This delicious Grilled Cactus Salad (also known as Ensalada de Nopales Asados, Nopales a la Mexicana, or Nopalitos) is a traditional Mexican dish that you simply have to try!
It’s quick to make, refreshing to eat, and naturally vegan, making it the perfect addition to your barbecue spread. Oh, and the leftovers are great to sauté up with some eggs for breakfast. YUM!
While I was in Oaxaca a few years back, I had the most amazing ensalada de nopales at a restaurant called La Biznaga. As soon as I took a bite, I told myself I was going to recreate it at home and share it with you. This, my friends, is the super tasty result of my kitchen adventures.
What Are Nopales?
Nopales are the leaves (also called pads or paddles) of the prickly pear cactus. Native to the Americas, prickly pear cacti have many variants, but both the paddles and the fruits they produce are edible so long as you remove the spiky exterior.
While cactus leaves might not sound like an appealing meal, nopales have a flavor that is reminiscent of green beans. They’re not only excellent in this savory salad, they’re also quite delicious for breakfast. Remember this Nopales con Huevo dish and this very popular cactus smoothie?
Even though nopales were not something I grew up eating, they’ve become something that I love to experiment with. Give this delicious ensalada de nopales a try and let me know what you think!
How to Make Ensalada de Nopales
First things first – it’s time to knock out a little bit of prep work.
I highly recommend you read this blog post: How to Prep and Cook Nopales for full details.
Remove any spines on the nopales by running a sharp paring knife against the grain of the spines.
Slice and score the nopales, keeping base intact.
TIP: Slicing and scoring the paddles allows for the baba (gelatinous liquid) to escape and evaporate.
Generously sprinkle nopales and bell pepper with salt.
Cook nopales and bell pepper on a griddle pan or grill on medium-high for 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove from heat and let cool. Feel free to cook longer if you do not want to see any baba.
After the nopales and bell peppers are roasted, allow them to cool. In the meantime, chop tomatoes, red onion, black olives, and avocado, and jalapeño.
Watch this full length video for step-by-step details.
Once they are cooled, slice the grilled cactus paddles and chop the bell pepper. Do you see the green, white, and red ingredients? Nopales “a la Mexicana” consists of chopped tomatoes, jalapeño, and onion — the colors of the flag of Mexico.
In a small bowl combine lime juice, soy sauce, olive oil, Maggi Jugo seasoning sauce, and salt.
Drizzle dressing over salad and lightly toss. Serve salad slightly chilled. Enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes! Ensalada de Nopales is an ideal salad for summertime gatherings because all of the vegetables are nice and sturdy. Nothing will wilt! That said, I don’t recommend adding the avocado until you’re ready to eat, as it will turn brown with time. Also, any leftovers can be sautéed up the next morning to serve with your eggs.
This amazing plant offers a whole host of possible health benefits, with some studies indicating that the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties make it a possible treatment for glaucoma, ulcers, fatigue and liver illnesses.
Still other studies indicate that prickly pear cactus can also help treat obesity, high cholesterol and even hangovers. Nopales is also used in Mexico to help manage type II diabetes, as it helps to lower and maintain even blood sugar levels.
You should eat this yummy cactus salad not only because it tastes good, but also because it’s super healthy! Science says so.
The paddles of prickly pear cactus can be eaten grilled (like in this nopales salad), boiled or sautéed, or even eaten raw in salads, smoothies or drinks. Basically, there’s no wrong way to eat a nopal!
Need more cactus inspiration?
Check out these other yummy recipes:
If you tried my recipe for Ensalada de Nopales Asados (Grilled Cactus Salad), please rate and review it below. I love hearing from you! And don’t forget to tag me on Instagram (@muybuenocooking) – it’s so fun to see all of your delicious creations.
Ensalada de Nopales Asados (Grilled Cactus Paddle Salad)
- 4 whole nopales, cactus paddles
- 1 red bell pepper
- kosher salt
- 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
- 1/2 white onion, chopped
- 1 jalapeño, diced
- 1 avocado, chopped
- 2.25 ounces olive, sliced
- Remove any spines on the nopales by running a sharp paring knife against the grain of the spines.
- Slice and score the nopales, keeping base intact.
- Generously sprinkle nopales and bell pepper with salt.
- Cook nopales and bell pepper on a griddle pan or grill on medium-high for 4 to 5 minutes per side. Feel free to cook longer if you do not want to see any baba.
- Remove from heat and let cool.
- In a large bowl combine tomato, onion, jalapeño, avocado, and olive slices.
- Chop roasted bell peppers and cut nopales into strips and add to the bowl.
- In a small bowl combine lime juice, soy sauce, olive oil, Maggi Jugo seasoning sauce, and salt.
- Drizzle dressing over salad and lightly toss.
- Serve salad slightly chilled.