Cactus Salad Recipe

“Ensalada de Nopal”

Believe it or not, cactus is not only edible, it is delicious.

Prickly pear cactus salad – ensalada de nopal – is eaten throughout Mexico. It is typically served as a side dish or eaten in tacos as a light meal. It’s great paired with carne asada

It is also great wrapped in a warm corn tortilla drizzled with your favorite salsa.  

Try our recipes for the guajillo chili salsa or the classic Mexican salsa.

Taco de Ensalada de Nopal
Taco de Ensalada de Nopal

Cactus has a nice, bright, vegetable taste with a hint of sharpness. I have heard the taste described as “sour green beans” which does it a disservice because cactus is quite tasty.

If you have never tried cactus, I think you will enjoy it.

How to Make

Gather everything you need to make the salad: cactus pads, tomatoes, onion, cilantro, and ranchero cheese, “queso ranchero.” 

Cactus Salad Ingredients
Cactus Salad Ingredients

Choosing the Cactus

When you are buying the cactus for this dish look for paddles that are bright green and plump.

If they have started to shrivel and have lost their bright green color they aren’t fresh.  Also, choose the smaller thinner paddles which are younger and more tender.

How to Cook the Cactus

Most of the cactus available at the grocery store has already had the spines removed but give it a quick check to ensure that no spines remain.

Raw cactus has a bright green color. To cook it you add it to cold water in the pan, not hot water.

Fresh Cactus Ready to be Cooked
Fresh Cactus Ready to be Cooked

Bring the cactus to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. As the cactus cooks it turns a darker green and releases slime similar to the slime released by okra.

You will have to skim the slime off a number of times during cooking. The slime is called “baba” which translates as “drool” in Spanish.

I know that that doesn’t sound that appetizing but just remember cactus really is tasty.

Cook just long enough that it has released most of the slime, about 10 minutes. Don’t overcook it. You want it to have a little crunch to it.

Cactus Releases Slime During Cooking
Cactus Releases Slime During Cooking

Fully cooked cactus. Rinse the cactus under running water to remove any remaining slime. Rinsing it also stops it from cooking anymore so it retains some crunch.

Fully Cooked Cactus
Fully Cooked Cactus with all the Slime Removed

The Remaining Ingredients Prepped and Ready to Add to the Salad

Tomatoes, Onions and Cilantro for the Salad
Chopped Tomatoes, Onions and Cilantro for the Salad

 Assembling the Salad

Add all of the ingredients to a mixing bowl and gently turn until well mixed. The ranchero cheese is salty.

You may not need to add additional salt. Only add more after you have tasted it to avoid an overly salty salad.

All of the Ingredients Ready to be Mixed
All of the Ingredients Ready to be Mixed

 The Finished Dish

Serve the salad at room temperature or slightly chilled. Don’t serve it very cold because it tastes bland when too cold.

The Finished Cactus Salad
The Finished Cactus Salad
Finished Cactus Salad with Ranchero Cheese
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3.38 from 8 votes

Cactus Salad Recipe

Recipe for a delicious, easy to prepare, healthy, vegetarian Mexican cactus salad (nopal or nopalitos salad).
Course Salad
Cuisine Mexican
Keyword cactus salad recipe, how to make cactus salad, nopalitos recipe, nopalitos salad
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Servings 6 cups
Calories 105kcal
Author Douglas Cullen


  • 2 lbs. cactus pads
  • 4 Roma tomatoes plum
  • 1 large white onion
  • 12 sprigs of cilantro
  • 6 ozs. ranchero cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. salt + more if needed


Cooking the Cactus

  • Cut the cactus pads into 1/4" x 1/2" pieces.
  • Place the cactus in a large pan and cover with 2" of water.
  • Turn the heat on high and bring the water to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to medium.
  • Skim the slime during cooking until the cactus no longer releases any. (about 10 minutes)
  • Drain the cactus and rinse under cool running water.

Other Ingredients

  • Dice the tomatoes.
  • Dice the onion.
  • Finely chop the cilantro.
  • Crumble the ranchero cheese.

Assembling the Salad

  • Add all of the ingredients to a mixing bowl and gently turn until well mixed.


Preparation Notes
  • The ranchero cheese is salty. You may not need to add additional salt. Only add more after you have tasted it to avoid an overly salty salad.
  • The salad is best eaten fresh but it will keep in the fridge for 2 days. After that its texture becomes unappealing.
  • You can make this vegetarian cactus salad recipe vegan by omitting the ranchero cheese.


Serving: 1cup | Calories: 105kcal | Carbohydrates: 11g | Protein: 9g | Fat: 7g | Sodium: 454mg | Sugar: 5g

Cactus fruit is edible too.

More Mexican Salads

8 comments… add one
  • Dolores ortega

    I am ready to try several of your reciepes, since I am diabetic. Thank you.

    • You’re welcome. I think the cactus salad recipe would be a good choice. You might want to try the garbanzos in guajillo chile sauce.

  • Anna

    This is a great salad and for those that do not know, cactus is great to relieve those that are diabetic. This is a great salad for hot days in tacos, nachos, served with carne asada and with avocado.
    Thanks for your lovely presentation.

  • Amalia

    My favorite dish anytime, especially on a hot day, Making it today and serving it with pork guiso and fideo… Do add avocados n lemon juice to mine.. mmm, thanks for the recipe.

  • Mark

    I just returned from Mexico where I ate a lot of nopales, a long time breakfast taco favorite. I was craving them so I made this salad for a pot-luck and it was a big hit, everyone loved it. I had to use queso fresco since thats what my store had, besides that exactly as instructed and so easy. Now added to the top of my rotation.

  • Lorretta Martinez

    I love cactus salad .I can eat this every day. And I’m 54 years old and I crave it all the time.But I don’t cook it.I put tomatoes,onions ,cilantro and chopped Jalepenos.

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