Nopales Asados (Flavorful Grilled Cactus Paddles)

Grilling season is upon us and nopales asados are must for any Mexican fiesta! If you’ve never grilled cactus pads, you’re in for a real treat with this recipe.

nopales asados

WHAT ARE NOPALES?

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 cuisine where they are cooked or blended into agua fresca and jugos. In my family, cooked nopales are a family favorite to serve alongside carne asada and grilled cebollitasA few more fun facts:

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

WHAT ARE NOPALES ASADOS?

Nopales asados are simply grilled cactus pads that are seasoned with a sprinkle of fresh lime juice and salt. I first tasted them at a restaurant in Denver, which inspired this recipe. I love how they were seasoned and served whole.

WHY YOU’LL LOVE THIS RECIPE

  • Quick and easy: Takes 5 – 10 minutes to make.
  • Good for you: Rich in nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.
  • Versatile: Enjoy as a side dish or in tacos and quesadillas.

NOPALES AND MEXICAN CUISINE

  • Cactus paddles have been a staple ingredient in Mexican cuisine for centuries, dating back to pre-Columbian times. 
  • Indigenous peoples, such as the Aztecs and the Maya, cultivated and consumed cactus pads for their nutritional value and medicinal properties. 
  • Today, they are still widely used in Mexican dishes, valued for their unique texture, flavor, versatility, and health benefits. 
  • They are enjoyed in a variety of traditional dishes, including tacos, gorditashuaraches, quesadillas, salads, guidados (stews), and even drinks!
Flavorful Nopales Asados (Grilled Cactus Paddles)

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EATING CACTUS?

Dishes with cactus pads can be found on restaurant menus throughout Mexico and nopal recipes are growing in popularity in the U.S. 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.

WHERE TO BUY NOPALES

Find fresh nopales in grocery stores that specialize in Mexican food. A few mainstream grocery stores also carry them in the fresh produce section. They are usually 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.

HOW TO CLEAN NOPALES

Before learning how to cook with cactus paddle, it’s essential to learn how to clean nopales because not everybody has access to the freshly cleaned and cactus that is available in Mexican mercados. Also, if you’re lucky to live in an area where cactus grows, you can pick and clean your own paddles!

INGREDIENTS FOR NOPALES ASADOS

  • Fresh nopales: These are typically sold as whole paddles.
  • Oil: I like to use olive oil in this recipe.
  • Limes: Fresh Mexican or key limes or regular limes are perfect.
  • Salt: This is really the only seasoning you need, although I sometimes like to use paprika, too.
  • Paprika (optional): I like adding a dash of sweet paprika to my nopales because that’s how I first tasted them.
Nopales Asados

RECOMMENDED BY LOLA

14-Inch Grill Griddle

grill griddle comal

HOW TO MAKE NOPALES ASADOS A LA PLANCHA

1. Prepare ingredients

  • Remove thorns and edges from nopales. If this is your first time cleaning nopales, check out my post on How to Clean and Eat Cactus.
  • Brush olive oil onto both sides of the cactus pads.
  • Make 3 to 4 long slices about an inch apart, from the middle of each cactus pad through to the edge.

2. Grill nopales

  • Prepare your griddle (or grill) over medium-high heat.
  • Grilling cactus pads typically takes about 4-5 minutes per side. The exact time may vary depending on the thickness of the pads and the heat of the grill. You should grill them until they become tender and have light char marks.
  • You will know they are ready when they go from a vibrant green to more of an olive green.

3. Season and enjoy

  • Season with a sprinkle of fresh lime juice, salt, and paprika, if desired. Enjoy warm.

HOW CAN I SERVE GRILLED NOPALES?

Enjoy them as a side dish, in tacos, salads, or as a topping for various Mexican dishes like quesadillas or enchiladas.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

What does nopal taste like?

Nopal, or cactus, has a slightly tangy flavor similar to green beans or asparagus. Its texture is crisp and slightly mucilaginous (slimy), reminiscent of okra when cooked.

Are nopales healthy to eat? Are there any health benefits to eating nopales?

Nopales contain a variety of nutritional benefits. They are known for their potential to aid digestion, regulate blood sugar, and promote heart health due to their high fiber and antioxidant content. Feel free to review the section above titled, “What Are the Benefits of Eating Cactus?” for details.

How do I clean nopales before grilling?

Use a knife to remove spines and outer edge, then rinse under cold water. Check out my step-by-step instructions. I always use kitchen gloves or a clean kitchen towel to protect my hands when cleaning nopales.

How do I prevent nopales from being slimy when grilled?

Make sure to grill them over medium-high heat until fully cooked. Slicing through each cactus pad also allows for the release of most of the sliminess when cooked.

Is nopal the same as prickly pear?

Yes and no. Nopal and prickly pear refer to the same plant. Nopal typically refers to the edible pads of the prickly pear cactus (Opuntia genus), while prickly pear refers to the fruit (pear-shaped “tunas”) of the same cactus. The fruit can be purple or green in color. Both the pad and the fruit are commonly used in Mexican cuisine and are touted for their nutritional value.

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT

To store grilled nopales, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat on a skillet or grill until warm or in the microwave until heated through. Avoid overcooking to retain texture and flavor.

nopales asados

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Flavorful Nopales Asados (Grilled Cactus Paddles)

Flavorful Nopales Asados (Grilled Cactus Paddles)

by Lola Dweck
Nopales asados are a must for any Mexican fiesta! Similar to cebollitas asadas, grilled cactus is best served hot off the grill and seasoned with fresh lime juice and salt.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Course Side Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 8
Calories 43 kcal

Equipment

  • Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • 14-inch grill griddle
  • Tongs
  • Citrus press (small)

Ingredients
  

  • 8 cactus pads
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 limes
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons paprika optional

Instructions
 

  • Prepare ingredients. Remove thorns and edges from nopales. If this is your first time cleaning nopales, check out my post on How to Clean and Eat Cactus. Brush olive oil onto both sides of the cactus pads. Make 3 to 4 long slices about an inch apart, from about the middle of each cactus pad through to the edge.
  • Grill nopales. Prepare your griddle (or grill) over medium-high heat. Grilling cactus pads typically takes about 4-5 minutes per side. The exact time may vary depending on the thickness of the pads and the heat of the grill. You should grill them until they become tender and have light char marks. You will know they are ready when they go from a vibrant green to more of an olive green and the inside no longer releases a gelatinous substance.
  • Season and enjoy. Season with a sprinkle of fresh lime juice, salt, and paprika, if desired. Enjoy them as a side dish, in tacos, salads, or as a topping for various Mexican dishes like quesadillas or enchiladas.

A Note from Lola

HOW TO STORE AND REHEAT
To store grilled nopales, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 3 days. Reheat on a skillet or grill until warm or in the microwave until heated through. Avoid overcooking to retain texture and flavor.

Nutrition

Serving: 1gCalories: 43kcalCarbohydrates: 4gProtein: 0.3gFat: 4gSaturated Fat: 1gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.4gMonounsaturated Fat: 3gSodium: 583mgPotassium: 48mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 268IUVitamin C: 10mgCalcium: 14mgIron: 0.3mg
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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. This commission is an agreement between Lola’s Cocina and retailers, with 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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