How to Cook Cactus

Things You'll Need

  • Prepared cactus paddles

  • Sharp knife

  • Cutting board

  • Saucepan, grill or heavy-bottomed frying pan

  • Oil

  • Salt and pepper

  • Stove or grill

Prickly pear cactus, or nopales, are a traditional food in certain parts of Mexico. Their slightly sour green bean-like flavor adds an irreplaceable note to Mexican-style stews and stir-fries. Cook, drain and rinse sliced nopales to add to your desired dish or grill them whole before dicing for a fresh twist on salads and salsas. Treat canned nopales as if they've already been boiled; simply rinse and use them in your desired dish.

The Boiling Method

Step 1

Find prepared raw cactus pads at the grocery store de-thorned, whole or already diced. Use diced or thinly sliced cactus. Rinse the diced or sliced cactus in a colander under cold running water.

Step 2

Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Add the prepared cactus and simmer for 15 minutes. Watch for foaming over and reduce heat if necessary.

Step 3

Drain cooked cactus in the sink in a colander and rinse with cool water. Let it continue to drain as it cools. Use the nopales in a salsa, soup, stew or stir-fry.


Step 1

Set an outdoor grill or heavy-bottomed pan to medium-high heat and allow it to heat thoroughly. For this method, the cactus paddle must be whole and not diced. Rinse the entire de-thorned paddle and pat it dry. Rub the cactus with oil and season it with salt and pepper.

Step 2

Lay the seasoned cactus paddle on the pre-heated hot grill or pan. Allow it to cook without turning for approximately 3 to 5 minutes or until slightly charred, and then flip it with tongs and repeat on the other side.

Step 3

Remove the cactus from the heat and allow it to cool before dicing to add to salads, salsas and other dishes. Alternatively, slice it into large strips and use it as an alternative filling for tacos.


Traditionally, nopales prepared by boiling are used in acidic, saucy dishes such as chile verde or chile roja with pork, shrimp patties and nopales simmered in a tomato-based red sauce, or nopales scrambled with eggs and tomatoes. The grilled method is perfect to eat as-is or tossed in a simple salsa.


Use caution when grilling and be sure to use appropriate tongs to add and remove the pads from the grill.

Watch for thorns that may have been missed during the initial preparation process.

Raw cactus may be added to soups and stews without pre-cooking and draining, but it will change the texture and thickness of the finished dish. Cactus is full of a thick, mucous substance similar to okra that some people love, but others find unpalatable.