Salsa de Nopales (Cactus Salsa)

Gino D'Acampo's unusual recipe uses thick fleshy cactus leaves to make a wonderfully tasty sauce
By Gino D'Acampo
Salsa de Nopales (Cactus Salsa)
  • Rating:
  • Serves: 4
  • Cook Time: 25 minutes
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes plus standing and marinating
  • Effort: medium


  • 2 red serrano chillies
  • 250 g nopal cactus paddles
  • 3 spring onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 red onions, finely chopped
  • 100 g tomatillos, finely chopped
  • 150 ml cider vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Tips and Suggestions

Nopales are cactus paddles from the cactus which bears prickly pear fruit. Some grow wild but there are also cultivated crops of nopales. They are oval leaves with thick fleshy skins (they taste a bit like green beans with a slightly acidic tang- so green beans could be substituted ) Cactus paddles are available fresh from some specialist fruit and vegetable stores in season. The common type of nopales sold for cooking are mid-green oval shaped paddles with tiny thorns. Fresh cactus should be firm and smooth skinned and will lose about half its weight during cooking. Canned cactus is also available. You can also buy nopales them in jars of brine, (with the spines removed) in some UK specialist stores.


1. Secure the chilies on a long handled metal skewer and roast them over the flame of a gas burner or dry fry them in a griddle pan until the skins are scorched. Place in a polythene bag for 20 minutes and then peel off the skins. Remove the stalk and seeds and chop the chillies finely.

2. To remove the thorns from the cactus; either wear gloves or hold the paddle with a pair of kitchen tongs and use a sharp knife to cut off the bumps, which contain the thorns. Cut off the thick base of the paddle and discard. Rinse the paddles well and cut into small strips and then cut the strips in small pieces.

3. Nopales release a sticky gum when cooked. To reduce this; bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the cactus, spring onions and garlic to the water, return to the boil and cook until tender but not soft - about 10-15 minutes.

4. Strain in a colander and rinse thoroughly under cold running water, to remove any remaining stickiness. Remove the spring onions and garlic.

5. Add the red onion and tomatillos to the cactus, followed by the chillies and mix well.

6. Spoon into a large preserving jar and pour in the vinegar. Add the salt and screw the lid on tightly.

7. Allow to stand in the fridge for at least 1 day, turning the jar occasionally to ensure the entire cactus is marinated in the vinegar.

8. The salsa will keep for up to 10 days in the fridge.

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