Nopales are the leaves or the pads of a Prickly Pear, a variety of cactus that originates from Mexico. Here in Mexico it is highly appreciated and used in many different dishes. Once you remove the spines you can either boil, grill, roast or fry it. You can use the Nopales in salads, in tacos, stuffed with cheese and in many other ways.
I confess that when I came to live in Mexico I was at first reluctant to taste it. Didn’t know what to expect really but over time I was happily won over. I’m always trying to find original recipes that can highlight the slightly tart flavour very similar to green beans. The nopales and Panela cheese combination is a classic but this dish certainly elevates it to a more elegant and flavored dish. The “salsa verde” enhances it with its bold flavours and spiciness. If you don’t like it too spicy you can reduce the amount of chili to half and do remember to take all the seeds and veins out, the veins being the most spicy part of a chili. The original recipe asked for frying the leek in a lot of olive oil to a point of extreme crispiness but I love the flavour of leek and decided to use just a bit of olive oil and cook the leek until soft and slightly crispy.
This recipe was adapted from the Mexican Chef Lula. It is perfect for a starter or for a light main course.
Floating Nopales Salad
- 4 big nopales
- 4 thick slices of Panela cheese, 50 g/1.7 oz each
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp pepper
- 150 g/5.3 oz green tomato
- 1 chile serrano, seeds and veins out
- 1 small onion
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1/4 cup cilantro
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp chicken stock in powder
- 100 g/3.5 oz of leek, chopped in thin slices or julienned
- olive oil to fry
- chile in powder (optional)
- Heat the olive oil in a pan at medium/low heat and sauté the nopales for 5 minutes. When they are done cut each one with a 6 cm/2.3 inch round cookie cutter. Season with salt and pepper. Cut same size and number of Panela cheese slices.
- Boil the tomatoes and chili in a saucepan. Drain and blend both with the onion, garlic and cilantro. Pour into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Put aside and season with salt and the chicken stock in powder.
- Sauté the leek with a bit of olive oil until well cooked and a bit crispy. Drain and if desired sprinkle with chili in powder.
In each deep plate make a bed with the salsa verde. Place the Panela cheese circles, on top the Nopales circles and decorate with the leeks. The Floating Nopales Salad is a wonderful fresh and bold dish that I’m sure you will enjoy just as much as I did.