Grilled Nopalitos, Caper Cumin Aioli

grilled nopalitos
Grilled Nopalitos, Olive Oil, Sea Salt
Mexican Lime, Cilantro
Caper Cumin Aioli

Tired of grilled artichokes? No, neither am I.

I wasn’t looking for a surrogate but I found grilled nopalitos do bring something muy diferente a la mesa. Some think the flavor is reminiscent of green beans. But they must be talking about boiled nopalitos because grilled cactus paddle tastes a lot like a lemony grilled artichoke. So in the interest of continued summer grilling and using more interesting ingredients, I’m serving grilled nopalitos.

caper cumin aioli

And since artichoke and mayonnaise are one heck of a duo, I serve these with a caper cumin aioli. Each guest helps themselves to a paddle, a half-lime, some cilantro leaves, and a little ramekin of aioli. The best way to eat these nopalitos is with a knife and fork. Squeeze lime juice over the paddle. Slice one of the “fingers” into a bite-sized piece, add a couple cilantro leaves, and dip in to the aioli. Muy Delicioso.

nopalitos de rodriguez

I get the nopalitos from my local Mexican market here in San Pedro, Bestway Supermercado. They come 5 paddles to a package, already de-spined with edges trimmed and ready to use. Gracias, Sr. Rodriguez.

nopalitos, cactus pads

Cut off any blemished areas or dark spots. Rinse well, then dry completely.

grilled nopalitos

Brush both sides of the paddle with olive oil and grill over medium-high heat, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, about 3 to 4 minutes per side. If overcooked they become mucilaginous, so keep a close eye on them. Remove from the heat to a cutting board and season generously with coarse sea salt.

cactus flower

Local Cactus Flower

Caper Cumin Aioli

  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise (I like no-cholesterol Vegenaise)
  • 2 T. rinsed, rough chopped capers
  • 1/2 t. cumin seed
  • 1/8 t. cayenne pepper
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 t. fresh lime juice

Toast cumin seeds in a heavy dry pan over medium heat until they become fragrant. Let cool then grind in a spice mill. Whisk all ingredients together. Prepare at least 30 minutes before grilling the cactus so the flavors can meld. Stir again then portion into ramekins.

nopalitos appetizer
Slice the paddles into “hands” with five “fingers” leaving the base intact. Serve on a platter with cilantro leaves and Mexican limes, with ramekins of caper cumin aioli on the side, in the style of a grilled artichoke. They’re best when served immediately, right off the grill.

¡Buen Provecho!

27 thoughts on “Grilled Nopalitos, Caper Cumin Aioli”

  1. I just found your site the other day and I love it!
    I’ve only had cactus out of the jar but have always wanted to prepare it fresh. I see it when I shop at the local Mexican grocery chain. As soon as I get the parts for my new grill I’m gonna try this recipe, it looks so good.

  2. Lori this is so incredibly interesting..i love grilled artichokes, but never ever tried cactus. Love this idea, now you got me thinking how it would taste!:))
    thank you for the recipe, and I love your wonderful mouthwatering pictures!

  3. A vendor had nopalitos at the farmers’ market last Sunday. I looked at them and got this close to buying some, but then decided to wait until I had a good recipe for them. So, your suggestion is very timely. Both the cactus flower and the plate of grilled nopalitos are beautiful!

  4. I never would have guessed that cactus would be similar in flavor to artichokes – but I can totally see it now! This sounds delicious and I might have to make a trip to our local Mexican market this weekend =)

  5. Great post, LL. I grew up watching my grandmother pick Nopales right out of her garden and cook them in a pan with a ranchera sauce with lots of onions and chili peppers. She lost me at onion! Now, I am excited to try your preparation. Thanks, also, for a great new word of the day – mucilaginous!

  6. Beatuiful presentation, Lori Lynn. These would make a lovely gusty side dish to carne asada, I’m sure. I once had nopalitos as a cold soup which was unexpectedly delicious. A little like an asparagus soup but with the greater acidity from the cactus. This Englishman still finds it a little strange that cactus is edible. I mean, to me, it’s a house plant.

  7. So gorgeous. I don’t see them often in these parts (despite a fairly large Hispanic population), yet I pass them by b/c I want a really great recipe for them to shine. I think I’ve found it.

  8. Aloha Lori:

    My take on the hot grilled cactus is it would be very tasty in an cold avocado soup with spiced pepita seeds on top. I have just found your site. I must have bookmarked 50 recipes to sample. This is one of my favorites.

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