Nopalitos Pulao

Hello friends, Amy here making something different out of the same characters I always eat, again and again and again. Eating more locally and seasonally encourages creativity! Nopalitos, young prickly pear cactus pads of many species, are DELICIOUS but like okra need special care to not let them overpower the texture of a meal. Start by harvesting a tender young pad that still has its true leaves, the little cones at the top of the pads seen in the photo below. As the pad matures, the leaves yellow, fall, and a woody internal structure develops. This might be the last I harvest before a new flush of pads comes with summer rains.

Any large spines or tiny glochids can be quickly singed to ash over an open flame, holding the pad with tongs.

Singed nopalitos can be safely touched and if they turn from bright green to pale olive, they are cooked and ready to be eaten.

To showcase this little harvest I made pulao, an extremely flexible rice pilaf from India. I started with a traditional recipe changing to local veggies and nuts. Whole cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, star anise, Indian bay, fennel and black cumin can be toasted in oil or ghee. I wish I had whole nutmeg or mace to add at the beginning, because I forgot to add them as ground spices later.

Then onion, garlic, ginger and a whole green chile (a serrano frozen from last autumn’s harvest) went in to fry. Followed by Tucson CSA carrots.

Then Tucson CSA zucchini, soaked basmati rice and mint from the garden.

After several years without, I now have a great spearmint patch again. A smart gardener gives plant starts away to friends and family for backups and last year I was a grateful recipient. Anybody need some?

After water, salt and 20 minutes covered over low heat, it was ready.

After fluffing, I toasted some local pecans and sprinkled them as well as the nopalitos on top. A totally new taste for my usual veggie friends. If you like this, you make like Tia Marta’s cholla bud jambalaya.

2 thoughts on “Nopalitos Pulao

  1. The way it is done traditionally in Mexico, is that you scrape the large spines or tiny glochids off with a sharp knife, carefully while holding the bottom of the “nopal”. Then you just cut around the edges , leaving you with a cleaned off pad. Then once cleaned off, you cut them up and boil them in water, with salt until tender. Once cooked, you drain the water, which will be slimy, and you can then eat them in a cold salad, or add them to other meals. They resemble a cooked green bean, in my opinion. They are delicious and nutritious. You can pick them anywhere in Texas.


  2. I did not know that nopalitos were so easy. I got mine a bit larger, while they were firm, and peeled them. Of course, there is not much left after peeling. That is how I noticed others doing it. Singing them and cooking them over flame would be so much easier, and it is helpful to know that they are best just prior to shedding their leaves. I would not have watched for that.
    Indian bay is related to California bay and Grecian bay, and more closely related to cinnamon and camphor.


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