Charred Nopales with Jalapeños and Spring Onions

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Nopales, the paddles of cactus plants, get tender, smoky, and soft on a comal or griddle, picking up a strong char from the hot cast iron. High-heat cooking also tempers their natural sourness and reduces their slippery texture, leaving the cactus paddles pleasantly juicy. Fair warning: Preparing this dish indoors generates some spicy smoke—turn on your exhaust fan and open a window for extra ventilation. Remove the cactus spines before cooking: Use a towel to hold the paddle, and then carefully trim the edges and scrape off the spines on each side with a sharp knife.

Charred Nopales With Jalapenos And Spring Onions
Photo: Photo by Victor Protasio / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Audrey Davis
Total Time:
55 mins
Servings:
4

Ingredients

  • 16 small cebollitas (spring onions) (about 4 bunches) or 1 large white onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rings

  • 4 medium nopales (cactus paddles) (about 5 ounces each) 

  • 2 large red or green jalapeños (about 1 1/2 ounces each)

  • 2 tablespoons sunflower oil or other neutral cooking oil (such as canola)

  • 1 teaspoon fine Himalayan pink salt, plus more to taste 

  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

  • Black beans, rice, corn tortillas, avocado slices, and lime wedges, for serving 

Directions

  1. If using cebollitas, trim and discard top third of stalks. Peel off and discard outer layer of bulbs. Remove and discard any dry, papery skin from pale green and dark green stalks. Trim and discard any roots. If any bulbs are 3/4 inch round or larger, cut bulb in half lengthwise, cutting into the pale green stalk just a little bit and keeping the stalk intact. (If using a white onion, peel onion, halve it lengthwise, and thinly slice with the grain, following the curve of the onion to keep the slices similar in size.) Set aside.

  2. Working with 1 nopal at a time, place nopal flat on a work surface. Hold the base of the paddle with a clean kitchen towel. Using a sharp paring knife, trim about 1/4 inch off the entire perimeter of the paddle; discard. If base of paddle is tough, cut off and discard. Using a sharp knife, scrape off any thorny spines on each side of paddle, being careful not to shave off too much cactus skin. Rinse paddle under cold water, and pat dry with paper towels. Starting about 1 inch from base of each cleaned paddle, make 3 or 4 lengthwise cuts through paddle and toward top of paddle, spacing cuts 1 inch apart. Halve jalapeños lengthwise, keeping stems intact. (Do not remove seeds.)

  3. Heat a large cast-iron comal or a 2-burner cast-iron griddle over high heat until comal is smoking, 5 to 7 minutes. Toss together cebollitas, nopales, jalapeños, oil, and salt on a large rimmed baking sheet.

  4. Working in 2 batches, arrange cebollitas and jalapeños in a single layer on hot comal. Cook cebollitas, turning occasionally, until charred in spots and bulbs are tender when pierced with a paring knife, 9 to 14 minutes. Cook jalapeños, turning occasionally, until charred in spots and softened, 12 to 15 minutes. As cebollitas and jalapeños finish cooking, transfer to a serving platter, and cover with aluminum foil to keep warm. (If using white onion, cook on hot comal, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly charred around edges, about 12 minutes.)

  5. Add nopales to comal. Cook, turning occasionally, until nopales turn a dull green color, are charred in spots, and are tender all the way through, about 8 minutes. Transfer to serving platter. Sprinkle nopales, cebollitas, and jalapeños with additional salt to taste, and drizzle with lime juice. Serve with beans, rice, tortillas, avocado, and lime wedges. 

Note

Many Mexican grocers sell cleaned and trimmed nopales. If using these prepared nopales, skip the cleaning in the beginning of step 2 and proceed with cutting the paddles at the end of step 2.

Suggested Pairing

Lightly malty beer: Saint Arnold H-Town Pils

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