The fleshy oval leaves of the prickly pear cactus are called nopales in Spanish, and have been popular in Mexico for a long time. They are quickly gaining popularity in the United States, as well. These green, flat, hand-sized pads, also called paddles, are eaten raw or cooked. As a vegetable, nopales can be added to salads and casseroles, and can be fried or grilled. They're somewhat tart and have a flavor that will remind you of green beans [source: Hansen]. They're rich in iron and vitamins A and C, as well as in B complex vitamins. Before they're prepared for cooking or eating, the spines or needles have to be scraped off and the pads have to be diced [source: Graber]. Here are number of ways top cook cactus.
- Wash your nopales and cut them into small squares.
- Place the squares in a pot and cover them with cold water.
- Bring the water to a boil.
- Lower the heat and let them simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they're tender [source: Graber].
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190.5 degrees Celsius).
- Slice each paddle into ¾-inch (1.9-centimeter) strips.
- Place the strips in a colander and rinse them under cold water, turning them over several times.
- Drain them well.
- Place the slices in a single layer in an aluminum baking sheet. Drizzle them with oil on both sides.
- Roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes.
- Turn them over when they turn golden brow and roast the second side for 10 minutes.
- Take them out of the oven and sprinkle them with the coarse salt [source: Mcmahan].