Ana’s Nopalitos & Jalapeños Salad & Taco Topping

nopal salad

Submitted by Ana González Quaid

This nopalitos and jalapeños salad is one of Ana González Quaid’s favorite ways to add flavor and color to her Chicago-based family’s favorite Mexican dishes. She’ll makes a big batch to top carne asada tacos or serve as a side, especially with arrachera steak. It’s great with basically, everthing.

“It’s so easy to make,” Ana says. “This salad adds zing to any kind of taco or dish. It’s just such a traditional taste and so good. My mom Gollita and oldest son always love when I make it.”

nopal salad
The nopal’s name comes from the Nahuatl nohpalli. Scrape away the spines before cooking.

Eaten both raw and cooked, the spiky nopal is a Mexican cactus also called prickly pear. It is recognizable by its large, green oval paddles, which are covered with spines. When removed from the nopal cactus, both the paddles and resulting slices are called nopalitos. Be sure to scrape them off before cooking and definitely before eating.

The cactus’ name comes from the Aztec Nahuatl word nohpall. When it flowers, its fruit—called tuna—is often used in jams with resultados deliciosos. Warning: Both fresh and canned nopalitos are a bit slimy, says Ana. Like okra. Be sure to rinse and drain the cactus slivers before using them. What she loves best about this dish? “It’s so easy to make,” Ana says. “This salad adds zing to any kind of taco or Mexican dish. It’s just such a traditional taste—and so good. My mom and oldest son always love it when I make it.”

If using fresh nopales (recommended: so delicious), first scrape your knife against the prickly spines and cut them off. Then slice the nopal paddles, chop them into bite-size pieces, and start making your salad!

Ready to Make Ana’s Nopalitos & Jalapeños Salad & Taco Topping?

Ana’s Nopaitos & Pickled Jalapeños Salad

5 from 1 vote
Recipe by Ana González Quaid Cuisine: Mexican


Prep time




  • 60 oz 60 canned nopalitos (2 cans, 30 oz each), diced

  • 1 medium 1 white onion, diced

  • 1 large 1 tomato, diced

  • 1 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped

  • 1/2 tsp 1/2 salt, or to taste

  • 3 3 pickled jalapeños (from a can), diced

  • 2 Tbsp 2 picked jalapeños juice, reserved from can

  • 8 oz 8 queso cotija, grated, divided

  • 1 1/2 1 1/2 avocados, cubed

  • 1/2 1/2 avocado, thinly sliced

  • 1 1 lime, sliced, for garnish, optional


  • Open the cans of nopalitos. Rinse them well. Drain, dice and place the nopalitos in a bowl.
  • Add the diced onion, diced tomato, chopped cilantro and salt. Mix gently.
  • Open the pickled jalapenõs can. Reserve their juice.
  • To the bowl, add the diced, pickled jalapeños and 2 Tbsp of their salty juice.
  • Add 6 oz of the grated cotija cheese and the cubed avocados. Gently mix.
  • Garnish with the remaining 1/2 avocado slices, 2 oz of cotija cheese, and optional lime slices.
  • Serve as a side salad or add as a topping to your favorite tacos.


  • Ana prefers to use cotija cheese, which is tangy and closer to Parmesan, than the crumblier, juicier, feta-like queso fresco. Both can be used to make this salad—deliciously.
Nopales salad
Join The Conversation

Get This & More

Stay in the know with our new recipes and contest updates!

Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *