Napalitos Salsa (Cactus Paddles)

nopal11Cinco de Mayo (May 5th) is just around the corner so this recipe is timely, delicious and a cut above the usual fresh salsas.  Napale cactus paddles are harvested from April to August when they are young and tender yet thin and firm.  Most mercados or markets state-side now sell napales without the spines, ready to grill or boil.  They are also very cheap and contain vitamin A and C.  Think of Napale cactus as a green vegetable with green bean flavor. 

To Prepare Napalitos

It’s important to scrub each paddle before cooking with a brush and remove any node where new thorns are developing.  Slice the  paddles from top to bottom about 1/2 inch wide and dice to 1/2 inch.  Place in cold water and bring to a boil for 5-6 minutes, drain and repeat the boil until the napalitos are fork tender.  This will remove the slimey liquid ( called babas) similar to aloe vera juice.  Napalitos can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and are best added to soups, stews, burritos, salads, salsa and scrambled eggs with chorizo.

Ingredients for Salsa

  • 1 lb napalitos, prepared and chilled
  • 6 to 8 Roma tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 or more jalapeno chilies, seeded and minced (or minced chipoltes)
  • 1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 or 2 Mexican oregano leaves, minced (or 1/4 tsp dried oregano)
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
  • 1 or 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 small can of black beans, drained and rinsed
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup or more of shelled pumpkin seeds


Combine all ingredients in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or longer so flavors will blend.  Serve with tortilla chips, nachos, burritos, or as a condiment with meat dishes.  Substitute sunflower seeds, pine nuts, or almonds for pumpkin seeds.  Use northern beans, kidney beans, or pinto beans instead of black beans or a combination of beans works well also.


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