Pickled Cactus Strips (Nopalitos)

Nopal (cactus), commonly known as Prickly Pear Cactus ( Genus: Opuntia) is a popular vegetable in Mexican cuisine. Nopales (cacti) are available fresh in some U.S. markets in three ways:

  • their natural state with spines intact (in which case tongs are provided for selecting your purchase)
  • whole pads with the spines removed
  • precut into strips (nopalitos) ready to cook.

My preference is to purchase the whole cactus pads with the spines removed because most of the work is done and because I like to remove a little more of the skin. It is too late for that when already cut up into little pieces.



Prepared nopalitos are available in cans or jars for quick use. This time I made my my own pickled nopalitos from scratch.

The de-spined cactus pads I bought the other day were already starting to get rust colored spots from (I presume) oxidation. My skiving tool is perfect for removing very thin layers of skin.

I submerged the newly skinned cactus pads in water to prevent oxidization.



Cactus, when cut, exudes copious amounts of clear slimy sap (visualize 37 drooling St. Bernards). Soaking the cactus leaves in water did nothing to stop it. It was a slimy mess transferring them from bowl of water to cutting board and then the cut strips into the cooking pot. Cooking seems to be the only way to stop the drooling.


I covered the nopalitos, chunks of onion, halved garlic cloves and deseeded Serrano chiles with water and boiled them with a little salt for about 20 minutes, after which time they had lost their brilliant green color.



I rinsed the cooked nopalitos in cold water and left them to drain for several minutes, then I rinsed them again.

At this point they could be sautéed and served as a side dish, cooked with eggs or used as any other vegetable. I went on to pickle mine.


I transferred the cooked, rinsed and drained cactus, including the onion, garlic and Serrano chiles, into a jar. Meanwhile I had heated equal amounts of white vinegar and water with whole cumin seeds, turbinado sugar and kosher salt. I poured the hot liquid into the jar over the nopalitos.


The pickled nopalitos will keep in the refrigerator for several weeks, by which time I’m sure they will be consumed in salads, on pizza or nachos, in burritos or in omelets.



14 thoughts on “Pickled Cactus Strips (Nopalitos)

  1. Interesting that I see these in the grocery store, but never considered cooking them. They are all over the State land that runs for about five miles behind my house, but I’m not clear what the rules are for harvesting. The land is used for running cattle (about twenty of them stopped by this morning to munch on a few of the cactus pads!), and I probably wouldn’t get into trouble for harvesting a pad or two, but I don’t think I’m inclined to do the picking out of the spines.

    Virtual hugs,


    Liked by 1 person

    1. The task of removing the spines is pretty daunting. I’d rather leave that to someone else. Later in the year when there are new pads on my or my neighbor’s plants I may try throwing them on the charcoal grill and see if burning the spines off is a good option.


  2. Here in Mexico, you can find nopalitos for sale everywhere, but everyone leaves the task of removing the spines to more experienced people. I’m not sure if burning off the spines work, but roasted nopalitos taste really good and are the perfect side dish for grilled steak.
    My mom’s trick to keeping them green during cooking is to cook them in a copper pot. If you don’t have one, find a piece of copper or a coin, throw it in the fire for a bit, and when it’s cool, put it in the water when the nopalitos are cooking. They’ll keep a lot more green.

    Liked by 1 person

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