This healthy vegetarian nopalitos dish features nopales and red chile sauce over top of black beans and rice. Nopalitos and Red Chile Rice Bowls is then garnished with a runny egg, crumbled cotija, avocado, and cilantro. Buen provecho!
The symbolism of meat-eating is never neutral. To himself, the meat-eater seems to be eating life. To the vegetarian, he seems to be eating death. There is a kind of gestalt-shift between the two positions which makes it hard to change, and hard to raise questions on the matter at all without becoming embattled.~~ Mary Midgley, Animals and Why They Matter
👩🏻🍳 Tamara Talks – #MeatlessMonday and Nopales
I have committed to join the #MeatlessMonday movement in an effort to find a middle ground on the issue of vegetarianism. Meatless Monday is a global movement that encourages people to reduce meat in their diet for their health and the health of the planet.
Eating more healthy plant-based foods – and less meat – preserves precious land and water resources, combats climate change, and can help reduce chronic preventable diseases.
A healthy vegetarian meal must contain adequate protein. When I started playing with recipes, I knew I wanted something new and fresh, and a good balance of protein, carbs, and nutrients.
I grew up in southern California – the oldest daughter of adventurous cooking parents. 🙂 I remember having nopalitos burritos after church on Sunday evenings, and I loved them! All of our local groceries and farmers markets have prepared fresh nopales, so I got to work.
This nopalitos recipe was the end result of a couple of days playing with nopales – the edible pads of cactus plants most commonly used in Mexican cuisine. I think that qualifies as “new and fresh” to most home cooks?
What is the difference between “nopales” and “nopalitos?”
Nopalitos is a dish made with diced nopales. I have only cooked them a couple of times due to the fact that I had no interest whatsoever in breaking them down! However, I shopped at a Mexican market in Roma, Texas recently, and lo-and-behold I found the most beautiful diced, fresh nopales in the produce section.
I had no idea what I would do with them, but I had to have them… If you’re completely unfamiliar with nopales, they are nutrient rich, and a good source of fiber and antioxidants. The flavor is a bit like a tangy asparagus or green bean with a slightly chewy texture. They can be eaten raw in salads, but hold up really well when cooked.
Rick Bayliss and Nopalitos
Given my focus on Mexican-inspired recipes, Rick Bayliss is a “go to” resource for ideas. I Googled “nopales” and “Rick Bayliss,” knowing I’d come up with a winner. 😉 I landed on his Nopal Cactus with Caramelized Onion, Guajillo Chile and Fresh Cheese. I have followed Rick Bayliss (Food Network) for years, and know his reputation for creative and (mostly) healthy Mexican food. This recipe was exactly what I was looking for!
I made the nopalitos according to the recipe, and served it with exceptionally fresh corn tortillas (from the same market), crumbled cotija, and cilantro taco-style. The tacos were fabulous, and reminded me of my childhood…
I served black beans and rice as a side dish, and when some of the nopalitos dropped into the black beans and rice, the idea for this recipe was born. It was definitely going on the menu for #meatlessmonday the very next day! Topped with a runny, poached egg, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more satisfying vegetarian dish.
- red chile sauce – see Tips and FAQ for more information.
- canned diced tomatoes
- diced nopales – Fresh is best! I refuse to break down the cactus pads myself (ouch!), but my markets all carry them. You can also rinse and drain water-packed nopales.
- red onion
- olive or vegetable oil
Black Beans and Rice
- olive or coconut oil
- shallot or red onion
- long grain rice – I prefer basmati when recipe specifies long grain rice.
- ground cumin
- red chile powder – Choose guajillo, ancho, or ground New Mexico red chile powder, NOT generic “chili powder.” It’s a spice blend, and not a good option.
- vegetable stock or water
- cooked black beans – I keep canned black beans in my pantry, but also cook dried black beans in my Instant Pot. I use them if I have them!
- eggs – When time is no concern, I do poached eggs. If time is of the essence, I do basted eggs. The main thing is that the yolk is runny!
- cotija – I buy wedges of cotija, and crumble or grate it. Feta is a decent substitute.
- avocado – Sliced or diced.
- Prepare your red chile sauce – See Tips and FAQ for different options.
- Prepare the nopalitos – In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium. Add the cactus, cover the pan and cook 5 minutes. Uncover, raise the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring frequently, until all of the cactus’s sticky stuff has evaporated and you hear the cactus sizzling in the oil.
- Finish the nopalitos – Add the onion and garlic, and sauté 2-3 minutes until fragrant. Stir in the red chile sauce, tomatoes, and salt. Cover and simmer while you make the black beans and rice (about 20 minutes).
Black Beans and Rice
- Sauté the aromatics, and spices – Heat the olive oil in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot or red onion. Saute until translucent. Add the cumin and red chile powder, and sauté a couple of minutes more.
- Cook the rice and black beans – Add broth or water, black beans, salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Cover and cook 19 minutes. Fluff with a fork just before serving.
- Cook eggs – This is a personal preference. We like runny eggs, so I poach them if I’ve got time, or baste them if I’m pressed for time.
- Serve – To a shallow bowl or plate, scoop the black beans and rice followed by the nopalitos and red chile. Place 1 egg on top of each serving. Garnish with crumbled cotija, avocado, and chopped cilantro.
What options do I have for the red chile sauce?
- Homemade red chile sauce from pods – My friend MJ has a very good red chile sauce made with dried pods. You can use New Mexico red, guajillo, ancho, or a combination.
- Homemade red chile sauce from ground – I have a recipe for gluten free red chile sauce. If gluten is not an issue, simply sub regular flour.
- Good quality commercial red chile sauce – I like The Hatch Chile Store’s red chile sauce (available online), or this chile sauce (Amazon).
What if I can’t find fresh nopales? This nopalitos recipe really benefits from the fresh nopales. You can substitute rinsed and drained water-packed nopales, but avoid vinegar packed nopales as it will mess with the flavor profile of the dish.
You can substitute pintos or other beans for the black beans if you’ve got them in the pantry. Think of the recipe as a template!
Is it good leftover? YES! I’m usually cooking for just 2. I make the full recipe, and we have it for breakfast or lunch the next day – with a fresh egg of course! Layer the black beans and rice in a ramekin, and top with the remaining nopalitos.
I use coconut or olive oil for this dish. You can use your preferred vegetable oil.
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🍷 Pairing Suggestions
Mark and I felt this recipe best paired with a beer. Stay away from beers with high alcoholic content, excessive bitterness, and high carbonation. All 3 will intensify the spiciness and may throw it out of balance. I would opt for a well-balanced, slightly malty beer like a bock, a brown ale, or even a porter.
For more on pairing beer with Mexican food, see How to Pair Beer With Mexican Food. What is your “go to” beverage with Mexican food? I rarely have had a glass of wine that complemented Mexican food; I’d love to hear your experiences!