How to Make Ensaladas de Nopales (Mexican Cactus Salad)

Ensalada de Nopales, also known as cactus salad or simply nopalitos, is a nutritious Mexican side dish that bursts with flavor. It combines fresh nopales (cactus paddles) with tomatoes and onion to create a versatile dish bursting with flavor and nutrition. This ensaladas de nopales recipe hails straight from my mom’s cocina, so I know you’re going to love it.

ensalada de nopales

I love my mother’s ensalada de nopales recipe as a side dish, on a tostada, stuffed into a cheese quesadilla or taco, or mixed into omelets. Shoutout to my mamá for sharing her receta with me!


Nopales are the flat, oval-shaped pads or paddles of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia genus). They are a common ingredient in southwestern and Mexican cuisines where they are cooked or blended into agua fresca and jugos. A few more fun facts about nopales:

  • Flavor: Their flavor is often described as tangy and slightly citrusy
  • Texture: Nopales are known for their unique texture, similar to green beans, and release a slimy liquid, we call “baba,” when cooked
  • Nutrients: They are a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals, including vitamin C, magnesium, and calcium
what are nopales?


  • Ensaladas de nopales have origins in indigenous Mexican cuisine, dating back centuries.
  • Nopales were a staple food in Mesoamerican diets.
  • Spanish colonization introduced new ingredients to nopales salads.
  • Today, people enjoy ensaladas de nopales because of their unique flavor and nutritional benefits.


Nopal recipes are growing in popularity in the U.S. and have been on menus throughout Mexico for decades. One reason may be due to the health benefits of nopales. Cactus paddle is:

  • Rich in essential nutrients, including vitamins A and C, as well as minerals such as magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
  • High in dietary fiber, which promotes digestive health, helps maintain a feeling of fullness, and supports a healthy weight.
  • Helps control blood sugar, some studies suggest that nopales cactus may help regulate blood sugar levels, making them a potential dietary choice for individuals with diabetes or those at risk of developing diabetes.
  • Low in calories, making them a nutritious addition to meals without contributing to excessive calorie intake.
  • Contains antioxidant properties that help neutralize free radicals in the body, potentially reducing the risk of chronic diseases and supporting overall health.


Find fresh nopales in grocery stores that specialize in Mexican food. A few mainstream grocery stores also carry them in the fresh produce section. You’ll either find them sold as whole paddles, which require cleaning, or cleaned and chopped in small bags (these are convenient and super easy to use). In Mexico, California, and other arid areas, you can even harvest them directly from prickly pear cactus plants.


  • Fresh nopales: these are typically sold as whole paddles or chopped in a one-pound plastic bag
  • Oil: I like to use olive oil in this recipe
  • Cebolla: white, green, or yellow onion work
  • Garlic: a few cloves add a lot of flavor
  • Tomato: any variety works well, I typically use Roma though
  • Salt: this is really the only seasoning you need for this recipe, although some people like to add powdered chicken bouillon
  • Cold water: add this at the very end to finish the cooking process


  • Cutting board
  • Knife
  • Bowl
  • Large skillet or pan
  • Wooden spatula


1. Prepare the ingredients.

Peel nopales. If working with whole cactus paddles is new to you, check out my step-by-step guide on How to Clean Nopales. If using chopped nopales, make sure they’re about the same size as the onion and tomate (roughly 1 cm x 1 cm). Mince garlic.

ensalada de nopales

2. Cook the nopales and onion.

Prepare the pan with olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add nopales and onion. The nopales will begin to release a gelatinous (slimy) liquid. Continue to cook and move frequently with a wooden spatula until gelatinous liquid has been absorbed and nopales and onions are soft, then add garlic and mix well.

Ensalada de Nopales

The cooked nopales will transform from a bright green to more of an olive green color and onions will become translucent.

nopales recipes mexican

3. Add tomato, season, and simmer.

Add tomato, salt and water, then mix well once again. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and adjust salt (a tu gusto) if necessary.

cactus salad mexican

4. Enjoy.

Serve ensaladas de nopales warm as a main dish alongside frijoles de la olla or refried beans and warm corn tortillas, as a side dish with eggs, or as a topping for sopes and tostadas.

ensalada de nopales


  • Consider serving ensaladas de nopales on a warm corn tortilla and tossing in some queso fresco or queso panela and salsa
  • For an extra burst of freshness, toss cooked nopales with chopped cilantro, diced avocados, and a sprinkle of jugo de limón (lime juice) in a large bowl
  • For extra spice in your ensalada de nopal, mix in a chopped jalapeño pepper or chile serrano while cooking


Reusable Cactus Appetizer Toothpicks


What do nopales taste like?

Cactus flavor is often described as tangy and slightly citrusy.

What is ensaladas de nopales in English?

Translated as cactus salad, ensaladas de nopales typically consists of diced nopales cooked until tender, mixed with ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and lime juice, often seasoned with salt and pepper.

Can ensalada de nopales be made in advance and stored?

Yes, you can make ensalada de nopales in advance and refrigerated it in an airtight container for up to 3 days. You may need to adjust the seasoning and give it a little stir before serving.

How do I prevent the nopales from being slimy in the salad?

Cooking the nopales for enough time helps remove the mucilage that causes the sliminess. You’ll notice that at a certain point, they release a lot of the “baba,” then it begins to disappear as you continue cooking the diced cactus.

Are nopales good for the gut? 

Yes, nopales are beneficial for gut health due to their high fiber content, which aids digestion and promotes healthy bowel movements, contributing to overall gastrointestinal well-being.

Nopales: How to pronounce

Nopales is pronounced “noh-PAH-les” and if you’re wondering how to say nopales in English, it’s typically translated to “cactus paddles” or simply “cactus.”

Can you eat nopales raw?

Yes, nopales can be eaten raw, although they are usually cooked in Mexican cuisine. When eaten raw, nopales have a crunchy texture (like cooked green beans) and a slightly tangy flavor. They’re usually used raw when blended into aguas frescas and jugo verde (Mexican green juice).


nopales salad

Ensalada de Nopales (Cactus Salad)

by Lola Dweck
Ensalada de Nopales, also known as cactus salad, is a nutritious Mexican side dish full of Mexican flavor. It combines fresh nopales (cactus paddles) with tomato and onion to create a versatile dish bursting with flavor and nutrition.
Cook Time 30 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 6
Calories 87 kcal


  • 1.5 pounds cactus paddles diced (about 5 large paddles)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil extra virgin
  • ½ small onion diced
  • 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • ½ tomato
  • ¾ tablespoon salt or to taste
  • ½ cup water


  • Rinse diced nopales well and strain.
  • Prepare the pan with olive oil over medium-high heat. When hot, add nopales and onion. They will begin to release a gelatinous (slimy) liquid. Continue to cook and move frequently until liquid has been absorbed and nopales go from a bright green to an olive green in color.
  • Add garlic and mix well.
  • Add salt, tomato, water then mix well once again. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.
  • Serve warm.

A Note from Lola

  • Make ensalada de nopales a day before a party or event. The flavors often meld together and become more pronounced when allowed to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving.
  • This cactus salad can be enjoyed hot or cold enjoyed as a side dish, on a tostada, stuffed into a cheese quesadilla or taco, or mixed into omelets.


Serving: 0.5cupCalories: 87kcalCarbohydrates: 5gProtein: 2gFat: 7gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 1gMonounsaturated Fat: 5gSodium: 898mgPotassium: 333mgFiber: 3gSugar: 2gVitamin A: 604IUVitamin C: 13mgCalcium: 192mgIron: 1mg
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Photography: Cacey McReavy (images 1-2 only)

Lola’s Cocina is a small business that earns various revenue streams. This includes sponsored posts and affiliate commissions from linked products, which I use and love, at no extra cost to readers. This income helps sustains the site. 

Lola Wiarco Dweck

Lola is a Mexican-American recipe developer, writer, and cooking instructor who loves sharing her culture with the world. Growing up in California and spending summers in Mexico, Lola celebrates her family’s Mexican recipes and vibrant culture through Lola’s Cocina.

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