Grilled Nopal (Cactus Paddle)

The idea of cooking and eating a cactus might sound a little weird and let's be honest, intimidating. It's a cactus after all, it has spines! But with a little bit of prep the result is a savory dish that is full of flavor. 

Nopals are the paddles of oputnia (prickly pear) cactus. Prickly pear cactus grow in the United States, Mexico, and South America. It also flourishes in Africa, Australia and the Mediterranean. The flavor profile is similar to a green bean with a little more acidity. They are tasty grilled just on their own or can be a savory taco filling or even sliced/diced and served in a salad. 


  • One or two nopalitos per person
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper


1. If spines are present, remove them carefully by holding the pad by the stem end (wear gloves or hold with dish towel) and cutting, with a sharp knife, against the grain, removing the bumps that are around all of the spines.

2. After you have removed the spines, use a sharp knife to score crosshatch in the paddle from the round end toward the base, about 1/3 inch apart, being careful not to cut through the base. (This not only makes them look pretty after grilling but helps to speed the cooking process and to reduce some of the mucilage from the pads.)

3. Brush each paddle lightly with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Sear the paddles, allowing three to four minutes per side, until they are yellowish green with charred spots. If they start to curl, press down on the paddles with spatula or even a potato masher, if necessary, to keep them in contact with the surface of the grill.

4. Either eat as is or slice into long spears and place grilled nopales inside a warm tortilla for a cactus paddle taco. I like to top it with this lacto fermented salsa.

Enjoy! Emma