Preparing Cactus: From Nopal to Nopalitos

Are your cactus ready to harvest? Mine are and since I’ve had a few requests for instructions on getting them ready to eat. I’d thought I’d do a little photo essay.
When the cactus is a paddle, the Mexicans call it a nopal, or nopales for plural. Once it’s cleaned and trimmed, the pieces are called nopalitos.

First, grab a dish towel and hold one end of the paddle as you make a nice clean slice at the base:


Carefully wrap the dishtowel around the thick base of the paddle, but first notice how butch my hands look in this photo:


Slowly cut along the outside of the paddle. There are too many spines to bother with so just cut around the paddle:


Slowly go from base to top and remove the spines. You’ll be surprised how easily they come off but you won’t get them all. No worries. Also a common question is how to skin the paddle, but you don’t. In fact, do your best to just get the spines and as little of the paddle as possible:


Now carefully go in all directions and get every last spine until there are none left:


If you’re grilling your paddle, make cuts as shown so the paddle will cook evenly:


If you’re boiling your cactus, cut it up into little squares. I’d prefer it of you take a little more care than I have in this photo:


Rinse well and let drain:


It’s that easy. If you’re boiling, I have a post here.
Enjoy your nopales, but remember, like love, they can hurt!

4 Comments on Preparing Cactus: From Nopal to Nopalitos

  1. Thank you for this! I see cactus paddles all the time in the Latino grocery but I’ve never taken the time to figure out what to do with them–too transfixed by the array of chiles, I guess.

    (Guess where I’m off to!)

  2. Thank you! This is exactly what I wanted to know. I’m not sure if my hands will be as butch as yours but they will by the time I’m done cleaning nopals. You are such a hunk.

  3. NvG, a lot of times the paddles are already cleaned, I’d just avoid the pre-cut ones. And speaking of chiles, Patricia Quintana makes a cactus in chile sauce taco that’s great.

    Elayne, no it’s not likely your hands will look as butch as mine but you can keep trying! Dare to struggle, dare to win! But really, report back.

    And don’t forget grilling! Rub a little olive oil and grill until brown, flip and repeat. I like this way best.

  4. I’ve always wondered if all cacti are edible or only certain ones. If only certain ones, which?

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