This Mexican cactus salad is tangy, tart, and sweet... all at the same time! Don't forget to try the traditional xoconostle dessert as well. I don't like to waste any part of the cactus!
Our guest today is Carmen, who writes in her blog "Saborearte Entusiasma"!
When you visit the blog, you will find amazing recipes and the history behind the foods. But most of all, you will enjoy Carmen's passion for rescuing the dishes that have gradually been disappearing from our tables.
Gracias for sharing this recipe with us Carmen!
Why You'll Love This Cactus Salad Recipe
You will be surprised to see recipes for dishes that are uncommon in the United States made with vegetables, fruits, plants, and flowers used to cook since pre-Hispanic times.
Our guest author is sharing her witty writings along with pictures of her visits to the local markets. And, even better than the history lesson and amazing photos is the authentic recipe she is sharing as well.
Cactus salad is like nothing else you have ever tasted. It is tangy and tart (like pickles) but also super sweet at the same time. Throw in a few pomegranate seeds for a bit of sweetness and you have a delicious snack or side salad.
🌎 History Behind Cactus Plant
The language, songs, symbols, rituals, the environment, and food habits are all that give character and form a culture. The cactus is a part of México, from their songs to their symbols, passing and stopping, obviously, in their food, the pride of our identity.
The eagle on our national emblem rests precisely on a cactus (or as we can it in Mexico- nopale).
On the Mendocino Codex, page 1 shows the icon of the Foundation of Tenochtitlán. There is an eagle standing on a red nopal cactus. According to the monolith Teocalli’s interpretations of the sacred land, the red tunas symbolize the hearts of the Mexicans, and the nopal immortality, because of their leaves' reproductive capacity and continued growth.
Even the shield of México City has a framework of nopales!
Precisely, the etymology of Tenochtitlan means place of wild tunas; the wild thing, and nochtli, tuna, adding the particularity of abundance, then a landscape with cactus is not the same everywhere, only in our country there are over 60 classified species, and each of these cacti enriches our gastronomy.
What's more, in addition to the health benefits of cactus are its fruits, whether red, green, or yellow juicy tunas and the Xoconoxtle (sour prickly pear).
Even the insect cochineal (Dactylopius coccus), a cactus pest, is highly prized for its natural dye for food and cosmetics, besides giving beautiful purple color to the textiles. This product was part of the goods that were sent to the East via the sea route of the Nao of China.
Now, you can still find in the city of Oaxaca the beautiful and so special embroidered purple huipiles.
How to use the cactus
I don’t know of any other vegetables so accessible, frequent, combined, and versatile as the cactus.
It can be used in so many different ways!
Either in a simple salad (like today's recipe or this raw cactus salad) or it can be used as a part of a dish. Sich as:
It can also be accompanied by grilled meats, tacos, moles, soups, bread, cakes, cookies, tamales, drinks, jams, fruit pastes, ice cream... uff! So many different ways!
The pulp is also used to mix dough for tortillas - either corn or wheat flour.
And, since speaking of food is to speak of innovation, there is even sushi or pizza with nopal-cactus. But, I prefer a more traditional way.
The mature cactus leaf serves as a vessel for cooking like a big pot. It is cooked slowly. This form of cooking is traditional in the state of Queretaro. These cactus shown above are served with chorizo.
What about the prickly pear?
As for fruit, prickly pears are delicious!
In some places in the north where they have the famous cactus colonche, there is an ancient fermented beverage that is rich, hispanic, and fresh. The Náhuatls knew it as nochoctli (from nochtli in Náhuatl means octli tuna and wine, or wine tuna).
On the other hand, in the market stalls of San Luis Potosí, you can see all rows of stacked cheese tuna, which is another product to build and preserve the enormous production of tunas. Some candy stores of D.F. and the La Merced market can get the cheese (which is not exactly a cheese. but a kind of paste) but will never be rich enough to buy it like the one in San Luis, fresh and packed in colorful cellophane colors.
I do not know if the “Higos Chumbos," as they call them in Spain, but the tunas are as tasty and succulent as the ones we grow here in México.
What I do remember very well is that several friends of mine from Spain with immigrant parents during the Spanish Civil War have told me that they were surprised to see that here cactus was consumed in many ways. If they had known, they would have used them to prevent many of their countrymen from suffering from hunger.
And the recipe with cactus? This xoconostle salad is very simple, original, and fresh!
Before I share my salad recipe, here are a few questions I've been asked about homemade cactus salad.
What is cactus salad made of?
There are a lot of different types of cactus salad that you can make. Mine is made with nopales, Oaxaca cheese, pomegranate grains, poblano peppers, corn kernels, and lots of amazing spices.
What do cactus leaves taste like?
Cactus leaves have a green taste that resembles asparagus or okra. They are also slightly sour.
Can you eat nopales raw?
Yes, it is perfectly safe to eat them raw, but I prefer to cook them first. When you eat them raw, they resemble a green pepper.
Here's another raw nopales salad for you to check out!
This simple cactus salad is very delicious with wholesome ingredients and traditional Mexican spices.
Here is the list of ingredients you will need:
- Shredded Oaxaca cheese or muenster cheese
- Grains of a whole pomegranate
- Kernels from one corn cob
- Poblanos (seeds removed)
- Salt to taste
- Dried oregano
- Olive oil
Xoconostles in Syrup
- Cinnamon stick
- Xoconostle fruits
Please note: For exact measurements of the ingredients listed above, scroll down to the recipe card located at the bottom of this post!
To make things easier for you, I am going to break down the directions for making cactus salad into sections.
Cook the nopales
- Cut the cactus across as thin as possible and put it in boiling water. There are countless ways to cook nopales to remove the slime produced when you are cutting them and even imprint an artificial green. I prefer the simplest.
- Put them in water to a boil, making sure that when the foam begins to rise.
- Turn off the heat and strain the nopales.
- Next, add clean water to the pot and put it again to cook for 6 minutes in salted water. Let them cool.
Cook the rest of the veggies
- Cook the corn kernels in salted water and let it cool.
- Put the poblano peppers to a boil in two cups of water with one tablespoon vinegar, one teaspoon oregano, salt to taste, and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Once you have cooked and seasoned, cut into slices and leave to cool - they do not need to drain.
Tip: It is best to keep a little of the broth in which they were boiled, as it serves as a light dressing for the salad.
Mix them together
- In a salad bowl, mix the shredded Oaxaca cheese, Poblano strips, kernels of corn, cactus (drained), and finally the pomegranate seeds. I served it using a ring mold and removed it from the plate.
Make xoconostles in syrup
- Cut the prickly pear in half, then peel and remove the seeds.
- Place in a pot with the water and sugar and cook on low heat until the water has been reduced to 1 cup.
- After 20 minutes, add the cinnamon stick.
Tip: Check the syrup. If the fruit is not already cooked and the taste is too acidic, add more sugar to taste and add a little more water if it has already evaporated. Also, do not overcook - their texture should be firm and delicate!
📚 More Authentic Mexican Recipes
If you enjoyed this recipe for cactus salad, take a look at some of these other authentic Mexican recipes:
- How To Cook Nopales
- Nopales with Chorizo
- Chile Colorado with Pork and Nopales
- Nopal Soup
- Nopales A La Mexicana
I hope you make this xoconostle dessert as well! If this recipe was of any help to you, come back to let me know your experience. Please leave us a comment down below and tell us all about it!
Mexican Cactus Salad (+ Xoconostle Dessert)
- 4 Nopales previously cleaned
- 3 ½ ounces Shredded Oaxaca cheese or Muenster Cheese
- The grains of a whole pomegranate
- The kernels of one corn cob
- 2 Poblanos Seeds removed
- Salt to taste
- 1 Tablespoon of vinegar
- 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
- 1 Tablespoon of olive oil
Xoconostles in Syrup
- 3 cups water
- 3 cups sugar
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 6 Xoconostle fruits
- The cactus is cut across as thin as possible and put in boiling water. There are countless ways to cook Nopales and remove the slime produce when you are cutting them and even to imprint an artificial green. I prefer the simplest. I put them in water to a boil, making sure that when the foam begins to rise turn off the heat, strain the Nopales, add clean water to the pot and put again to cook 6 minutes in salted water. Then I let them cool.
- The corn kernels are cooked in salted water and let it cool.
- I put the poblano peppers to a boil in two cups of water with 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 teaspoon oregano, salt to taste and a drizzle of olive oil. Once you have cooked and seasoned cut into slices and leave to cool, they do not need to drain, it is best to keep a little of the broth in which they were boiled, as it serves as a light dressing to the salad.
- Mix in a salad bowl shredded Oaxaca cheese, Poblano strips, kernels of corn, cactus, drained and finally the pomegranate seeds. I served it using a ring mold and remove it in the plate.
Xoconostles in Syrup
- Cut the Xoconostles in half, peel and remove the seeds . Place in a pot with the water and sugar and cook in a low heat. until the water has reduce to 1 cup. After 20 minutes add the cinnamon stick. Check the syrup, if the fruit is not already cooked and the taste is too acidic add more sugar to taste and add a little more water if it has already evaporated. Do not overcook, their texture should be firm and delicate.