Nopales rellenos - stuffed cactus pads

Oct 6, 2008 at 5:49 a.m. ET

The prickly pear cactus is a spiny plant that you may find in the West and Southwest parts of the U.S. as well as much of Mexico due to the desert climate in these regions. Though the plant is prickly (as the name indicates), it's also edible. Here's a fantastic recipe for nopales rellenos - stuffed cactus pads.

Prickly pear cactus

Pricky pear fruit and pads

The prickly pear fruit, sometimes called the cactus fig, tuna fruit or just prickly pear, most often is used to make candies and jellies. Prickly pear fruitThe fruit is also common in Sicilian cuisine, where it is referred to as ficurinnia (the Indian fig). The prickly pear fruit can be red, purple, yellow, green or orange.

However, the fruit isn't the only part of the plant that is edible. The round-shaped pad portions can also be eaten. In Mexico, these parts of the prickly pear plant are called nopales. After removing the spines, these vegetables are sold fresh or canned and used to make a variety of traditional dishes. The flavor is a little tart and somewhat similar to asparagus. Prickly pear pads can be used in salads, soups, casseroles and even grilled.

Pricky pear warnings

Pricky pear must be peeled carefully to completely remove the spines on the surface. If not closely peeled, one can end up ingesting these needles, causing severe discomfort to the mouth, esophagus and stomach.

Pricky pear nutrition

The prickly pear pads are high in fiber and rich in a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins C and B6 along with calcium, magnesium, potassium and iron. They also are low in carbohydrates and have a low glycemic index. The cactus pads are thought to treat type II diabetes, diarrhea, stomach ache and other maladies.

Nopales - prickly pear pads

Nopales rellenos - stuffed cactus pads


  • 12 tender prickly pear cactus pads
  • 2 quarts of water
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • salt and pepper
  • 6 slices of Mexican or cheddar cheese
  • 1 large white onion (thinly sliced)
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 4 eggs (separated)
  • 1 1/2 cups olive oil
  • 1 (12-oz) can of tomato sauce


Peel the pads and remove any needles with a knife or potato peeler. Cut away any thick stems as well. If the cactus pads have a lot of spines, be sure to wear gloves to avoid injuries.

Wash the pads and then place in 2 quarts of water, along with the garlic and seasonings. Boil for 10-15 minutes until tender but not mushy. Drain.

Place a slice of cheese on each of six cactus pads. Add two slices of onion and then top with another pad. Secure together with wooden toothpicks.

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Add the yolks to the whites and beat for 2 additional minutes.

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Coat the pads with flour and then dip into the egg batter.

Fry until golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels.

Serve with tomato sauce poured on top or as a dipping sauce.

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