Cactus—aka, nopales—is a common ingredient used throughout Mexico; with over 100 known species found in the country alone, they can be enjoyed raw, cooked in a variety of dishes ranging from soups and stews to tacos, and used as a traditional medicine.
Here in the States, cactus can be found on a variety of menus: a huarache of grilled nopales and refried pinquito beans salad is available at Comal in San Francisco, while chef Alex Alejandro of El Parador in New York serves them alongside gently-cooked baby back ribs.
At Chicago’s Mi Tocaya—“my namesake,” in Spanish—executive chef/owner Diana Dávila offers up takes on familiar and traditional Mexican favorites as well as lesser known regional specialties and inspirations of her Mexican heritage. Dishes like Hen of the Woods mushrooms with mole verde, pork meatballs served with en nogada sauce and carne asada with leeks, fingerling potatoes and salsa roja are all available under the large plates portion of the menu.
On Dávila’s menu, cactus is highlighted in a traditional stew called guisado de nopalitos. Try your hand at making it at home.
Guisado de NopalitosRecipe courtesy of Executive Chef/Owner Diana Davila, Mi Tocaya, Chicago
Serves 8 to 10
One 12-ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes
12 vine tomatoes, charred on the grill
2 cups sunflower oil
2 ounces minced garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 pound chayote squash, seeded and diced
1 pound yellow squash, seeded and diced
1 pound green zucchini, seeded and diced
1/2 pound fresh corn kernels
2 ounces guajillo pepper flakes
3 serrano peppers, sliced
4 pounds nopales, cleaned, blanched and diced
Cheese, like burrata, queso fresco or cheese curds, for serving
Fresh herbs, like epazote, for serving
Tortillas, for serving
1. Place canned and charred vine tomatoes in a blender and blend on high; reserve.
2. Bring a braising pan to medium heat; add the oil and garlic, season with some salt and pepper and sauté. Lower the heat; add the chayote, yellow squash, zucchini and corn and sweat until translucent. Add the guajillo flakes and serrano peppers and mix to incorporate. Add the nopales and mix to incorporate. Stir in puréed tomatoes and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
3. To serve, add the stew to a bowl; top with the cheese of your choice, garnish with some fresh herbs and serve with tortillas.
Photo by Jude Goergen.