What is a Nopalito?
A nopal is a prickly pear cactus, thus the diminutive, nopalito, just means "little cactus." The word nopalito is used mainly in referring to diced, cooked cactus. Nopalitos are added to everything from scrambled eggs, to elegant pasta dishes. In some of the trendy eateries around Texas, there are even nopalito margaritas. Obviously, it is a very versatile food.
Where to Buy Nopalitos
There are several ways of buying nopalitos. One way is to buy them in packages , found in the fresh produce section of your supermarket. They have already been washed, dethorned, and diced. All you have to do is boil them in water until they turn from bright green to olive drab in color, about 15 minutes. Drain the water before using the cooked nopalitos. Like okra, cactus is a little gooey when cooked. If you like, just rinse the cooked cactus before you add it to your dish.
Another way of buying them is pre-cooked, packed in jars. You can find these in the ethnic food section. All you need to do with these nopalitos is drain the water and add the proper amount to your dish.
You can also go pick nopalitos out in the field. The new pads usually come out in late March, making nopalitos standard fare at Easter-time gatherings. Use a knife in each hand to harvest the pads: one to pierce and hold the pad, the other to cut the pad from the cactus plant.
Prepare Fresh Nopalitos
To remove the thorns from the pad is easy. The trick is to not touch the cactus with your hands at all (have a pair of tweezers on hand, just in case). Using your two knives, hold the pad down on a flat surface. With the other knife, trim the thorns from the curved edge of the pad. Then, carefully nick the thorned pores from the surface of the pad. Turn pad over, and remove thorns from the other side. Rinse well, then use as directed in your recipe.