How to Grill Cactus Leaves (Nopales)


My cousin recently moved in with us to finish up his last year of college. Along with his sense of humor and gentle spirit, he also brought a new menu item to our table last night – grilled nopales, also known as cactus leaves or pads.

I have eaten cactus salad several times in the past, but had never thought of grilling it. After a little research on the internet, I learned that not only is cactus a versatile ingredient in the kitchen, it is also very beneficial to your health! The says, “Prickly pear cactus is promoted for treating diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity and hangovers. It is also touted for its antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties. Some preliminary evidence shows that prickly pear cactus can decrease blood sugar levels in people with type 2 diabetes.  It is high in fiber, antioxidants and carotenoids.”

As you’d assume, we do not grow cacti here in Minnesota and it isn’t something you find at every grocery store. However, I’m fortunate enough to have a fantastic Mexican market nearby my home which has all sorts of great authentic ingredients, including cactus pads.

They were incredibly easy to prepare and were a great side for our grilled meal. If you ever spot cactus in your store, buy a pound and give them a try. The market near us sells their leaves already cleaned up and ready to cook for about $2.50 a pound, but according to my cousin, not all places sell them so user-friendly. If you purchase paddles and there are still thorns and spines on them, use a sharp knife to scrape off all of the prickly parts cut around the edges of the pad.

Here’s what you need:

  • 1 pound of nopales (6-8 pads usually)
  • 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • Optional: salt, pepper, garlic powder or other seasonings of your choice


Once the nopales are cleaned up, rinse them off and pat them dry. Brush olive oil over both sides of the pad and season them with salt, pepper and garlic powder (as much as you prefer). Grill on medium heat for 2-3 minutes and flip over and grill the other side for another 2-3 minutes. That’s it!

After we made these last night, I posted a picture on Instagram and several people chimed in and shared their ways of preparing cactus leaves. Here are a couple interesting ways I look forward to trying:

@art_by_ejm said: To prepare it, I make shallow crisscross incisions from one edge to the other so it looks like diamond shapes all over it. On both sides. This makes liquid come out, but it cooks off anyway. Then I spinkle salt lightly on each side and put it on a very hot comal (iron skillet ?) and i let it sizzle on each side just enough to change color and get limp. Then I put the whole thing (or half, if it’s enormous), in the middle of a blue corn tortilla, fold it in half, and take a big bite 😀 Or I cut some pencas de nopal into little squares, boil them, drain, mix with diced tomato, white onion, cilantro, salt and lime juice. Mix it (now cactus salad), put it on a tostada (non-GMO :D) and eat it!! It’s so good like that too.

@sarahhonk said:  I actually love cutting them up raw in a small dice and adding then to a pico de gallo or a simple tomato onion and olive oil salad with basil and salt. Eat them with a tortilla or a big chunk of whole wheat sourdough. The mild sour spice flavor with them is awesome! The goo can be weird, but I try and use it to my advantage raw. I also love slicing it and cooking it with my veggie fajitas. Cumin powder onion garlic and green chili powder works wonders in complimenting their sour spice.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Allison A
    Jun 25, 2014 @ 13:09:45

    Let me know the next time you are making these, I want to try some. Thanks


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