Nopales cactus & Cuban black bean taco recipe
Recipe updated* May 1st 2021
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 or 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) doesn’t have a substitute, cactus has a unique tart flavor that are definitely worth a try. Without the dairy (queso fresco cheese) this is a fantastic Vegan taco option. The Cuban black beans that we’ll be creating really brings this dish together.
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
- 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 or use Melinda’s Mango Habanero Hot Sauce
- 2 bay leaves
- Onion powder
- Apple cider vinegar
- 1 orange bell pepper
- 1 clove of garlic or garlic powder
- Queso fresco
- Fresh cilantro – chopped
- 1 medium white onion
- Avocado (optional)
- 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.
- Prepare the cactus pads by lightly coating each side of the pads in olive oil, I use a pastry brush. If you are using a stove top use a non stick pan, cook the pads on each side, the color of the cactus should change and appear as an olive color when finished. *You can also use a George Forman grill and move the cactus around to vary the grill marks.
- After the pads are off the heat, salt each side, this is going to help break down a slimy by product of the cactus. (don’t be afraid) dice the cactus pads into small bite size pieces. Transfer the diced cactus into a small skillet, we are going to sauté the cactus in lime juice until it starts to boil off, don’t be afraid to add more salt in the process, this is all to remove as much of the mucus as possible.
- For the peppers slice them up and cook them in olive oil until softened.
- Finally dice up cilantro and dice the white onion for your toppings
Assemble your tacos – “together in that order”
- Add two spoonfuls of the cactus first, next a dollop of the black beans, few slices of peppers, add diced onions, cilantro, crumble some queso fresco and then top with sauce, I also recommend a mango habanero hot sauce from Melindas for great mix of heat & flavor.