Tostadas de Nopales

When your 12 year-old spies a new (and reasonably priced) vegetable at the market and asks to try it, the only correct answer is “yes.” The new-to-him veggie in question? Nopales, the paddle shaped pads of the Opuntia cactus plant. Opuntia cacti aren’t exactly indigenous to the Midwest US which Crowded Earth Kitchen calls home, but the rich and varied food culture of Mexican-Americans means that nopales have become available in markets even where snow falls.

Nopales are sold partially cleaned, but you still need to take some time to remove any remaining cacti needles with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. It’s not difficult, but takes a few minutes if you’ve never done this before. Play some corrido or ranchera music and take your time. Just scrape off the spots where the tiny needles emerge as if they were eyes on a potato. The end result is worth it!

Ingredients (Makes 16 mini tostadas)

16 mini corn tortillas

2 cups vegetable oil for frying

2 large or 3 medium nopales pads, needles removed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 lime

1/2 teaspoon chili powder (hot or mild, your choice)

1 can black beans

1 cup salsa (hot or mild, your choice)

1/2 cup crumbled queijo fresco


Step 1) Puree black beans (drained) and salsa together. Set aside.

Step 2) Heat vegetable oil in a skillet over high heat. Fry the corn tortillas, 1 – 3 at a time as space permits, for approximately 10 seconds on each side (if they bend when you remove them from the oil, give them a few more seconds). Set on a wire rack to cool and drain. Tip: sprinkle a drop of two of water into the oil before adding your first tortilla shell. The drop of water should sizzle loudly and immediately – if it does not, your oil isn’t hot enough yet!

Step 3) Slice nopales (needles already removed) into 1/2 inch wide strips.

Step 4) After all of the tortillas have been fried, add nopales in small batches to the same hot oil that you used for the tortillas. Fry each small batch for approximately 1 minute (you want them cooked and flavorful, but still green).

Step 5) Using a metal slotted spoon, transfer fried nopales to a plate lined with paper towel to drain. Immediately sprinke each batch with a little salt and a little chili powder. After all of the nopales have been fried, squeeze some lime juice over the top.

Step 6) To serve your tostadas de nopales, smear a bit of the black bean and salsa puree over each tostada shell. Top with a few fried nopale slices, and sprinkle with queijo fresco. So simple! So delicious!

Life is short. Eat good food.

3 replies to “Tostadas de Nopales

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