Nopal Noms – a Cactus Quesadilla


Sometimes I make food just because I’m annoyed that I haven’t done it yet. Other times, I make food because I had it out somewhere and am dying to make it at home. These cactus quesadillas were a product of that exact situation. In the middle of ordering some bean and cheese pockets from a street vendor in Todos Santos, Mexico, we saw nopal on the menu and asked her what that was. She said “cactus.” We both lit with joy and and said “sí uno de nopales también!”

Later that day, I went straight for the cactus when we went to the market. I had seen them there before, but I never knew how to prepare them. But now I do! This is what I did. And it was uh-may-zing.


  • Prep Time: 15 min
  • Cook Time: 45 min
  • Serves: 2

What You Need

  • 4 flour tortillas
  • 4 strips of Oaxaca cheese (about .5″ x 1″ x 3″) or your favorite mexican cheese shredded blend (vegan modification: see step 8))
  • 1 medium nopal cactus pad, de-spined and cubed
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • .5 medium white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced

What You Do

  1. First, prep the cactus by carefully cutting off all of the dreadful little pokey spines. Be patient, take your time. You really don’t want one in your finger, or your mouth for that matter. If you’re lucky, this has been done for you and all you need to do is dice it. It will be a little sappy. 
  2. Toss that in a pot with enough fresh water to cover the cactus and boil, covered for about 20 minutes.
  3. Now get to chopping the rest of your vegetables.
  4. Put a dry skillet on the stove and set it to medium-high. You’ll use this for the tortillas in a few minutes.
  5. When the cactus is done (we like ours a little al dente), drain it and add it into a separate pan (not the tortilla skillet) with a little oil, the onion, and the garlic.
  6. Start warming the tortillas. You’ll want to warm them for 45 sec – 1 minute on each side. You want them to be warm, but not crispy. Adjust temp accordingly.
  7. Once all of the tortillas are warm, add the tomatoes into the cactus mixture. Plan to only have the tomatoes on the heat for a couple of minutes. You don’t want them to get too mushy.
  8. Add cheese to a warm tortilla, fold it in half, then set it back on the skillet. Do this with all of the tortillas. Your goal is to melt the cheese while the cactus mixture is cooking. So flip the tortillas and adjust the heat  to keep them happy in this process. If they get a little crispy, that’s okay. If you want to go cheese-free, skip this step and just spread a little guacamole on the tortilla.
  9. Once the cheese is ready, pull the tortillas apart again and fill with cactus mixture.
  10. Serve with guacamole.

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