Nopales are a wonderful salad ingredient; they're lemony and succulent with a slippery texture similar to okra. You can buy prepared nopales, or nopalitos, in jars, or prepare the fresh paddles yourself at home (see the link at the end of this post for a video tutorial). They're often simply boiled, but we like them grilled, which gives a nice smoky flavor and helps balance out the "slimy" texture. For this salad, we combined the grilled nopalitos with corn, lime, avocado, and queso fresco. The dish is smoky, zesty, and sweet. If you don't have access to fresh cactus paddles, you may used the jarred variety instead of grilled.
Grilled Cactus and Corn Salad
4 nopales, or cactus paddles
1 cob of corn
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice of half a lime
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped cilantro
1/4 cup queso fresco
Clean and prepare the nopales (for instructions, see link below). Cut each paddle into 1/3-inch strips, leaving the stem end intact. It should resemble a fan or a hand. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.
Grill the nopales and corn until soft and slightly charred. The nopales should take about 5 minutes on each side; cooking time for the corn depends on your grilling method. Let cool, then cut nopales into 1-inch slices and cut corn kernels off the cob.
In a large bowl, combine nopales, corn, lime juice, cilantro, and a light drizzle of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, garnish with sliced avocado and queso fresco.
Serve as a salad or side dish, or use as a filling for tortillas.
• How to Clean and Prepare Nopales, from Rivenrock Gardens
(Images: Emily Ho)