Nopales (no-PA-les) are flat spiky cactus pads of the Nopal (no-PAUL) or prickly pear cactus. Nopalitos (no-pa-LI-tos) are the young pads suitable for eating. They can be cooked and eaten after removing the spikes.
You can buy nopalitos in Mexican grocery stores, de-spiked and sold whole, or chopped into little squares and tucked into a baggie. This is one instance where I go for the processed foods, although I have thought from time to time of planting a nopal in the front yard. The chopped nopalitos will last up to 3 days in the fridge. Similar to okra, nopales get gooey when cooked, while retaining a nice crunch.
I combined the nopalitos with onions, red bell pepper and tomato for color and flavor and stirred them into scrambled eggs.
1 nopal pad, de-spiked (makes about 1/3 cup chopped)
1 tsp olive oil
1 small red bell pepper, copped
¼ large tomato, or 1 small Roma tomato, chopped
5 large eggs
¼ tsp salt
sprinkle of cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
several grinds or shakes of black pepper
several sprigs of chopped cilantro for garnish
Chop onion and sauté in olive oil over medium heat a couple of minutes until it begins to soften. Add nopalitos and red bell pepper and cook about 5 minutes.
Stir in tomatoes and cook several more minutes until the tomatoes soften. Meanwhile, beat the eggs and add salt and peppers.
Add the eggs to the vegetables and stir until the eggs are cooked to your liking.
Garnish with cilantro and top with salsa if you desire. Serve with hot tortillas or quesadillas (tortillas heated on a comal or heavy skillet and sprinkled with a bit of cheese).