While not strictly vegetarians (not even loosely vegetarians, in fact), we’re always looking for ways to extend Meatless Mondays well into the week. Vegetarian tacos are usually a pretty easy way to do that, though for us, that generally means tofu or fish. In fact, cactus might not have occurred to if not for Jason Wyrick‘s entirely enticing dish in Vegan Tacos. We’re always looking for a reason to go to our favorite Mexican market, and the hunt for nopales is just the one we’ve been waiting for.
“Nopales are prickly pear cactus pads,” says Wyrick, a chef who used a vegan lifestyle to reverse his diabetes and change the way he ate and lived. “They take some care to work with properly, but when you do, they are amazing. They have just a little tang and a nice bright flavor. I usually find the fresh ones at a Mexican market. You can make these either in a pan or on the grill.”
Between this dish and the Wyrick’s many other variations on the vegan-taco theme, our Meatless Mondays (and Tuesdays, and Wednesdays…) are looking a lot more interesting.
Vegan Tacos Authentic and Inspired Recipes for Mexico’s Favorite Street Food by Jason Wyrick
Nopales are spectacularly healthy type of cacti with a wide range of health benefits including its ability to aid in weight loss, prevent cancer, improve skin health, protect heart health, regulate and improve digestion, boost the immune system, optimize metabolic activity, build strong bones, cure insomnia, and reduce inflammation throughout the body.
Nutritional Value of Nopales
The wealth of health benefits that come from nopales are mainly attributable to its nutrition and vitamin content, which includes riboflavin, vitamin B6, copper, iron, fiber, vitamin-A, C, K, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and manganese. It is also an important source of certain organic compounds like phytochemicals and certain polysaccharides that also contribute to the health boosting power of nopales.
Health Benefits of Nopales
Digestion: Nopales are forms of cacti, so they are very fibrous and contain a great deal of dietary fiber. Dietary fiber is essential in the digestive process, because it adds bulk to bowel movements that make them easier to pass through the smooth muscles of the digestive tract.
Weight Loss: There are a number of components within nopales which can aid in weight loss. First, fiber can make the body feel full and inhibit the release of ghrelin, which is the hunger hormone, so overeating is reduced. Secondly, this plant is very low in saturated fat and cholesterol, but it is packed with metabolic potential, so the body works at a higher level without gaining weight.
Cancer Prevention: The variety of phytochemicals, flavonoid compounds, vitamin-C, and other antioxidants found in nopales make it extremely beneficial for the entire immune system, particularly when it comes to various cancers.
Metabolic Activity: One of the most important aspects of nopales in terms of health is its mineral and vitamin content. Nopales contain thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, and vitamin-B6, all of which are vital components of cellular metabolism and normal, regulated enzyme function throughout the body.
Builds Strong Bones: The mineral content of this powerful cactus leaf includes a modest level of calcium, which is an essential part of building strong bones and repairing bones after being damaged.
Improve Sleep: This plant also contains magnesium,which is a useful mineral for inducing feelings of sleep for people suffering from insomnia, chronic anxiety or restlessness. It induces the release of serotonin in the body, which results in increased melatonin levels.
Inflammation: The juice that is taken out of the pickle pear leaves of nopales has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects on a variety of body parts, including those symptoms associated with arthritis, injury, joint pain, and muscle strain.
Skin Health: The phytochemical and antioxidant characteristics of nopales make them a good defensive mechanism against premature aging symptoms, like wrinkles and age spots.
Diabetes: The extracts from the leaves of prickly pear cactus can be powerful regulators of glucose levels within the body. For patients with type 2 diabetes, it can cause a reduced spike in glucose levels following eating, which makes the management of diabetes easier.
The nopal cactus is a staple food that has existed in the native Meso-American diet for more than 12,000 years, and it offers a nutritious supplement to many traditional Mexican dishes. Although there are over 200 edible varieties of the nopal cactus, the broad-leafed vegetable pads of the Opuntia ficus-indica species are most utilized in Mexican cuisine. Nopal cactus pads can be served raw, stir-fried, dried, or pickled and are commonly prepared as side dishes, salads, taco fillings, or omelets. Slimy, citrusy, and slightly sweet, nopal is a unique vegetable that can be an acquired taste.
Farmers can grow nopal in harsh arid climates and at high-altitudes (Photo Credit: Stock.xchng)
In addition, nopal has been extensively studied for its potential health benefits. According to studies conducted by University of California, Los Angeles, nopal is effective in reducing LDL cholesterol—the “bad” cholesterol—and regulating blood sugar for diabetic patients. In addition, 15 percent of nopal’s weight is fiber, making it a great food to manage gastrointestinal tract movement.
Often referred to as “prickly pears” in the United States, nopal pads are being cultivated in Mexico and border-states such as California and Arizona for commercial export. Farmers, chefs, medical researchers, and consumers are recognizing the benefits of nopal and demand has tremendously increased in recent years. The cactus industry in Mexico alone is worth $150 million and employs 10,000 workers. Read more about the health benefits of nopal cactus.
Wanna try Cactus Soup? My first reaction was, "Yucks!" Somehow, the staff at Kin Yan Agrotech managed to convince me to pour the mini cup-size soup into my mouth. The next thing I knew, I was totally intoxicated by the delicious soup!
Ingredients: Stew meat... beef or pork or local favorite 1/2 to one pound of nopales cactus prepared and diced sliced carrots a can of sweet corn (or fresh if available) two, three or four pickled or fresh jalapeno peppers (or to taste) three cloves or more (to taste) of garlic one to four medium onions one half bunch of cilantro (or more is better) a tender squash or three quarter cup of olive oil couple dashes of salt and some ground black pepper will add flavor
Cooked and hot Rice or barley to serve the nopales over
Brown the meat in olive or vegetable oil, you can add bacon strips if you like more fat... Add some water and let the meat simmer covered for an hour, then add one diced onion, and the sliced carrots and let simmer for another hour Add in the corn, peppers, cilantro and other spices.... and simmer for half an hour.... add in the edible cactus and squash and let it simmer for thirty minutes, then remove from the heat and serve hot over hot rice or barley.
Many of our customers say they take cactus as a medicine. It does not take much to regulate blood sugar. It is said to slow the absorption of sugar into the body and reduces the spikes in sugar levels. This is an endorsement of a prepared cactus juice that is marketed nationally.
People can buy our fresh organic edible cactus and see if they get the same benefits.
A lady shows us how to fry cactus. This is an excellent method with our cactus.... or even better is grilled over coals with olive oil and salt/pepper/garlic. It's nice to hear her speak of it's benefits to diabetics. I just am really happy that other people will advertise cactus for us!