Pickled Cactus Strips are cactus pads (Nopales) that are trimmed, cleaned, and sliced, then pickled in a sweet brine that is full of flavor.
No summer is complete in our house without a few cactus pads thrown on the grill. And no trip to the Mexican market is complete without grabbing several cactus pads to bring home and prepare for eggs, burritos, beans, and even salsa.
Nopales are the paddles of the prickly pear cactus that is found in Mexico. They are known as a vegetable in Mexico – they aren’t unusual to eat, in fact, they taste like green beans (only they are just a tiny bit more acidic).
You can eat them as a side next to meat, or mixed in with scrambled eggs. Cactus pad are so easy to make at home and can be finished off a myriad of ways.
Warning: Cactus Pads are Prickly!
If you haven’t done it, why not challenge yourself to give it a try? It really is pretty easy. It doesn’t take all too much time. Here are a few tips though that you will want to keep in mind:
- Cactus spines can hurt. They aren’t hard to remove, but.. they will get everywhere – so wear a pair of gloves if your hands are super sensitive.
- Try to go for the pads that are flat, and not super thick, and no more than 12″ in diameter.
- Not only will you want gloves if you have sensitive hands, you’ll want to use a knife to trim around the outside. Simply lay the knife flat on the cactus pad and shear off those prickles. You may need to dig the knife in slightly on those prickles to ensure they are all out.
While we usually toss a few on the grill, we also keep some back for pickled cactus. This recipe is similar to the cactus strips available in jars in store, but instead they have more flavor.
This brine solution helps keep them flavorful, firm and a little bit crispy and gives them tons of flavor.
Preparing Pickled Cactus Strips
Cleaning the cactus paddles isn’t really challenging at all, so throw on some gloves and get started.
Step 1: Try to select the appropriate paddles (see our tips above). Trim off the base (at least an inch) then rinse well. They will likely be slimy (that slime isn’t bad, it’s just unsettling for some).
Trim the edges of the paddles. Then rinse the paddles under cool water again to remove the scrapings and some of the slime.
Step 2: Next, take a serrated knife and remove the prickles. You can scrape them but you may prefer just cutting them out. Rinse the paddles another time to remove the scrapings again.
Step 3: Place the paddles in a non-reactive bowl (glass or ceramic) and generously salt with sea salt. Allow to sit for 20-30 minutes and the salt will soak up some of that slime and reduce the moisture a bit in the cactus.
Step 4: Rinse the cactus paddles to remove the salt, and cut into strips about the size of french fries. Depending on the size of the paddle, I usually cut in the middle to make two pieces, and then cut each into 1/2 inch strips.
Step 5: Put the cactus strips in the non-reactive bowl with another generous helping of salt. Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes as you prepare the brine (below). Once that 20 minutes has passed and your brine is ready, rinse the strips with water and dry as thoroughly as you can.
Step 6: Carry on with the recipe, below:
Sweet Pickled Cactus (Nopales)
- 2 C apple cider vinegar *organic
- 2 tsp honey
- 2.5 C. sugar
- 1/2 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 C sea salt
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 jalapeños *seeded and sliced into long strips
- 5 cactus paddles washed and prepared (cut into strips - see directions above)
- In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, honey, sugar, turmeric, salt and 1 cinnamon stick.
- Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer, keep on simmer for 5 minutes stirring frequently.
- While that is on the stove, prepare 3 Ball Canning wide mouth pint canning jars.
- In each jar, place 1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves of garlic and 1-2 strips of sliced jalapeño.
- Once the brine has been on simmer for 5 minutes, pour the brine over each of the jars leaving 1/2 inch headspace. If you are short on brine, top off each jar with a little distilled water.
- Place the caps on the jars and screw tightly. Allow to cool and refrigerate.
- This recipe makes 3 pints (12 servings each 1/4 C.)
Can you can this recipe?
I haven’t tried canning pickled cactus strips because they usually get eaten rather fast. If you decide to take that route, do you own research and follow the Ball preserving guidelines to make sure it’s safe for canning in a water bath canner.
If you do happen to try pickled cactus, please leave a comment, rate the recipe and be sure to tag me on Instagram!