Nopales (from the Nahuatl word nōpalli for the pads) are a vegetable made from the young cladode (pad) segments of prickly pear, carefully peeled to remove the spines. These fleshy pads are flat and about hand-sized. They can be purple or green. They are particularly common in their native Mexico, where the plant is eaten commonly and regularly forms part of a variety of Mexican cuisine dishes. Farmed nopales are most often of the species Opuntia ficus-indica, although the pads of almost all Opuntia species are edible.
Nopales are generally sold fresh in Mexico. In more recent years bottled, or canned versions are available mostly for export. Less often dried versions are available. Used to prepare (nopalitos), they have a light, slightly tart flavor, like green beans, and a crisp, mucilaginous texture. In most recipes the mucilaginous liquid they contain is included in the cooking. They are at their most tender and juicy in the spring.
Though Nopales are most commonly used in Mexican cuisine in dishes such as huevos con nopales (eggs with nopal), “carne con nopales” (meat with nopal), “tacos de nopales”, or simply on their own or in salads with Panela Cheese. Nopales have also grown to be an important ingredient in New Mexican cuisine and in Tejano culture (Texas).