Thursday, August 5, 2010

Cactus Salsa

On our recent trip to New Mexico I saw some tiny cactus on the trip to Santa Fe, along the Rio Grande. This sparked my recipe for Cactus Salsa. I know the small nopales (cactus pads) are usually the most tender, and seeing them roadside reminded me that they are in season. As soon as we got back to Dallas I snatched up all the ingredients to make this including tomatillos, limes, poblanos, jalapenos, serranos, onion, garlic, and of course a few cactus pads.

This is a somewhat involved salsa recipe because it involves prepping several different things and cooking the final product for a few minutes, but the results are worth the effort. And if you like, you can even process this in a hot water bath canner and save for future use.

Cactus Salsa
(printable recipe)

2-4 cactus pads (about 2 cups diced)
8 tomatillos (plum sized)
2 poblanos
2 jalapenos*
1-2 serranos
1/2 white onion
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp. white vinegar
1/4 c lime juice
1 tsp. comino
1 tsp. garlic salt
1/4 tsp. salt (or to taste)
handful chopped cilantro, if serving fresh (do not add cilantro if you choose to can the salsa)

Lets start with the tomatillos. Bring a pot of water to boil, meanwhile remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse them to remove the sticky residue. Toss them in the boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes, until they change color and begin to soften. Be sure to remove them before they burst and save the pot of water, you'll use it to cook the cactus.

While you are watching your tomatillos you can prepare all the remaining veggies on a comal (or cast iron skillet). Place them on a hot dry comal and turn occasionally, making sure all sides are blackened.

Once they are done place the poblanos in a paper bag for a few minutes, then remove the skin (leave the skin on the other peppers). Remove the stems and seeds from all the peppers (leave in the seeds to add more heat if you like) and place them all in a food processor with the tomatillos.

To prepare the nopales, take each pad and run it across an open flame to burn off the needles.
Then remove the nubs with a vegetable peeler or sharp knife. Chop and place in boiling water for 2 minutes. Rinse in cold water and put in food processor with other ingredients.
Run the food processor to achieve desired consistency. Pour off into a pan and add lime juice, vinegar, and seasonings. Stir and bring to a gentle boil for 5 minutes.
At this point you can ladle the salsa into 4 half pint jars (see Canning Basics) and process for 10 minutes. Or if you'd like enjoy the salsa now, top with a handful of chopped cilantro and serve with warm tortilla chips.

*I used one green and one red jalapeno for color. I actually saved the red jalapeno and put it in the food processor at the last minute to get bigger chunks throughout.


  1. How much should a person expect to pay for cactus paddles? I've got a neighbor that grows them and want to propose a barter.

  2. It depends, they should be pretty inexpensive if you get them fresh. Maybe $1 a pound? It also may depend on where you live.
    Canned or jarred nopalitos (prepared cactus) may be $2-4. Hope that helps!

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