Nopales Recipe – Cactus Sautéed With Onion
Delicious and nutritious, Nopales or nopalitos are one of the most important Texas Mexican indigenous foods. This nopales recipe is one that I recall my mother making time and time again. It’s straightforward and foregrounds the green herbal flavor of the cactus.Nopal cactus, Opuntia ficus–indica, is native to central and southern Mexico. It spread from there throughout the Americas and was taken to Europe by Spaniards in the 1500s. Nopalitos are a staple in family Mexican American restaurants throughout Texas. They stand to become a trendy super food for the European-Americans and other groups.
This is because of an increasing number of medical studies that demonstrate that nopales can lower cholesterol levels. As early as 2003 the journal, Nuclear Medicine Review: Central and Eastern Europe, published a study that demonstrated that by eating cactus, patients with high blood cholesterol levels were were able to improve the liver’s regulation of LDL (bad)cholesterol.
Scientists also think that among all the plants on our planet, nopalitos may contain the highest levels of Betalains. That’s the chemical that actually helps to reduce blood glucose levels, thus aiding with diabetes. Nopales are super rich in antioxidants.
Families all over south Texas already know about these health benefits because over generations, the oral traditions and cooking practices passed on this knowledge, from mother to son, from uncle to niece. There are many grassroots family practices that are just taken for granted, such as: soaking cactus in a glass of water and then drinking the enriched water; and combining the cactus with chiles to add extra vitamin C,A and other important nutrients.
The nopal cactus is great for health, but I’m including it here because it’s delicious, sabroso!
Nopales Recipe – Nopalitios Guisados Con Cebolla
Adapted from the book, Truly Texas Mexican: A Native Culinary Heritage In Recipes
6 fresh nopales (cactus paddles), cleaned of all spines, rinsed, and cut into 1/2-inch squares
1 white onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons canola or other vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. To remove spines from the cactus, cover your working surface with newspaper. Use tongs to hold the cactus paddle with one hand and peel the spines off with the other hand using a potato peeler. Keep the debris and spines away from any gusts of air, as some spines are so fine that they become airborne. When finished, roll up the newspaper carefully and discard.
2. Heat the canola oil on medium heat and sauté the nopales for 13 minutes. They will acquire some golden color and most of the liquid will evaporate.
3. Add the sliced onions and salt, and cook until the white onion is soft and translucent but not brown.
Adjust the salt and serve immediately.