I like to challenge myself with trying new vegetables, and I never seem to run out of cool things to try. My latest project has been playing with cactus. I frequently see cactus paddles, aka nopales in local produce markets with multiple options available. You can buy a whole paddle with the thorns (is that the correct term? Need to work on my cactus lingo.) There are cleaned paddles, sliced or diced paddles and even jars of prepared cactus. I tried preparing them years ago, but they were horribly slimy. I curbed my experiments for a few years until I hear a story recently on the Splendid Table podcast about how cactus is going to be the new food trend. And while trendiness is never a goal of mine, it inspired me to try experimenting with cactus again. Inspired, I created this recipe for Nopales Tostadas.
I know that cactus paddles look very intimidating, but there’s no need to be afraid. Ok, maybe just a little bit. If you found whole paddles, you need to remove the thorns before cooking. Actually,even a couple of the pre-cleaned paddles I found need to be de-thorned. I This can be done using a veggie peeler, although you obviously need to be careful. I’m a dork and wear an Ove Glove while using a Y-peeler (one of the greatest inventions EVER,) but you may be braver than me. Try to keep as much of the skin intact as possible because it seems to help keep the cactus from getting as slimy. Even better, buy the prepared pieces if you can find them. Cut into slivers or squares once the paddles and cleaned, but use whatever shape comes available in jarred or pre-cleaned version. Jarred and canned foods are never my first choice, but jarred nopales are not bad. Rinsed well, they don’t taste that different from fresh.
Nopales, if not handled properly, can become really slimy. Think okra slimy. But there’s a trick. First, you need to boil your nopales for about 5 minutes, or until you see a layer of slime on top of the water. I know it sounds gross, but I’d rather have the slime in the water than in my taco! Once the nopales are boiled, they need to be strained and rinsed thoroughly. This may take a few minutes because you need to rinse every bit of gooey stickiness off of them. If you use the jarred version, you skip straight to the rinsing step. One they are boiled and cleaned, all it take is a quick walk through a hot pan, a little salt, and you are ready to make tostadas.
I love refried beans on everything, but I think they are critical for tostadas. They are tricky to eat, but the refried beans keep things together a bit. Seasoned versions are great, but whatever you have on hand will be great. Just heat and spread it on the tostadas. My preference is to simply top the nopales with pico de gallo, cilantro and queso fresco. I wish that I could provide a great pico de gallo recipe for you, but I usually buy tubs of it fresh from our local produce market. But if you want to make it yourself, Pati Jinich’s version is the best I have tried. This recipe makes enough tostadas to feed 2 hungry people, but I end up with enough extra refried beans, queso fresco, and pico de gallo to last a while. Perfect for Leftover Night. Or Taco Tuesday. Meatless Monday too, now that I think of it! Oh, and this is all gluten free!
PSA: It is impossible to look cool while eating tostadas. Don’t eat this while wearing a white shirt or on a first date.
|Nopales Tostadas|| |
- ¼ pound of nopales, cleaned and diced
- water for boiling
- olive oil to coat the pan
- salt to taste
- 4-6 corn tostadas
- queso fresco, crumbled for garnish
- cilantro, finely chopped, for garnish
- pico de gallo for garnish
- Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
- Boil the nopales for about 5 minutes, or until there is a layer of goo at the top of the pot.
- Drain nopales and rinse thorougly until all of the goo is gone.
- Rinse again. I'm serious - gooey, sticky nopales are gross!
- Heat a large skillet and add enough olive oil to coat the pan.
- Add the nopales and toss until they are fully heated.
- Salt to taste.
- Heat up refried beans however you like - I always put them in a glass bowl and use the microwave.
- Spread the refried beans on the tostada, followed by a layer of nopales.
- Top with queso fresco, pico de gallo and cilantro.
- Serve hot.
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