Scientific Binomial Name: Opuntia ficus-indica
Nopales are thick, oval, flat, modified stems of cactus plant, eaten as a vegetable. Its young tender pads known as nopalitos are the main components of Mexican cuisine since ancient times and gaining popularity among Europeans and US for their health benefiting properties.
Selection, Usage and Storage Information
Selection: Look for small tender pads that are firm with tight skin they should not be spongy or wrinkly, and the color should be bright green. Tender, succulent, young paddles are generally harvested during spring in Mexico for local use as well as to export to Europe and US. Fresh nopales are readily available in southern US states where sizable Mexican communities live.
Usage: Nopales, fresh or preserved, have been main part of traditional Mexican cuisine, especially during lean days. To prepare, hold the pad at its base and gently scrape off all the spines and bristle on both sides using a blunt knife. Wash in cold water and mop dry using soft cloth. Then, using a vegetable peeler, peel the excess skin at nodules. Cut into small cubes or uniform strips (nopalitos) as you desire. Young cladodes of the cactus are used in Mexican cooking to prepare the dish called nopalito or nopales salad, for which also used cilantro and salt. The nopalito is low in carbohydrates and can help in the treatment of diabetes
Storage: Once at home, raw pads can be stored in the refrigerator for about a week or so. Diced or cut pads should be used as early as possible.
Avoid: Avoid product that is too soft, wrinkled or that has broken skin. Seasonal Information
There is no season for nopales, but the pads should be picked young
Cactus paddles are safely eaten by native Mexicans as part of their routine diet since centuries. Allergy to cactus is quite rare; however, individuals with known allergy to cactus should avoid using them entirely. Farmers who handle spiny-cactus while harvesting may sustain pricks, scratches, bruise and therefore, should wear protective gloves, costumes, etc., to be on a safer side.