Frijoles Negros de la Olla con Nopalitos (Black Beans with Cactus Paddles)

Creamy black beans are cooked with tender cactus and epazote and finished with a sprinkling of salty queso fresco.

Frijoles Negros de la Olla con Nopalito

Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Carrie Purcell / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

Active Time:
30 mins
Total Time:
3 hrs 35 mins
8 servings

Creamy black beans, simply seasoned with onion, garlic, and epazote, are a delicious match for meaty, lightly cooked nopal (also called prickly pear) cactus paddles. Bricia Lopez tosses nopales with salt to reduce the clear, jelly-like liquid that the vegetable releases. Epazote, commonly used in Mexican cooking, is a fragrant herb native to Central America and Mexico. It’s commonly cooked with a pot of beans and is said to have carminative, or gas-relieving, properties. Epazote also imparts the dish with a pungent lemony, medicinal flavor. Find it at Latin American grocery stores, or for a substitute with a similar flavor, tie together one sprig each of oregano, mint, and basil.


  • 1 pound dried black beans (about 2 1/2 cups)

  • 4 cups water

  • 1 small white onion, quartered

  • 3 garlic cloves, smashed

  • 3 medium nopales (cactus paddles), spines scraped, cut into 1- x 1/2-inch pieces 

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fine sea salt, divided

  • 1 (8-inch) epazote sprig (see Note)

  • Crumbled queso fresco and warm tortillas, for serving


  1. Rinse beans well under cold water; drain. Place beans in a large pot; add water to cover beans by at least 2 inches. Cover and let soak at room temperature at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours.

  2. Drain beans; discard soaking liquid. Return beans to pot; stir in 4 cups water, onion, and garlic. Bring to a boil over medium-high. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, 1 hour to 1 hour and 30 minutes.

  3. Toss together nopales and 1 tablespoon salt in a large bowl. Let stand until nopales soften and release a clear, jelly-like liquid, about 20 minutes. Rinse well; set aside.

  4. Remove and discard onion and garlic from beans. Stir in nopales, epazote, and remaining 1/2 tablespoon salt. Remove from heat, and let stand, covered, until nopales are tender, about 20 minutes. To serve, divide beans evenly among bowls. Sprinkle with crumbled queso fresco, and serve with warm tortillas.

To make ahead

Beans can be made up to 2 days in advance and stored in an airtight container in refrigerator. Reheat over medium-low before serving.


Epazote is a fragrant herb with a pungent lemony, medicinal flavor. Find it at Latin American grocery stores, or for a substitute, tie together 1 sprig each of oregano, mint, and basil.


This recipe is adapted from Asada: The Art of Mexican-Style Grilling by Bricia Lopez with Javier Cabral

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