Monday, February 23, 2009

Have you eaten cactus?

the cactus in front of my house

Nopales is the vegetable made from the pads of the prickly pear plant. It is high in fiber and vitamins A,C, and K. Nopalitos is the term used once it has been cleaned and prepared for eating. Here in Texas you can buy it fresh or jarred. I bought some fresh nopales from my grocery store the other day. They actually have a person cleaning the thorns off of the pads and slicing it up for you right there. Visiting a friend in Mexico once, we walked outside and picked a young pad off of a plant and cooked it up for breakfast. I forget how or what we ate it with, but it was good. Here in Austin, I used to go to a small Mexican food place with former co-workers for breakfast and pretty much the only vegan option was nopalito and potato tacos. Those tacos were the inspiration for these enchiladas:
half eaten enchiladas

Nopalito Potato Enchiladas

2 cups fresh nopalitos
10 fingerling potatoes (about 2 cups)
1 onion, diced
1-2 TBS oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
1 tsp seasoning salt
18-20 corn tortillas
20 oz can enchilada sauce

Rinse the fresh nopalitos. Boil the nopalitos in salted water for about 7 minutes. Drain and drop them into a cold water bath to stop the cooking. Boil the fingerling potatoes until fork tender and drain. When cool enough to handle, cut potatoes into small dice. Heat the oil in a saute pan over medium high heat. Add the potatoes and shake the pan to form one single layer and keep them from sticking. Let those saute for a few minutes to get brown and crispy on the bottom. Stir them to get the other sides brown and crispy and add the spices. Stir to coat the potatoes. Add the onions and stir. Saute for a few minutes. Drain the nopalitos and add to the pan, stirring.
onion, potato, nopalito filling mixture
To prepare the corn tortillas: rub each one with margarine on both sides. Heat a cast iron griddle and soften the tortillas by letting them cook on the griddle about 15 seconds each side. You want them to soften and get a few brown spots on them. The time it takes on each side really depends on how hot the griddle is. The main thing is you want them to be soft and pliable so they don't break when you roll them.

Assemble the enchiladas: Place a small amount of filling in the tortilla and roll up. Place into pan seam side down. Line them up in a single layer if possible. If necessary you can stack them some. Pour the enchilada sauce over them. Cover with foil and bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 degrees.
they could have used some garnishes

My ingredients made 18 enchiladas that I split between 2 baking dishes (an 8X8 and an 11X7) You should be able to fit them all into a 9X13 inch dish.

I've never used the ones in the jar, so I'm not sure if the preparation would be the same. You may not need to do the initial boiling if you use jarred. Also, I should warn you that cactus is somewhat like okra in that it has the slimy factor going on. If you have an aversion to this, like my husband, you may not like cooking with it. It can be eaten raw, so skipping the boiling step may help it be less slimy. I might do that next time.

More to come using the cactus!


  1. this sounds really good! i have only had nopalitos at mr. natural.

  2. I had absolutely no idea you could eat cactus! I hope I get to try it one day, your enchiladas look scrummy

  3. Your enchiladas sound so délicioso! I miss the desert southwest - had prickly pear fruit and lemons growing in my yard. Hummm...

  4. yeah, i have seen nopalitos at mr. natural, but i am always scared to try them :) i absolutely love the "half eaten" pic-you can tell somebody ate the hell out of those things!