© Denzil Green
Cactus Leaves are used in Mexican and Latin American cooking, but only leaves from one kind of cactus: the Prickly Pear Cactus, the same one that produces the Prickly Pear fruit. Some other species of cactus are poisonous, so don’t decide to start munching on just any old dusty cactus in your windowsill. The Mexicans call this cactus the “nopal.”
The leaves taste a bit like green bell pepper, asparagus and runner beans or green beans, with a bit of tartness to the taste. They are thick, and range in colour from pale to a dark green.
When cooked, they are still a bit crunchy, and are a bit viscous or slippery like Okra. Younger leaves are less viscous.
When buying fresh Cactus Leaves, choose ones that are crisp, and small to medium-sized. Avoid those that are limp, dry or soggy, and those with soft spots, cracks, bruises or wrinkles. The colouring should be even. They are usually sold with the thorns removed.
You can also buy them canned (they will be in water or pickled.)
The leaves are also referred to as pads or paddles.
Nopalitos</h2>]Cactus Leaves that have been cut up
Acitrón is candied pieces of Cactus Leaves, sold in cans and jars in a syrup. The Cactus Leaves used will come from either the Prickly Pear Cactus, or from the Biznaga Cactus. The plural of Acitrón is “Acitrónes.”
If the thorns haven’t been removed at all, then remove them with a sharp knife. If there are any remaining eyes or parts of thorns, you can clean those off with a vegetable peeler. Then, trim the outside edges. Cut up before cooking.
Steam for 3 minutes or microwave.
When using in salads, you still need to steam them first.
Cactus Leaves are usually combined in dishes with other foods, rather than being eaten on their own.
1 pound cactus leaves = 450g = 6 to 10 leaves.
Store in plastic bag in fridge for up to 1 week.