Edible Nopal cactus, called Nopales in Mexico, is traditionally used as a vegetable and eaten with tortillas in Mexico. In Mexico, it is common to make juice, jams, and even tea from cactus. You can also eat the prickly pear fruit, a small, rounded, and often colorful part of the nopal plant. Before a detox event in Mexico, my colleague prepared several nopales dishes for lunch.
You can buy nopals in the markets and street vendors, the vendors usually slice away the small thorns on the leaves that are already cleaned and ready to cook. We chop them up and sautée them with some spices and herbs. They can be included as a side dish in a variety of recipes, fill them into tacos, or prepare them as a side dish with tomatoes. Nopales are also edible when raw. Mexican nopales are famous for their health benefits with high antioxidant, vitamin, and mineral content. Nopales or nopalitos are from nopal cactus pad-like shapes and are traditionally consumed as a dietary vegetable.
Like most fruits and vegetables, you can buy nopal cactus readily at grocery stores, and farmers’ markets, and it’s on the menu at restaurants across the Southern USA and Mexico. In addition, prickly pear fruit juice is a popular beverage for health-conscious consumers. Cactus plants also play a role in traditional medicine for the treatment of diabetes. For example, a study tested the effects of nopal on 14 people with type 2 diabetes. Try this easy recipe when you are in Mexico or the next time you visit a Hispanic or Mexican store.
Fresh nopal juice can lowering blood sugar, healing wounds, and reducing cholesterol. The nopal’s plant family has Opuntia dillenii, many antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, like soothe pain, boost immune activity, and protect the liver. In Mexico, practitioners of traditional medicine have used both parts of the nopal plant for treating and preventing a range of conditions and symptoms, such as glaucoma, wounds, fatigue, liver conditions, ulcers
- 4 Nopal cactus pad or leaves
- Salt to taste
- 1 cup water
- 2 medium tomatoes
Cut leaves into strips and add them to a pot over medium heat.
Allow simmering for 20 minutes until nopal leaves become soft and tender.
Add cut-up tomatoes and salt, simmer for a few minutes more, and the dish is ready to serve hot with Tortillas. Enjoy.