slippery tendencies, they should be cooked in salted water for 5 to 10 minutes. Some say that if you put a spoonful of baking soda in the water, that cuts down on sticky stuff. If you buy precooked nopal in a jar, you can simply sauté them. If you buy them fresh, you should cook them in water first then sauté them.
½ kilo (1 pound) of canned, precooked or jar cactus (nopales)
2 large raw carrots (zanahoria), sliced thinly and diagonally
½ large raw onion (cebolla) sliced thin
3 to 5 red chiles (chile arbol) whole or seeded and chopped
Pinch of oregano
3 or four bay leaves (laurel)
Saute cactus for about 8 to 10 minutes, or until they look a bit brown and rustic. Do not overcook, but do it enough to get rid of the slime. Allow cactus to cool and add carrots, onion and red chiles. Do not cook the carrots and onion. Add oregano and bay leaves.
Mix a vinaigrette dressing as follows:
½ cup of olive or vegetable oil (aciete de olive o aciete vegetal)
¼ cup of White wine vinegar or cider vinegar
½ tsp. of salt (ground sea salt makes a big difference)
1 clove of garlic crushed
Big pinch of ground pepper
Whisk ingredients together and pour over cactus and vegetables. Mix well and let the salad rest in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
I like the nopal with the sweetness of carrots. But the variations are almost endless. Here are some:
Substitute raw carrots and onions for raw zucchini and red peppers and garnish with cilantro.
Substitute carrots and onions for beets and jicama. Substitute the garlic in the dressing for 1 to 2 tsp. of sugar.
Substitute carrots for fresh tomato wedges and add fresh feta cheese or queso ranchero (fresh dry powdery cheese typical to Mexico).
Substitute carrots for chopped green pepper and sliced radishes.
Substitute raw carrots for frozen or canned corn and chopped green pepper.
Originally published by Mexican Caribbean Today. All content is written by Cynthia Nolan and Armando Elizalde, from Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo. http://www.mexicancaribbeantoday.com