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.

Boiled nopales

  1. Wash your nopales and cut them into small squares.
  2. Place the squares in a pot and cover them with cold water.
  3. Bring the water to a boil.
  4. Lower the heat and let them simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they're tender [source: Graber].

Roasted nopales

Ingredients:

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit (190.5 degrees Celsius).
  2. Slice each paddle into ¾-inch (1.9-centimeter) strips.
  3. Place the strips in a colander and rinse them under cold water, turning them over several times.
  4. Drain them well.
  5. Place the slices in a single layer in an aluminum baking sheet. Drizzle them with oil on both sides.
  6. Roast them in the oven for about 10 minutes.
  7. Turn them over when they turn golden brow and roast the second side for 10 minutes.
  8. Take them out of the oven and sprinkle them with the coarse salt [source: Mcmahan].