Roasted Cactus Salad with Shrimp

Familiar to some, exotic to others, cactus paddles (or nopales) have a mild but tart flavor and are surprisingly easy to cook. If you’ve been deterred from eating cactus because of the rumor that it has a slimy texture you should know that this rumor’s only half true. When cut into, raw cactus paddles do ooze a clear, tasteless and odorless gel that has a sticky, slimy texture (similar to aloe vera gel). When cooked, however, the gel disappears and the cactus paddles are crisp but tender.

Recipes often suggest boiling the slime away, but skipping this step and throwing the paddles directly onto a hot grill or pan works just as well. The direct heat evaporates the gel pretty quickly. While nopales that haven’t been boiled are a little bit chewier, they have a fresh, vibrant flavor. This flavor, which tastes a little bit like a green bean or tart green pepper, is great when tossed in with other ingredients like tomatoes, onions, garlic, peppers and radishes.

In this refreshing salad, roasted cactus paddles are combined with raw tomatoes, red onion and cilantro and then tossed with tender shrimp. The salad can be served as a main dish for lunch or dinner or as an omelet filling for breakfast (with or without the shrimp). Roasted cactus salad is also quite good with thin strips of steak instead of shrimp.

Refreshing, light and flavorful, cactus paddles are an interesting and versatile ingredient. For best results, roast, grill or sauté the cactus paddles alone to get rid of the slime factor, then combine them with other veggies, meat or seafood. The combinations really are endless.

Servings: Approximately 4-6


  • 1 pound of cactus paddles (about 4), cleaned and trimmed
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil or coconut oil
  • 1 pound of shrimp, shelled and cleaned
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • Lime or lemon juice to taste (optional)
  • Sliced jalapeno or hot sauce (optional)
  • Sea salt to taste


Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

Some markets sell trimmed and cleaned paddles, others sell paddles that still have thorns. If the cactus paddles still have thorns, use a pair of tongs or a thick towel to hold a paddle steady on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler to scrape the thorns off both sides of the paddle. Then use kitchen shears or a knife to trim a little bit of the edge off the entire perimeter of the paddle.

When all the paddles are trimmed, rinse them then cut into 1/2-inch squares.

Put the cactus pieces in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet – it’s important not to overcrowd the pan or there will be too much moisture and the gel won’t evaporate.

Drizzle with oil. Roast for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the cactus pieces are tender and most of the gel and liquid in the pan has evaporated.

While the cactus is roasting, bring a pot of water to a boil. Add shrimp, and boil 3 minutes until pink all the way through. Drain.

Remove the cactus from the oven and toss with shrimp, tomatoes, red onion and cilantro. Add the remaining ingredients to taste. The salad can be served warm or chilled.

To sauté cactus instead of roasting it, sauté the pieces in oil over medium heat for a few minutes then reduce heat to low and cover, stirring occasionally, until the cactus has released liquid, about 5 minutes. Increase heat back to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until all the liquid is evaporated.

To grill cactus paddles, clean and trim the paddles but leave them whole. Brush with oil, then grill for around 6 to 10 minutes, slice and serve.

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22 thoughts on “Roasted Cactus Salad with Shrimp”

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  1. Cactus?! The thought of eating cactus has never crossed my mind.

    Now I must find a source.

    I’ve never seen it for sale anywhere but that is probably because I never seeked it out.

    Where do you buy it? Anyone in West Michigan know of a source?!

    1. Try a Mexican/Latin American sort of grocer. Mine sells nopales with the spines conveniently removed. I looove that store!

        1. Hi.. My parents use to cook them all the time. I never appreciated them until now. My grandparents would always say they were very nutritious and controlled blood sugar and I thought they were weird because my friend’s family never ate them. 🙂
          When I got older and did some research I discovered a lot of what they said was true and now try to cook them when they are in season.

          If you have never tried them.. Don’t buy the ones in the jars because they taste awful!! Also, in the summer time they are amazing when you grill them and eat them along side grilled meats… or if you put them together in a taco.

    2. You can buy them in jars as well – maybe not quite so Primal, tho – if you can’t find them fresh. For the jarred version try the ethnic section of your grocery store or I always see them with the olives, relishes, that type of thing.

  2. I’ve had cactus and it does taste green beanish. Here in NW Washington it is available in the spring in the produce section in any grocery store and year round in jars in the ethnic section of the grocery store. If you buy it fresh, make sure to get all the spines off.

    1. Also to add, my father-in-law scrambles nopalitos in his eggs for breakfast.

      1. Yes Yes, scrambled eggs with sautéed onions, peppers and nopales are delicious!!

  3. I’ve had cactus before, but I guess not fresh like this. I’ve had pickled nopales, I ate them without knowing, thinking they were some wierd shredded pickle. I ate them all and well I love these now, I think I’ll find fresh nopales at my market.

  4. this is so grok. and just in time for summer grilling. thank you!

  5. Sounds delicious! I like nopales…but didn’t have any today so I made the rest of the salad for lunch with organic baby tomatoes and Vidalia onion. Fresh basil instead of cilantro, dressed with EVOO and lemon juice. WAY good, thank you!

  6. I have to say that the best part of living in California is that we have pretty much anything here. When I moved to San Jose from Vermont, I was surprised by how many new items I could find in local markets. I still forget how limited I was back in the great white north!!!

  7. this is great, because I have 2 big cactus growing in my garden right now! I know you can eat the small tender leaves, but did not know you could eat the bigger ones. I will make some of this salad soon!

    1. Hi… You shouldn’t eat the old cactus paddles. My mom would only use young ones that would appear around the spring and summer time… 🙂

  8. This is so timely! I just ordered a prickly pear cactus online yesterday – the day this post came out! How perfect. Thanks for a great recipe!

  9. I have this type of cactus in my yard. One of my friends said several months ago that it was eatable and I was wondering what you do to prepare it. This is a great article and I am looking forward to making this salad. Is there anything I should be aware of when choosing the nopales (size, color, etc.)?

    1. Hi You should only eat the younger paddles that pop up in the spring/summer. The old ones are not really edible.

  10. This looks awesome! I have tried cactuc before, but it has been a while. I love the idea of putting it in a salad : )