This recipe features a beloved and very versatile ingredient in Mexican cooking: the nopal or flat cactus pad. Nopales are commonly used for preparing salads, soups, drinks and tacos, just to name a few. They are a great source for aiding digestion thanks to their high content of water and fiber. In Mexico, nopales are very affordable and available the whole year round. Let’s get right to it!
Makes 4 tostadas.
4 small nopales
¼ white onion
10 mint leaves or 3 cilantro branches
½ of an avocado
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 teaspoon of white vinegar
Salt & pepper
2 tablespoons of cotija cheese
Grill the nopales in a hot frying pan with a little oil and salt. This will help control the texture, by drying the nopales and eliminating some of the slimy texture that some people don’t always enjoy. In my experience the quantity of slime is primarily dictated by the nopal itself. If you can choose, always buy smaller ones and use them the same day. The bigger the paddles are and the more time they sit in your fridge unused, the more likely they are to build up more slime. I also recommend using coarse sea salt for seasoning because it adds more flavor than regular refined salt.
Wait for the nopales to change color from bright green to a darker shade on the side touching the pan and then flip them. Wait for the same thing to happen on the other side. Next, slice them and let them cool down. You can leave them in a strainer in case they still have any extra liquid or slime on them.
Meanwhile, dice the tomatoes, white onion and avocado. Season them with salt, freshly ground pepper, olive oil and vinegar to your liking. Add the sliced mint leaves or cilantro. If you choose to use cilantro, keep in mind that you can also use the stems. This adds flavor and a crunchy texture to the salad as well as reduces wasting ingredientes. If you don’t have any of these options available, you can always experiment with other fresh herbs to give a more personal touch to your dish. Cover the bowl and let it sit in the fridge for about 20 to 30 minutes. The acidity of the tomato and vinegar will pickle the onion balancing and integrating all the flavors.
Add the nopales and mix. You can eat this salad on its own or serve it on tostadas topped with cheese. Select a cheese that is crumbly and dry, for example Cotija or Ranchero. Tostadas can be store bought or homemade from tortillas that are starting to dry out. I recommend taking advantage of any older tortillas that have lost their moisture to either fry or bake them to make your own tostadas. You can also make totopos (tortilla chips) or tortilla strips for soups from these.
Serve the tostadas right before eating them, so they don’t absorb moisture from the salad. Enjoy them by eating them with your hands! If you manage to eat the whole tostada without it breaking and without the toppings falling apart, you will have undoubtedly mastered the art of eating a Mexican tostada!
Ariane Ruiz is the Operations Coordinator for Eat Mexico and one of our culinary guides. She is a Mexican food enthusiast with a culinary arts degree. Born and raised in Mexico City.