This recipe for pork and nopales (cactus) is a traditional Mexican lunch or dinner. No matter the time of day or the season, this super easy dinner is a winner in our books!Jump to Recipe Print Recipe
Can You Really Eat Cactus?
Yes, you really CAN eat cactus! And it’s actually quite tasty when cooked correctly. The most common variety of cactus that is readily available to purchase and eat is called the Nopal cactus. Prickly pear is also a common variety. The recipe below uses the Nopal cactus.
Where Can You Buy Cactus?
Depending on where you live, you can buy cactus paddles just about anywhere. Many mainstream grocery stores are now carrying cactus paddles- but sometimes you have to look closely as they can hide behind other items. If you can’t find them at your normal grocery, specialty Mexican grocery stores will most likely have them for sale. I’ve even found them at the Asian grocery store near my house!
You can also buy cactus in a jar or can, but you will need to drain the cactus well and, depending on the brand, you may not have to cook them as long. Overcooked cactus can get rubbery and slimy, so make sure to remove them from the heat once all cactus has become a paler color.
How to Remove Cactus Thorns
This was definitely a “you live and you learn” moment for me! I was expecting the cactus thorns to easily come out with tweezer or some sort of pincher, but when that didn’t work so well, I turned to the trusty internet for answers.
There are many different methods on YouTube claiming to be “the best method to removing cactus thorns”. From burning (basically singeing off the thorns) to softening the paddles in hot water- I tried it all.
Ultimately, I landed on a sort of mix of two methods. Using a small, sharp pairing knife to cut off the edges and get deeper more “stubborn” thorns and pressing a spoon firmly over the whole paddle seems to work best for me. See The video above for short version or go to this video for long version:
This process can sometimes be messy (watch out for flying thorns) and I still get the occasional thorn prick, but I’m admittedly a lot less careful than I could be. To ensure I got all the thorns, I run the cactus paddle in water and run my hand along the paddle.
How to Serve Pork and Cactus
Although this dish is low carb by nature, there are so many ways to serve it, both low and high carb! Here are a few ways we like to eat this:
- While the parents enjoy their low carb tortillas, I’d prefer this with corn or flour tortillas
- With a side of refried beans
- Over a bed of rice or cauliflower rice
- Over a couple of fried eggs for a easy low carb breakfast
Similar Recipes You’ll Love
Check out these other low carb Mexican dishes we love and think you will too!
- Guacamole with nopales for an easy taco bar addition
- Low Carb Beef Chile Colorado
- Instant Pot Tacos al Pastor
- Low carb Mexican Carnitas
Some people can find chile colorado bitter. Adding a little chicken or vegetable broth can remedy this.
Chile Colorado with Cactus Paddles
- large pot
- Food processor or blender
- 2.5 lbs diced pork
- 1 cup water
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp olive or vegetable oil divided
- 4 tbsp
HeathGlen's enchilada spicemix or 15 whole guajillo chiles- roasted, stemmed, seeded and pureed
- 1/2 onion divided into quarters
- 2-4 cloves garlic minced
- 4 tomatoes roughly chopped, or 1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes
- 2 sprigs epazote or 2 tsps dried (optional); alternatively use Mexican oregano
- 2 lbs cactus paddles thorns removed (see post) and diced (3 cups diced)
- Prepare the cactus- remove thorns by cutting off the thick edges of the cactus and then using a spoon to scrape off the thorns (see video for details). When thorns from one paddle are removed place in a bowl of water while removing from rest of paddles. Run your hands along the paddle to make sure all thorns are removed, and then chop or dice into bite size pieces. Set aside.
- Put pork in Dutch oven or nonstick stockpot and turn heat to high. Add water and salt. Heat until almost all of the water has evaporated, stirring occasionally. Once the water evaporates, add 2 tbsp of oil and stir occasionally to lightly sear the pork pieces.
- While the pork is cooking, in a separate pot, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium-high heat and add cactus and one of the quarters of the onion. Stir to combine and continue cooking until cactus is a pale green- about 10 minutes.
- If using fresh tomatoes, broil the tomatoes and the remaining half of the onion on high for 5-8 minutes per side. Set aside to cool slightly. If using canned tomatoes, broil the onion alone until charred.
- To a food processor or blender, add the tomatoes, onion, garlic and a powdered enchilada spice blend (we used the blend from Heathglen). If using whole chiles, stem and seed them and add to the food processor (Some people will roast them first). Blend everything until smooth. Add a small amount of water (1/2 cup- 1 cup) and blend again if the sauce is too thick for you.
- Combine tomato/chile/enchilada mix, seared pork cubes and cooked cactus in the dutch oven. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low until the chile colorado is at a simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes, adding the epazote about 5 minutes before it is ready.
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