This nopales recipe – nopales con carne, is a delicious and hearty prep meal made with braised pork ribs in a scrumptious spiced chili sauce and simmered with Mexican cactus (nopalitos).
What are nopales?
Nopales, also know as “nopalitos”, are the plants and pads of a Opuntia cacti (prickly pear) widely used in the Mexican cuisine. They can be eaten cooked or raw in salads, soups, stews, and even smoothies.
In Mexico is very common find those at the local markets, already cleaned, whole or sliced. The texture is very tender once cooked and a little bit slimy, like okra, and they have a herb-ish, tart flavor.
Some of the most traditional nopales recipes included: nopales con huevo (scrambled eggs with nopales) and nopales con carne (with meat).
I live in Italy and finding nopales here is not that complicated (neither as easy as in Mexico, of course). They grow mostly in the south but I’ve seen some cactus alongside the highway near Rome. Anyway, since is not easy to just stop and harvest nopales wherever I want, I am using here the jarred version.
Those jarred nopales are from Doña Maria brad, yes, the same brand that makes mole and other sauces. I received a few jars as a gift when I bought some tortillas online and I must confess that I’ve never had those before. They are delicious!
Nopales Recipe With Pork And Chili Sauce
Start by cooking the meat. You can really use any type of meat you’d like, from beef, to pork, chicken, etc. I am using “costillas” (pork ribs) because that was what I had at home.
So, place the meat in a braising pan and cover with about 1-inch of water. Add the garlic, bay leaves and salt. Cook until the meat is tender but not falling from the bone (about 1 hour).
While the meat is cooking, make the sauce: Place chilies in a bowl and cover with hot water. Allow to soak for 10 minutes, then place chilies in a blender with tomatoes, onion, garlic, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and oregano. Add 1 cup of water and blend until you’ll have a smooth sauce. Strain in a bowl and set aside.
Drain the meat and set aside 1 1/2 cups of cooking water, return the meat to the pan and add the oil. Fry until lightly browned over medium-low heat.
Pour in the chili sauce, cook for 2 minutes and then add the nopales to the pan. Pour in the cooking water you reserved before and bring to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes over medium heat, and allow the sauce to thicken to your desired consistency.
Adjust with salt to taste and that’s it! Your nopales recipe with pork and chili sauce is ready to enjoy.
How To Serve
This nopales recipe is perfect on its own and it includes all what you need for a whole meal, but if you want to make it even better, those are our recommendations for serving it:
- Refried beans.
- Arroz rojo (red rice).
- Arroz blanco (Mexican white rice with vegetables).
- Frijoles de la olla.
- Pickled red onions.
- Flour sourdough tortillas.
- Corn tortillas.
- Potato salad (Italian recipe).
- Mexican Cabbage salad.
- Bolillo (Mexican rolls).
How To Store & Reheat
- Either you want to make ahead this nopales recipe or you end with some leftovers, place them into an air-tight container and store in the fridge for up to 4 days.
- You can also double the recipe and divide it in small portions, then freeze them for up to 3 months. This is a wonderful meal prep that saves you lots of time in the kitchen.
- To reheat, place the stew on a pot and add a splash of water or stock. Heat at medium-low on the stove for 3-4 minutes.
- If you freeze it, just thaw it overnight in the fridge (or in the kitchen counter) and reheat as suggested.
Nopales recipe with pork and chili sauce (nopales con carne)
- 2 lbs pork ribs (or any other meat you prefer)
- 1 – 15 oz jar Doña Maria nopalitos
- 2 Tbsp lard ( or vegetable oil)
- 1 garlic clove (skin on)
- 2 bay leaves
- ½ Tbsp salt
For the chili sauce
- 3 guajillo peppers (read notes)
- 1 pasilla pepper (read notes)
- 1 lb tomatoes, boiled (or 1 ½ cups tomato sauce)
- 1 small onion (cut into quarters)
- 1 garlic clove (peeled)
- ½ tsp peppercorns
- ½ tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- Place the meat in a braising pan with garlic, bay leaves and salt.
- Cover with about 1-inch of water and cook until the meat is tender but not falling from the bone (about 1 hour).
Make the chili sauce
- Place chilies in a bowl and cover with hot water, leave to soak for 10 minutes.
- Drain chilies and place them in a blender with tomatoes, onion, garlic, cumin seeds, peppercorns, and oregano.
- Add 1 cup of water and blend until you’ll have a smooth sauce. Strain in a bowl and set aside.
Make the stew
- Drain the meat and set aside 1 ½ cups of cooking water, return the meat to the pan and add the oil.
- Fry until lightly browned over medium-low heat.
- Add the chili sauce, cook for 2 minutes and then add the nopales to the pan.
- Pour in the cooking water and bring to a boil.
- Simmer for 10 minutes over medium heat, allow the sauce to thicken to your desired consistency and adjust with salt.