Trying New Things: Nopales

Jan 3, 2014 | Featured Posts by Holly Jahangiri, Health & Fitness, Resolutions

The first time I worked up the nerve to taste nopales (prickly pear cactus pads) was in Dallas, over the holidays, at the Riverwalk Cantina in the Gaylord Texan Resort & Convention Center. We’d gone there to see Ice!


Brrr! Supposedly, they keep the room at 9 degrees Fahrenheit! Fortunately, they supplied the winter coats. Anyway…

Nopale pads, when cooked, have a consistency like crunchy okra, but without seeds, fuzz, and most of the “slime.” They have a tart, almost lemony taste that’s enhanced with a bit of lemon juice. I rubbed a couple of the pads with olive oil and freshly sliced garlic cloves, added a dash of sea salt, pepper, and lemon and threw them on the griddle at 350 degrees, turning a couple of times until they were tender.

Then, I thought to check NutritionData to see if they were on my diet, and…wow.

They’re not only acceptable fare (low calorie, nutritious, gluten free, and free of added sweeteners) they’re awesome. “This food is very low in Saturated Fat and Cholesterol. It is also a good source of Riboflavin, Vitamin B6, Iron and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, Vitamin K, Calcium, Magnesium, Potassium and Manganese.” And one pad is only about 4 calories.

I will warn you, now, though – be careful selecting them, cleaning them, and eating them. I felt like I’d gone a round with a small, distracted porcupine. Even after carefully cleaning and scraping all the little prickly bits I could see, I ended up with one stuck inside my cheek and another stuck in my finger. Keep tweezers handy. It probably would have helped if I’d read Cleaning and Cooking Cactus Paddles or Nopales, first, but honestly – I did it exactly as described. I just missed two little spines. At least I know it’s not something I did wrong. If you hate okra because of the “slime,” then read that article for suggestions on ways to cook nopale to extrude more of it. I don’t mind it, but I like okra.

While researching the nutrition facts, I learned that this is also one of the latest “superfood” fads – not only the pads, but the fruit of the prickly pear, as well. Anyone care to take bets on how long it is before I’m inundated with spam for “Nopalea”? Given how easy they are to cook, and how seemingly versatile they are, I’ll be adding more nopales to my diet, but I think I’ll just cook them myself!


Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle, illustrated by Jordan Vinyard; A Puppy, Not a Guppy, illustrated by Ryan Shaw; and the newest release: A New Leaf for Lyle, illustrated by Carrie Salazar. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young-at-heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.


  1. Modern Admin Support

    ‘Even after carefully cleaning and scraping all the little prickly bits I could see, I ended up with one stuck inside my cheek and another stuck in my finger’ – Yikes, seemed exotic at the time but I’m officially scared now! That said, were they tasty and would you eat them again? The idea of eating cactus just seems off-putting to me! Thanks for sharing the experience.
    Modern Admin Support recently posted…How testimonials can help grow your small businessMy Profile

    • HollyJahangiri

      I will definitely eat them again! I’ll just be more careful to scrape off all the bumps and cut all the edges off. The little spines were not as bad as a stray fish bone, and were easily removed. But they do sting a bit, like a tiny wood splinter.

      Definitely worth eating again, though. Thanks for dropping by – “Modern Admin Support.” Is that what I should call you?
      HollyJahangiri recently posted…ConsistencyMy Profile

  2. Sonya Mann

    I would try these if someone else made them for me. Too much work, and too dangerous! (Yeah, I’m lazy. And a wimp.) “I felt like I’d gone a round with a small, distracted porcupine.” <— made me laugh!
    Sonya Mann recently posted…Past TeatimeMy Profile

    • HollyJahangiri

      It was funny, even as it stung. I’d just be more careful, next time. But it was funny, today, commiserating with the produce guy at Kroger over those little spikes. Imagine having to stock them regularly!

  3. Joanna Sormunen

    Sounds like something really exotic. I would eat them but if someone helped me to make sure they were clean first or if someone, who knew what they are doing, would cook them for me. Getting cactus prickles inside my cheak doesn’t sound atractive. Or on my tongue…
    Well, I’m probably making too much of it, lol
    Joanna Sormunen recently posted…Word for the Year – JOYFUL!My Profile

    • HollyJahangiri

      Well, it does feel like a painful little splinter – but it’s not as bad as a fish bone. Stings a bit more, but seems less painful. It’s all fine, now!

  4. Aleta

    I’d definitely try it if someone else was preparing it. But I’d rather leave my hands without scars. Very brave of you!
    Aleta recently posted…Cancel ThatMy Profile

    • HollyJahangiri

      I wish I could fix some for you, Aleta! It’s really not as bad as all that. But take heart – today, I bought a bag of “nopalitos” – prepared, cut up, ready to use nopale pads! No spikes! (The pads were not in good shape – not worth buying. Quite a disappointment, now that I’ve decided to add more of them to my diet. But I’ll let you know how they are, despiked and pre-cut!)


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