Green and crunchy, Cactus Paddle Tacos, have the heat of jalapeño mixed with the brightness of citrus and the vegetal crunch of something akin to fresh green beans. Cilantro, cotija, cheese, and lime complete these simple tacos.
If you live in an area with a large Latin-American population it’s likely you can find cactus paddles (also known as nopales) in the market. If you live in certain warm, dry climates then you can also find cactus paddles growing almost anywhere. Which is what I did. Sure they look scary with that faceful of thorns designed to deter even the hungriest herbivore.
But don’t be afraid to put on some gloves and forage. Picking good, fresh nopales is actually pretty easy. You want paddles that are bright green and flexible, but not floppy. As a general rule, opt for paddles that are about the size of your hand or smaller. If you choose nopales that are much larger than that you run the risk of getting a stringy piece. They can be cooked just about any way you choose, and can even be eaten raw. However, I think they’re best cooked hot and fast with a bit of char. As a mucilaginous plant, nopales give off a somewhat slimy goo (known as baba in Spanish) that can be off-putting. Heat tames the muck.
Cactus Paddle Tacos
If you have never eaten nopales before, you could give them a try by adding them to stews just like any other vegetable. In Mexico, you’ll often see them in scrambled eggs for breakfast. But I think they’re best cooked hot and fast and served in tacos. Because I love tacos. Cactus Paddle Tacos. GREG