cactus salad with queso fresco (ensalada de nopal)
I’ve recently become obsessed with the cactus salad at Cafe El Portal, so I had to recreate it. In a way, I think I’ve ruined my obsession because now I won’t have this intense need to go have it every time I’m anywhere south of Houston St. I guess that’s a good thing though.
What’s driving me wild about this salad is the texture. The cactus leaf has a great snap to it and the simple lime dressing makes it refreshing and light. It’s very easy to make so I would recommend it as a salad to bring to a potluck. It’s different and the flavors are simple enough that everyone could like it. El Portal serves it in a bowl with corn chips and their amazing salsas on the side.
I’ve always been intimidated by cactus, therefore I’ve never cooked with it, but I watched a video on how to clean it and it’s pretty simple. Just use a large, sharp knife and scraped both sides until the splinters have been shaved off. For a video, watch here. Once cooked, the cactus leaf secretes a slimy substance much like okra does, so be sure to rinse under cold water after boiling.
cactus salad with queso fresco
- 1 pound cactus paddles (nopales), cleaned and trimmed
- 1 large white onion, peeled
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
- 2 medium tomatoes
- 1 cup roughly chopped cilantro
- 1 serrano chile, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 2 limes
- 2 teaspoons oil
- 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 cup crumbled queso fresco
- Avocado for garnish
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Cut one side of the onion and add piece to the water. Add garlic clove.
- Cut the cactus into 1-1/2-inch strips. Add to water. Reduce to a simmer and cook until tender and dark green, about 10-15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes to make about 2 cups. Remove to a colander and allow to drain.
- Chop the remaining onion to make about 1-1/2 cups. Remove to a large bowl. Add the cilantro, serrano chile, oregano, juice of the limes, oil and salt. Add the drained tomato; toss gently.
- Once cactus is tender, remove to the colander; rinse with cold water; drain. Add the cactus to the tomato and onion mixture; toss gently. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
- To serve, sprinkle with cheese and garnish with avocado slices.