Nopales Tacos

These vegetarian Nopales Tacos feature nopalitos (aka cactus pads), red chile sauce, caramelized onions, charred corn, and fresh toppings. With plenty of vitamins and minerals, they’re a healthy way to shake up #MeatlessMonday or #TacoTuesday (or any other night of the week) in about 30 minutes!

3 vegetarian nopales tacos in a cast iron dish with copper fork, cilantro, and a beer.
Red chile sauce combined with fresh nopales, caramelized onions, charred corn, sliced avocado, cilantro, and lime make these vegetarian nopales tacos extra special!

👩🏻‍🍳 Tamara Talks – Recipe Inspiration

Is it possible to have too many taco recipes? I think not! I recently created a taco category because I have so many taco recipes. Have you seen it?

I have a few favorites: Fried oyster tacos are paired with an easy and fresh citrus salsa. They’re a little bit of a mess to make, but so worth the effort! The Yucatán-style pork tacos are probably my second favorite, and while the pork takes some time, I make a big batch for several meals.

When time is of the essence, I do these bison tacos or these ground lamb tacos. With just a few ingredients, and 30 minutes, you can get either taco recipe ready to enjoy.

In the process of trying to consistently do #MeatlessMonday, I decided it was past time to do a vegetarian taco recipe. My inspiration for this vegetarian taco recipe was twofold – 1. I love the combination of red chile and nopalitos in these red chile rice bowls, and 2. The simple nopalitos burritos we had on Sunday nights growing up. We’re native Californians, and nopalitos were readily available and inexpensive.

I went back and forth on whether or not to try to bump up the protein in these tacos. I tend to expect at least 20 grams of protein from a main dish, and these do fall short on protein.

My husband and I include a generous amount of protein in all 3 meals typically, so I opted to not mess with the flavor and texture of the recipe. I do provide options for adding protein to the tacos in the “Variations” section. Keep in mind that the nutrition information does not include toppings. Both the avocado and the cheese have small amounts of protein.

🌵 What are Nopales?

Nopal. Nopales. Nopalitos. Is this as confusing to you as it once was to me? I will do my best to clarify. Let me know if it’s still clear as mud?!?

“Nopal” is the Spanish name of the opuntia or prickly pear cactus. “Nopales” is the term for the pads of the nopal cactus. “Nopalitos” is the term for the cactus pads when they’re sliced or diced and ready to consume. Does that make sense?

Nopalitos are a vegetable that can be eaten raw in salads, grilled, pan sautéed, roasted, even dried. They’re both versatile and nutritious.

📋 Ingredients You’ll Need

Tacos ingredients: Corn tortillas, onions, nopalitos, red chile sauce, corn, cilantro, lime, cotija, avocado.
  • nopales – My preference is for fresh nopales. You may find them by foraging, or buying them in either whole cactus pads or sliced/diced. I buy them diced in the produce section of my market. If you can’t find fresh nopales, try the Latin foods section. Several brands have nopalitos packed in water in jars or cans. Avoid pickled or marinated nopalitos.
  • red chile sauce – You have options here as well. I make homemade red chile sauce when I have the time. It requires 15-20 minutes. I often make a large batch, and freeze meal-sized portions in zip bags. I do, however, use a good quality commercial sauce like this Hatch Valley red chile sauce.
  • onions – I find sweet onions caramelize more quickly, but any variety of onion is fine.
  • corn – Again, my preference is fresh corn cut off the cob. If I have time to grill a couple of ears of corn, that’s a great way to go. On photo day, I took some frozen corn straight out of the freezer, and had it charred in minutes. You could even just heat it up, but we like the extra flavor from the charred kernels.
  • corn tortillas
  • fresh toppings – Cilantro, crumbled cotija, lime wedges, and sliced avocado are my favorites!

🌵 Nopales Tacos Variations

  • Replace the charred corn with this simple black bean and corn salsa. It adds additional protein as well.
  • Substitute green chile sauce or salsa verde for the red chile sauce.
  • Add air fryer tofu or black beans to the nopalitos and red chile sauce to bump up the protein substantially.
  • Switch out the toppings for your favorite salsa, cheese, pickled onions or jalapeños, etc.

🔪 Instructions

IMPORTANT NOTE: This recipe starts with red chile sauce that is already prepared. See the “Ingredients” section above for options.

Quick Caramelized Onions

2 onions sliced in a cast iron skillet before cooking.
  • Start the onions – To a skillet over medium-high heat with a drizzle of olive oil, add the thin-sliced onions. Add a few grinds of sea salt (about 1/4 teaspoon). If I’m in a hurry, I leave the heat at medium-high, and keep a close eye on the onions, stirring often. NOTE: I do the onions first, and then use the same pan for the corn, then the nopalitos.
The onions in the cast iron skillet after they're caramelized.
  • Finish the onions – When the onions are mostly brown and quite soft, they’re done. You can remove them to a prep bowl until ready to serve.

Charred Corn

  • Make the charred corn – I didn’t include images for the corn because it’s so simple. I have a recipe for skillet Mexican charred corn that’s much fancier. For these nopales tacos on photo day, I added about a teaspoon of oil to the same cast iron skillet over high heat. I add straight-from-the-freezer corn, and spent about 5 minutes getting some nice charred spots on the corn. After seasoning with salt and pepper, I removed them from the skillet. Of course fresh corn kernels are even better. 😀 Wipe the skillet if necessary before proceeding with the nopalitos.

Nopalitos and Red Chile Sauce

Fresh diced nopalitos in a cast iron skillet.
  • Sauté the nopalitos – With either a drizzle of oil or some cooking spray, add the diced nopalitos to a skillet on medium-high heat. Sauté until the mucilaginous liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. This process usually takes me 7 to 10 minutes.
The cooked, diced nopalitos in a cast iron skillet with a grey napkin before adding the red chile sauce.
  • When the nopalitos are ready for the next step, they will have gone from bright green to a duller shade of green, and you’ll see some brown edges.
The cooked nopalitos with 1 cup of red chile sauce before it is stirred in.
  • Add the red chile sauce – See the ingredients for different options. Stir the red chile sauce into the nopalitos over medium-high heat. Bring up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add broth or water to thin if needed. Cover and simmer until ready to serve. It only needs to be heated throughout.
The completed red chile sauce and nopalitos ready to fill corn tortillas for nopales tacos.
  • To serve – Fill warm corn tortillas with a scoop of nopalitos and red chile sauce, top with caramelized onion, charred corn, and fresh toppings. Delicioso!

❓ FAQ

Are the nopalitos supposed to be slimy?

The short answer is YES. Once the cactus pads are cut, they begin to ooze a mucilaginous substance that Mexicans call babas. I read a description once that described the slimy quality as okra with a runny nose! Like okra, as nopalitos cook, the slime evaporates. YAY!

What do nopalitos taste like?

I think the taste and texture is a bit like a tart green bean.

Are nopalitos healthy?

Yes. Being cactus, they are high in fiber (great for digestion). Loaded with important vitamins and nutrients, and they’re low in calories and saturated fats.

💭 Tips

Season as you go. Each of the components of these tacos should be seasoned. Don’t forget the avocado!

Fresh nopalitos are somewhat perishable. Store them in the refrigerator, and use within 5 days. They do not freeze well.

I use a tortilla warmer to heat the tortillas in the microwave if I’m doing more than 2 or 3 tortillas. If they’re at all dry, I add a damp paper towel in with them. You can also heat them 1 or 2 at a time in a hot pan.

I usually use just my cast iron skillet – 1 pan to wash! I start with the caramelized onions, then the charred corn, and then the nopalitos and red chile sauce. If you’re pressed for time, you can use more than one pan (but then there’s more to clean up!).

3 vegetarian tacos with toppings, copper fork, and grey napkin.

🧂 Useful Stuff

Note: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases at no additional cost to you. This helps to offset the costs of maintaining my blog and creating awesome content! 😊

Whether you practice #MeatlessMonday or #TacoTuesdays, you ought to try these nopales tacos. If you’re interested in more vegetarian tacos, check out these air fryer tofu tacos or these Roasted Sweet Potato Tacos.

Yay or nay? I’m interested to know if you’ve ever had nopalitos, and whether you feel compelled to give these vegetarian tacos a try. Inquiring minds want to know. 😉

Signature in red and green with chiles and limes. Healthyish Latin cuisine.

A close up of a cast iron dish with 3 nopales tacos topped with corn, onions, avocados, cotija, and cilantro.

Nopales Tacos

Healthy nopalitos combined with red chile sauce, wrapped in a corn tortilla with tasty, fresh toppings, these delicious tacos can be on your table in 30 minutes!
5 from 1 vote

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Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 25 minutes
Course Dinner, Vegetarian Main Dish
Cuisine Mexican
Servings 2 servings
Calories 388 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil - divided use
  • 2 onions - sliced thin
  • 1 cup corn kernels
  • 12 ounces nopalitos - sliced or diced
  • sea salt and fresh ground pepper - to taste
  • 1 cup red chile sauce - see Ingredients in post for more options
  • 6 corn tortillas - warmed

Instructions

  • To a skillet over medium-high heat with a drizzle of olive oil, add the thin-sliced onions. Add a few grinds of sea salt (about ¼ teaspoon). When the onions are mostly brown and quite soft, they're done. Remove and set aside.
  • Add about a teaspoon of oil to the same skillet over high heat. Add the corn kernels. Cook until you see some nice charred spots on the corn, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper, remove from the pan, and set aside.
  • With either a drizzle of oil or some cooking spray, add the diced nopalitos to a skillet on medium-high heat. Sauté until the mucilaginous liquid evaporates, stirring occasionally. This process usually takes 7 to 10 minutes. Stir the red chile sauce into the nopalitos over medium-high heat. Bring up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add broth or water to thin if needed. Cover and simmer until ready to serve.
  • To serve – Fill warm corn tortillas with a scoop of nopalitos and red chile sauce, top with caramelized onion, charred corn, and fresh toppings. Delicioso!

Notes

Macronutrients do not include toppings.

Nutrition

Serving: 3tacos | Calories: 388kcal | Carbohydrates: 59g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 15g

NOTE: Macronutrients are an approximation only using unbranded ingredients and MyFitnessPal.com. Please do your own research with the products you’re using if you have a serious health issue or are following a specific diet.

Did you make this recipe? Please leave a comment and/or star rating! Email us with any questions: tamara@beyondmeresustenance.com

🌵 More Nopales Recipes

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