Of all the nopales recipes I make, nopales en escabeche is my favorite. Pickled nopales, the pads of the prickly pear cactus, stewed with jalapenos, carrots and onions, served over some beans is a damn good, damn simple dinner.
Pickled nopales are easy to make. I recommend starting with clean nopales, which you can find in any Latin market.
If you want to pick your own prickly pear paddles, here’s how to clean nopales; you can also buy uncleaned nopales in markets, too. They tend to be fresher than those already cut.
Chance are if you know anything at all about nopales, you know they are, well, snotty. The Mexicans call this slime babas, which seems sonically fitting. You need to remove it. I wrote a tutorial on all the ways you can remove slime from nopales, but this recipe has its own method.
Basically you cook everything you plan on pickling together and boil it hard until most of the slime boils away. Then you pickle it. That’s what escabeche means. It’s something that is cooked, then pickled. In Spain it’s done with all sorts of things, mostly fish and meat. I have a great recipe for quail or partridge escabeche here.
Once you have your pickled nopales, you need to let them sit for a few days before eating. I mean, you can eat them right away, but they are better a week or so later. Kept in the fridge, they will keep a year. Part of the reason is because the olive oil in the recipe forms a seal at the top of the jar.
You can also water-bath can your nopales en escabeche. Quarts need 20 minutes, pints 15 minutes. Do that according to normal canning procedure and your nopales will be shelf stable for a year or more.
This is the familiar pickled vegetables you see at taco stands, only with added nopales. If you follow these directions, they will not be slimy. I rarely can these, as they last a couple months in the fridge, but if you want them shelf stable water-bath can them for 15 minutes per pint.
- 1 pound cleaned nopales, cut into large dice
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 small onion, sliced root to tip
- 2 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
- 2 to 4 jalapenos, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, peeled but whole
- 1 cup water
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, or regular oregano
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 cups white or cider vinegar
Toss the diced nopales with about 2 tablespoons of salt and let them drain in a colander in the sink for 20 to 30 minutes, while you chop the other vegetables. When you're done, rinse the nopales quickly under cold water.
Put the oil in a large pan and get it hot. Add the onion and saute for 2 minutes. Add the carrots, jalapenos, garlic and nopales. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir-fry. You will soon see the slime. Cook vigorously until the slime cooks away, about 10 minutes, stirring often.
Add the water, oregano, bay leaves and vinegar and stir well. Bring to a boil, then move this into clean Mason jars. Seal and let cool. Store in the fridge or water-bath can them.
NOTE: These can be eaten immediately, but are better after sitting in the fridge a week.