Carne de Puerco con Nopales is a delicious and hearty prep meal made with braised pork ribs in a scrumptious chili sauce and mixed with Mexican cactus. Serve with warm blue corn tortillas and frijoles de la olla for a true Mexican food experience!
Nopales con carne is a staple recipe in Mexican cuisine. It consist of a stew made with cactus and meat cooked in a flavorful chile sauce. The dish takes also other names such as nopalitos con puerco, or costillas de puerco con nopales.
Nopales with pork (as you might call it in English), is hearty, comforting, and spiced to perfection. The bold flavors of the sauce, the ribs falling off the bone, and the particular flavor and texture of the cactus, make this recipe a keeper if you like Mexican traditional cuisine.
What are nopales?
Nopales, also known as “nopalitos”, are the plants and pads of the Opuntia cacti (prickly pear) widely used in Mexican cuisine. They can be eaten cooked or raw in salads, soups, stews, and even smoothies.
In Mexico is very common to 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.
I live in Italy and finding nopales here is not that complicated (neither as easy as in Mexico, of course). Because of the weather, 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 jarred nopales.
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!
For sure they are very convenient and perfect to use in Mexican recipes like this because they are already cooked and preserved in brine, so you just need to open the jar, drain, and add them to your recipe.
You can also give them a quick rinse under cold water if you want, is up to you.
But, if you want to make nopales with pork using fresh nopales, you might want to check up on this article about how to clean and cook them.
Carne de Puerco con Nopales Recipe (step by step)
Start by cooking the meat. You can really use any 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 it 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 soaking for 10 minutes.
Next, 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 the 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 with pork. Pour in the cooking water you reserved before and bring to a boil.
Simmer nopales con carne 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 carne de puerco con nopales is ready to enjoy.
- Make it spicier. Want your nopales con carne to be spicier? Add one or two arbol chilies to the sauce.
- Add more vegetables. Zucchini and mushrooms are both good options for this recipe.
- Use other sauce. Got some other sauce’s leftovers and don’t know what to do with them? Replace the sauce in this recipe with any salsa you have available.
- You can sub guajillo and/or pasilla peppers with California peppers or with 2 1/2 Tablespoons of smoked paprika.
How To Serve Nopales With Pork
You can serve carne de puerco con nopales over steamed rice or Mexican white rice or noodles. Or you can add a side of beans (refried or de la olla), some pickled onions on top, and serve with warm corn tortillas or bolillo rolls.
How To Store & Reheat
- Either you want to make ahead carne de puerco con nopales 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 into 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 carne de puerco con nopales, place the stew on a pot and add a splash of water or beef stock. Heat at medium-low on the stove for 3-4 minutes.
- If you freeze it, just thaw it overnight in the fridge (or on the kitchen counter) and reheat as suggested.
Carne de Puerco con Nopales – Easy Recipe
- 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.
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- Calabacitas con puerco.
- Costillas de puerco con papas.
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.