This ensalada de nopales is made with pickled Mexican cactus and is also healthy, nutritious, naturally vegan, and gluten-free. It features a tarty flavor and a chunky texture and is really easy to make at home.
Ensalada de nopales is a refreshing and light Mexican salad made with a type of cactus called nopal, tomatoes, onions, and chilies. It has a bright, slightly tangy, and fresh taste.
This nopales salad is usually served as a side or topping for tacos, tlacoyos, sopes, and tostadas. But also as a side for grilled meats like carne asada or as an appetizer to enjoy with tortilla chips.
Nopales, sometimes also called nopalitos, are Mexican cactus widely used in Mexican gastronomy. They have a tart flavor with citrusy hints and feature a crunchy, moist, and slightly slimy texture, a bit similar to okra.
In Mexico is very common to find those at the local markets, already cleaned, and whole or sliced. They are normally sold in bags ready to cook.
- Nopales cactus. Our recipe use pickled cactus nopalitos, you can find those on Amazon, in Mexican food stores, or in the international aisle in some local supermarkets. Or you can also use fresh nopales (read below how to cook them).
- Tomatoes. Any type of fresh tomato works fine in this recipe.
- Onions. White, yellow, or red onions are ok.
- Chilies. You can use jalapeno, chile serrano, or any type of fresh chili peppers available to you.
- Cilantro. A bunch of fresh cilantro, nicely chopped. Leave out if you don’t like the taste or don’t have fresh cilantro available where you live.
- Limes. Lime or lemon juice, as much as you want.
- Salt. Make sure you add just a pinch and then adjust later, especially if you using jarred cactus as those have salt already.
Now let’s see how to make it!
How To Make Ensalada de Nopales
Chop the onions, dice the tomatoes, and chop jalapeño or serrano peppers and cilantro. Place everything in a mixing bowl.
Add the nopalitos to the bowl and add also the juice of half a lime. Season everything with salt.
Toss everything for a couple of minutes, taste, and add more lime juice and salt if you want.
Pro Tip: If you want to use freshly cooked nopales just make sure they’re cooled down before tossing with the other ingredients.
You can now serve your ensalada de nopales immediately or chill it in the fridge and serve it later.
- You can discard the seeds and core of tomatoes, but if you want your nopalitos salad to be more on the juicy side, just chop them and add them with everything.
- If you’re going to remove the seeds and veins from chilies, don’t forget to use gloves or wash your hands immediately after handling them, so you won’t end with some spiciness on your hands, or even worst, on your face.
- Add a splash of vinegar to the salad, not only gives a nice sour taste but it helps to preserve it longer and make it perfect to bring to potlucks!
- I am using here a 15 oz jar of Doña Maria brand nopalitos, I love making my salad with those because they’re already cooked and cut, making them the perfect shortcut for this recipe.
- Add a spin to ensalada de nopales with a pinch of oregano or minced garlic.
How do you cook raw nopales?
If you want to make ensalada de nopales using fresh cactus paddles you will need to cook them first, here’s how:
- Place cleaned and diced nopales in a large pot and cover with about 2 inches of water.
- Add salt, 1 small onion cut into half, and 1 bay leaf. Bring the water to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes or until the cactus are tender.
- Drain well, discard the onion and the bay leaf and use the nopalitos as instructed in the recipe.
How To Serve
If you want to know how to serve this Mexican cactus salad, here are our recommendations:
- As an appetizer. Place the salad in a bowl and scoop it up with totopos chips.
- Stuffed. In quesadillas or make some tacos with queso fresco, frijoles de la olla, and molcajete salsa (see photo below).
- As a side. For grilled meats, or fried mojarra fish.
- As topping. For tacos, sopes, or in a healthy tostaguac.
How To Store
This refreshing ensalada de nopales can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Freezing the fresh salad is not recommended as tomatoes and onions will lose their fresh texture and flavor.
If you want this cactus salad to preserve its flavor best, use a glass container with a tight lid when you store it.
You can also chop all ingredients (besides cilantro) and store them in separate containers for a couple of days, then when ready to eat, just toss everything in a mixing bowl with salt, chopped cilantro, and lime juice.
What are nopales?
The nopal cactus is known in English as prickly pear cactus and besides being so delicious and versatile, they are also a superfood high in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
Can nopales be eaten raw?
Yes. In Mexico, they are normally blended in smoothies as they are a high source of fiber.
If you want to use raw nopales for salads, make sure they are light and bright green in color as those are tender and perfect to eat in salads.
Can nopales be frozen?
Yes. Raw or cooked, nopales can be frozen for up to 3 months. If they are cooked, drain them and place them in an airtight container. If you want to freeze raw nopales, tightly wrap them with cling film then place them in a freezing bag before storing them.
More Nopales Recipes
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Ensalada de Nopales
- 1-15 oz jar nopalitos (read notes)
- 3 medium tomatoes (diced)
- 1 medium onion (chopped)
- 2 jalapeño peppers (chopped)
- 1 bunch cilantro (chopped)
- 1 lime (juice)
- salt (to taste)
- Add tomatoes, onions, jalapeño peppers and cilantro in a medium bowl.
- Drain nopales from the jar, chop them roughly and then add to the bowl.
- Mix and season with salt and lime juice to taste.
- Place 2 ½ cups of fresh, cleaned, and diced nopales in a large pot and cover about 2 inches with water.
- Add salt, 1 small onion cut into half, and 1 bay leaf. Bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about 20 minutes or until nopales are tender.
- Drain well, discard the onion and the bay leaf and leave the nopalitos to cool down before using in the recipe.
Maricruz Avalos Flores is a Mexican cook and photographer living in Italy where she shares authentic Mexican & Italian recipes that can be easily made at home using easy-to-find ingredients.