Nopales con Huevos

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Anyone living in California has seen nopales before, even if they don’t realize it. Those cactus with the big oval paddles topped with spiky red fruit you see on the side of the road or invading your neighbor’s yard? Yup, that’s a nopal, also known as a prickly pear cactus. But unless you are from a Mexican family or are a Mexican-food aficionado, you may be shocked to hear that these spine-riddled cactus go down the throats of eager eaters every day. Sans spines, of course.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpgmyberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

Nopal has earned its popularity not only because it’s delicious (more on that in a second), but also because it’s an incredibly healthy, medicinal plant. Long used in traditional herbal medicine, modern “western” medicine is even getting with the program. Research has shown that nopal may be effective at decreasing glucose, cholesterol, inflammation, and even hangover symptoms. And even if you don’t suffer from these afflictions, there is no doubt that its high fiber, vitamin C and antioxidant content make it a healthy part of any diet.

These are some nopales I found (and "foraged"!) yesterday on the Lafayette Rim Trail. I've been picking spines out of my fingers all day... but so worth it.

These are some nopales I found (and “foraged”!) yesterday on the Lafayette Rim Trail. I’ve been picking spines out of my fingers all day… but so worth it.

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If I had it my way, the nopal cactus would be a regular headliner in every kitchen, as go-to a veggie as broccoli or lettuce. I’ve already posted a ROCKIN’ recipe (if I may say so myself) for prickly pear sorbet using the magenta-colored fruit on top of the nopal cactus. But the cactus leaves… oh the cactus leaves… how delicious they are! Once you get the spines off, each cactus leaf is amazingly juicy, tangy, and exquisite in so many different preparations — raw, boiled, blended or, my favorite, broiled. If you let it snuggle up close to a broiler and char a bit like you would bell peppers, you end up with a complex, caramelized flavor that really compliments the tangy undertone of the nopal.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

I do nutrition counseling at a clinic in a Latino neighborhood of Oakland, so nopales come up in conversation at least five times a day. Many of my patients prepare nopal for breakfast — either blended/juiced with other veggies for a quick shot of vitality, or cooked with eggs for heartier fare. While the nopales are traditionally boiled before combining them with the eggs, my version of nopales con huevos brings the nopales even more into the limelight with a bit of smokiness and texture.myberkeleybowl_nopales con huevos.jpg

I hope you’re already running out of the house donned with gloves and a garden saw to steal some from your neighbor’s yard. Or if you are lucky enough to live close to a market like Berkeley Bowl or a Latino market, the small price you pay for store-bought, de-spined nopales more than makes up for itself.

Nopales con Huevos

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

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3-4 nopal cactus leaves
1 Tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
6-8 eggs
2 Tbsp milk
1.5 cups crushed tortilla chips (preferably homemade from corn tortillas fried in a little oil)
Radish and avocado for garnish
Salsa or hot sauce of choice

Use a large, flat-bladed knife to scrape off any spines or rough spots remaining on the nopales. Rub both sides of the nopales with a teaspoon of oil. Mix the paprika with the salt and sprinkle over the nopales. Place on a pan under the broiler very close to the flame, about 8 minutes each side, until slightly bubbled and browned in places and tender inside. Chop into bite-sized pieces.

Heat 1 Tablespoon oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk the eggs with the milk and a pinch of salt and add to the pan. Reduce the heat to low and scramble gently for 1-2 minutes until almost no liquid egg remains but eggs are still moist.

Fold in the chopped nopales and tortilla pieces and serve immediately on a warm plate garnished with shaved radish, avocado slices and your favorite hot sauce or salsa.


25 thoughts on “Nopales con Huevos

  1. terrepruitt says:

    I live in California, but these are not a familiar sight. I see a lot of roses, but not a lot of these alongside the roads I travel or even our neighbors yards. But now, since you have shared how wonderfully yummy they are I wish I did. So interesting.

  2. Judith Ford says:

    Where in Berkeley Bowl will I find the Nopales, in the produce section or in the section with Mexican food? I want the ones without spines.

    • Laura McLively says:

      In the produce section. In Berkeley Bowl East they’re back near the chilis and eggplant on the top shelf. Good luck!

    • Laura McLively says:

      Also, you can always ask any of the guys stocking produce — they have always been so patient in answering my zillions of questions and even giving me recipe ideas!

  3. Coral Waight says:

    Hi Laura, Thanks for following my blog. I’m absolutely hopeless at cooking. Anything with more than 4 ingredients,and that includes the water and the egg, is beyond me. I don’t why; I just can’t retain the information for more than 2 seconds at a time. Still, you may have something for me. Miracles do happen. I’m in Melbourne, Australia. I presume the Bay area is San Francisco? Cheers, Coral.

    • Laura McLively says:

      Hi Coral, I think there is still hope for you! I think cooking is 95% about confidence — just pretending you’re a trained chef, and the good food follows. Try something simple that isn’t actually “cooking,” like the watermelon radish carpaccio or the romanesco pickles (you can substitute cauliflower if you can’t find romanesco!) and then let your confidence grow from those successes!

  4. Millie says:

    I used to live in Spain where these were growing everywhere. I wish I’d known how to prepare this recipe as it looks delicious. I once ordered a “Cactus Salad” in a Mexican restaurant, & I was so disappointed when it was just a regular salad with lettuce!

    • Laura McLively says:

      Hey Millie, where were you living in Spain? My husband and I were living in Madrid from ’13-’14 so not a big surprise that we didn’t see any growing in the big city!

    • Laura McLively says:

      Ha I guess it must be a California/Mexico thing! I’m about to post a picture I took yesterday of a huge patch of nopales, so check back in a second and you’ll see what they look like!

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