Nopalitos (or nopales) are the pads of the prickly pear cactus, and this salad is a staple in Mexico. The dressing and the salad ingredients can be prepared ahead, refrigerated and combined just before serving.
We found La Preferida brand canned nopalito slices at Whole Foods Market,--40 P St. NW, 202-332-4300, and Dona Maria brand (along with fresh cactus pads) at Panam International Market, 706 University Blvd., Silver Spring, 301-408-0550.
- For the dressing
- 2 large (unpeeled) cloves garlic
- Juice of 1 large lemon (about 1/4 cup)
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
- 1 tablespoon pickled jalapeño peppers, finely chopped
- For the salad
- 1 15-ounce jar sliced nopalitos, rinsed and drained (or 3 to 4 fresh prickly pear cactus pads; see TIP, below)
- 4 scallions, white and light-green parts, coarsely chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 4 red radishes, thinly sliced
- 1 head red leaf lettuce, washed, dried and torn into small pieces
- 1 bunch cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup crumbled queso fresco (may substitute feta cheese)
For the dressing: Heat the garlic cloves in a small heavy skillet, preferably cast iron, over medium heat for about 20 minutes, turning them frequently, until they have softened. Peel and mash the cloves; transfer to a small bowl.
In a separate small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper to taste, oregano and thyme. Add the mashed garlic and the jalapeno peppers, stirring to mix well. Set aside; if not serving immediately, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
For the salad: Toss the drained nopalitos with the salad dressing in a salad bowl; cover and refrigerate, to let them marinate, until ready to serve. Just before serving, add the scallions, tomatoes, radishes, lettuce and cilantro, tossing to combine. Sprinkle with the queso fresco and serve.
Based on "Authentic Mexican" by Rick Bayless (William Morrow, 1987) and "The Taste of Mexico" by Patricia Quintana (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1986).
Tested by Leslie A. Garcia.
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