Prickly Pear Fruits and Nopale Leaves

Prickly Pear Fruits and Nopale Leaves

Nopale Cactus Leaves

Three Nopale LeavesI have tried a lot of new things this year, but finally I am trying my hand at nopale leaf.

These big flat cactus leaves grow on the same plant that gives us the cactus fruit known as prickly pear. Originally nohpalli in the Nahuatl language, Opuntia cacti are now referred to as Nopal in the Spanish of Mexico.

Intimidating looking, perhaps, but quite easy to prepare and cook. These leaves have a very green flavor not unlike green beans. They can be eaten raw or cooked, and are often used in marmalade, soups, stews, salads, and salsas. I see a lot of recipes for eggs and diced nopale; nopalitos con huevos.

Nopale Leaf De-Spined and Trimmed

Nopale Leaf with spines removed, edges trimmed, and rinsed.


Set-up for Prepping Cactus Leaves

A plastic bag and a paper plate are the perfect set-up for scraping off the spines and trimming a cactus leaf.

To clean a Nopale Leaf:

  1. First place a paper plate inside a grocery bag with a leaf resting on it.
  2. Using a sharp knife slide the blade along the leaf from the stem to the tip, scrapping off the barbs. The black spots may remain. They are not sharp.
  3. After you have cleared both sides of the spines, simply trim the edge off all around.
  4. Rinse and pat dry.
  5. You now have a nopalito leaf that is ready to be grilled whole, sliced into strips, or diced according to your needs.


As far as what to do with your nopale leaf?

  • Grill it whole
  • Saute cubes with tomatoes and onions then add eggs for a scramble
  • Toss with diced tomatoes and onions, fresh cilantro, and lime juice for salsa
  • Blend with your favorite fruits for a very healthy smoothy
  • Quick Pickle
  • Slice thin for a coleslaw
  • Add to quesadillas
  • Chop into vegetable soup
  • Add to beef or pork stew
  • Serve with red chili sauce and Spanish rice
  • Bread and deep fry strips to go with ranch, chipotle mayo, or BBQ sauce
  • Stuff with cheese and batter like a relleno
  • Season and saute as vegetarian taco meat
  • ….the list is endless


Prickly Pear Fruit

Green and Crimson Prickly Pear Fruits

Sometimes the crimson prickly pears are VERY pink on the outside. Other times it may be hard to distinguish which ones will be red or green on the inside. Here the two on the left are green, while the two on the right have just a little pink hue hinting that they will be crimson.

Prickly Pear can come in many different colors with green, yellow, orange, pink, or bright crimson skins. The inside can very as well, although very similar in taste. The bright red fruits have a little more water content and are slightly sweeter, and although a little more firm the green fruits are still pleasantly sweet.

The prep for the prickly pear fruit? That is much easier!
These simply need to be pealed or cut in half and the fruit scooped out.
As for the seeds? You can totally just swallow them. If you would prefer, however, you can press the fruit through a sieve to remove them.

Green and Red Prickly Pears Sliced Open

Any confusion you may have had by comparing the outsides will quickly be resolved with a single slice, revealing the very obviously light or dark inner core.


Uses for Prickly Pear Fruit:

  • Raw as a snack
  • Juiced or in a smoothy
  • Sweet flavor and bright color for candies
  • Interesting mixed drink addition or garnish
  • Frozen as sherbet
  • Jelly
  • Danish or baked good filling
  • Added to a frosting glaze
  • Vinaigrette dressing
  • With cucumber for a fresh dip or cool soup

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