Cruising for Cactus

Hosted by

Gustavo Arellano


Nopales Stir Fry

Gustavo Arellano is the food editor and columnist for the OC Weekly.  He writes the popular Ask a Mexican column.  He grew up in Anaheim, California where his parents still live.  His father, Lorenzo, grows prickly pear cactus, or nopales.  His mother, an excellent cook, uses nopales for a side dish or a salad.  


Nopales Salad (From Epicurious)

6 nopales (cactus leaves)

1 onion, quartered

4 garlic cloves, crushed

3 plum (Roma) tomatoes, cut into thin wedges

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 avocado, peeled, pitted, and thinly sliced

1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated queso fresco or ricotta salata cheese



1/4 cup cider vinegar

1 Tablespoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican

1 Tablespoon red pepper flakes

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt to taste


1. To prepare the nopales: If necessary, use a small sharp knife to remove any residual thorns or nodules from the cactus leaves. Bring 8 cups salted water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the nopales, onion, and garlic and reduce the heat to medium. Cook at a brisk simmer until the nopales are tender, about 6 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Discard the onion and garlic. Cut the nopales into strips about 1/2 inch wide and 2 1/2 inches long. Cover and refrigerate until chilled, at least 2 hours or up to 2 days.


2. To make the dressing: Whisk the vinegar, oregano, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in the oil. Season with salt.


3. Mix the nopales, tomatoes, red onion, and cilantro in a medium bowl. Add as much dressing as you like (refrigerate any remaining dressing for another use) and toss. Divide the salad among 6 salad plates and top with the avocado and queso fresco. Serve immediately.