Nopales Cactus Tacos Recipe
I’ve never been big on vegetarian food for the simple reason that I don’t think vegetarian food is every rarely well thought out and often executed well with the exception of many Indian dishes. Often I think of vegetarian food as substitutes and compromises (think bean burger instead of hamburger) When true vegetarian food is well thought out, there’s no compromises. This vegetarian cactus taco recipe (better known as nopales) don’t have a substitute, cactus has a unique tart flavor that are definitely worth a try. Without the dairy (sour cream and cheese) this is a fantastic Vegan taco option, all honesty I found them without the dairy to be better and allowed for the flavors to really to show through.
What are Nopales?
Nopale or Nopales are the pads that grow on Opuntia cacti, also known as a prickly pear cactus. The pads bud off of a larger pad, you prepare the cactus pads by removing the spines/thorns with a knife. Often the pads, when purchased will be prepared for you by your local Mexican or Latin American Grocer. I also want to mention that this type of cactus also produces a fruit that makes a great jam!
What you’ll need to make cactus tacos
- 2-3 cactus pads (will make six tacos)
- Olive oil
- Black Beans (can prepare from dried beans or use a 15 oz can)
- tomato serrano hot sauce – full recipe – serve warm
- 2 bay leaves
- Onion powder
- Apple cider vinegar
- 1 clove of garlic or garlic powder
- Queso blanco (optional)
- Sour cream or crema (optional)
- Fresh cilantro – chopped
- 1 medium white onion
- Corn off the cob
- Limes or lime juice
- Corn Tortillas – store bought or make your own. Bob’s Red Mill Corn Masa was used for the dough.
- Radishes (garnish)
Directions – in order
- Prepare, press, and cook the tortillas, if you are using store bought, continue.
- Prepare a small pot to cook the beans. Add 1/4 cup water (add more if needed), 2 bay leaves, a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Add to taste: cumin powder, garlic powder or minced garlic, and salt (go easy on the salt, we’ll be salting the cactus). Thicken the beans by mashing some of them. Let everything simmer, medium heat – stir occasionally until the beans are soft, 30 minutes. Beans should have a slight “refried bean” appearance when finished.
- If you are using the grill prepare the cactus pads on the grill by lightly coating each side of the pads in olive oil. If you are using a stove top use a non stick pan, add olive oil into the pan and cook the pads on each side, the color of the cactus should change and appear as a dark olive color when finished.
- (Step is optional if you aren’t using a grill) Take the pads and place them over an open flame, charring and blistering is the goal. I charred them quickly in my apartment over the stoves flames and I wont pretend I wasn’t concerned about the fire alarm, but it didn’t end up getting smokey at all. This process will help to reduce the slimy by product that comes from the cactus, it will drip out when cooking.
- After the cactus is charred/cooked, remove them from the flame and salt them, this is the last step in removing any slime that comes from the cactus.
- Slice the cooked cactus pads into 1/2 inch vertical strips, then cut the strips horizontally in half, you’ll probably be left with 8 pieces depending on the size of the pad.
- Set aside and cover the cactus strips to retain some heat while finishing any other cooking steps. Use a non stick pan, don’t use oil add some corn kernels into a pan (you can use frozen) continue to heat them and stir them until they start to char.
Assemble your tacos – “together in that order”
- Add a spoonful of the beans first, next corn, then maybe 3-4 pieces of cactus, add onions, cilantro, a slice of avocado and then the sauce. Make sure you squirt some fresh lime on top, it helps cuts some of the heat, salt and acidity. You can add traditional queso blanco cheese/sour cream if you want! Enjoy!