Tender strips of prickly pear cactus pads mix with spicy Mexican chorizo to make a quick breakfast or side dish. The result? A totally authentic Mexican dish, perfect for filling a warm, corn tortilla.
While cactus may seem uninviting and foreign to the American palate, it is widely used here in Mexico.
You can find nopales (say it like: no-PAW-lays) in many Mexican dishes, like cactus salad, scrambled eggs, as a filling for tamales, and so much more! The prickly pear fruit is also used to make jams, cakes, and refreshing prickly pear water.
So, if you are ready to try cactus for your next meal, read on to let me show you how easy it is to cook!
Why you should make cactus and chorizo
There are several things that I love about this dish and I am sure that once you try it, you will love it too!
First, it is delicious! I love the combination of spicy Mexican chorizo mixed with hearty, but tender strips of cactus. Plus, the fried onions give this dish an extra layer of flavor.
Second, this dish is versatile. I talk about ways to change this dish up a bit more below, but the point is that you can add more cactus pads, reduce the chorizo, add more onions, or even add more spice if you wish.
And the versatility continues with the ways you can eat cactus and chorizo. This dish can be used for breakfast. But you could also make this for a quick dinner or as a side dish to a main meal, like bistec encebollado (steak and onions) or Mexican potato cakes. I have even added this dish to a taquiza, so it scales well for larger parties too!
Third, this dish is EASY! There is absolutely nothing complicated about making this dish, so even the beginner can pull this off. Simply cook the chorizo, fry the onions, and add the cactus. You know the cactus is done when the cactus pads are fork tender and have turned a dull green color.
Lastly, this dish is fast! From start to finish, you can have this dish on your table in less than 25 minutes. For me, anything that is quick and easy is a definite win!
Change it up!
One of the things I love about this dish is that it is super versatile! Below are some suggestions on how this dish can be modified for your personal preferences.
My husband loves onions in this dish. I only used about a 1/4 of a large white onion, but you could easily up this quantity if you are an onion lover too! I have used up to a small whole onion in this dish and it was really tasty!
Need more spice? Mexican chorizo varies in spiciness, so you may want to ramp up the fire factor a bit in this dish. If you feel the need for more spice, try adding in some chile de árbol with the onions for an extra kick.
I love the flavor of Mexican chorizo, but I don’t love the grease. If you want, you could reduce the quantity of chorizo used in this dish. Or alternatively, you could add more cactus to the same amount of chorizo to help change the chorizo to cactus ratio.
How to make cactus and chorizo
Prepare the cactus
Here in Mexico, nopales are so common that you can buy them at any local market or grocery store. They are sold with the thorns already removed.
When you are buying prickly pear cactus pads, look for thin pads with a bright, light green color. Avoid any cactus that is discolored or wrinkled at the edges.
Once you have the cactus, you will want to remove any remaining thorns, rinse them clean, and then cut them into thin strips. I also like to trim off the thicker stem, near the base of the pad. This keeps the thickness of the cactus pads more uniform, allowing the cut-up strips to cook more evenly.
Start cooking the chorizo
Start by heating a bit of vegetable oil in a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Remove the chorizo from the casing and break up the meat into small pieces to add to the pan. Reduce the heat down to medium and continue breaking up the chorizo with a spatula, stirring occasionally.
Add in the onions and cactus
Once the chorizo starts to brown, add in the onions and allow them to fry for a couple of minutes. You. want the onions to start turning translucent before adding in the cactus.
Once you add in the cactus, you will notice that it will release a clear, thick liquid. Continue to stir all of the ingredients occasionally and keep cooking the cactus until it changes from a bright green color to a dull, army green. Most of the liquid released by the cactus should be gone at this point and the cactus should be fork tender.
Lastly, add salt to taste, give everything a final stir and enjoy!
Cactus and Chorizo (Nopales con Chorizo)
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil I used canola
- ~8 ounces Mexican-style chorizo ~250g
- 1/4 large white onion, thinly sliced
- 4 pricly pear cactus pads thorns removed, rinsed, and thinly sliced
- salt to taste
- Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, until oil shimmers, about 3 minutes2 tbsp vegetable oil
- Remove the chorizo from the casing, break it up into small pieces and fry in the hot oil. Reduce the heat to medium. Stir occasionally to continue to break up the chorizo into small pieces, 4-6 minutes~8 ounces Mexican-style chorizo
- Once the chorizo begins to brown, add in the sliced onions and continue to fry another 2-3 minutes, stirring occasionally.1/4 large white onion, thinly sliced
- Add in the cactus, stir to combine, and continue to stir occasionally. Continue to cook the cactus for 8-10 minutes or until fork tender and the cactus has changed from a bright green color to a dull army green color.4 pricly pear cactus pads
- Add in salt to taste and serve immediately. The quantities shown here will yield about 3 cups of cooked cactus or enough for 6-8 tacos.salt to taste