Produce Superstars: Celebrate Cinco de Mayo With These Nopales Cactus Enchiladas



Enchiladas, in all their glorious variety, are so well known and well liked here in California, we scarcely think of them as Mexican anymore. They’ve become, like pizza,  part of our native cuisine. In this recipe, I deconstruct the enchilada, and put it back together a little differently. Fundamentally, an enchilada is a tortilla which has been “chili-ied,” which is to say, flavored in some way with chiles. In this version, rather than stuffing, rolling and baking the tortillas, we simply warm the tortillas, spoon on a layer of filling, and sauce them, eliminating the baking, which often leads to everything being overcooked.

As for the ingredients, am I asking you to eat cactus? Yes indeed, and quite tasty it is. The part you’re going to eat is the leaf pad of the nopale (prickly pear cactus), a widely-grown commercial crop in Mexico. If your supermarket doesn’t stock nopales, shop where your Mexican-American neighbors shop. You will find them whole (as in the photo below), or prepped (diced, with the little thorns already removed). If you find only the whole cactus leaves, don’t fret. They can be easily prepped: using a kitchen towel, hold the nopale with one hand, and with the other hand scrape away the thorns with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. High in vitamins and minerals, nopales do best with light cooking, a quick sauté or brief time on a grill (overcooking can lead to sliminess). After the jump, I offer you my introduction to cactus cuisine: nopale-mushroom-tempeh enchiladas with salsa ranchera.



Makes 4 large enchiladas (you will need 8 corn tortillas).

—For the filling:

4 ounces tempeh, cut into 1/4-inch dice

olive or canola oil

1 small onion, peeled and diced

10 ounces mushrooms, cleaned and diced

2 cups (about 8 ounces) nopales, cleaned and diced

2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

soy sauce, lemon or lime juice, salt and pepper, mirin, to taste

3-4 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

1/2 cup of the ranchera sauce (see below)

1 cup (4 ounces) grated vegan, soy or dairy cheese of choice (optional)

1. Heat a couple of teaspoons of oil in a roomy sauté or fry pan. Add the tempeh, and stirring frequently, brown it on all four sides. Add 1/4 cup water, 2 teaspoons soy sauce  and 1-2 teaspoons mirin (optional). Braise the tempeh, stirring frequently, 3-4 minutes or until the tempeh absorbs the liquid.

2. Remove tempeh from the pan. Wipe out the pan and reheat it, adding a few drops of oil. Add the onions, mushrooms, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Sauté 5 minutes, or until the veggies are wilted and beginning to be tender.

3. Add the nopales, and continue sautéing 4-5 minutes more, or until the nopales are just barely tender.  Turn off the heat. Add back the tempeh, stir in the cilantro, 1/2 cup ranchera sauce, and the cheese, if using.  Check seasoning. Set this filling aside until you are ready to assemble the enchiladas.

—For the ranchera sauce:

While this sauce shouldn’t be watery, you also don’t want it to be as thick as a typical pasta sauce.  If if seems to be cooking down too much, add 1/4 cup water, or as needed.

1 large onion, peeled and diced

3-4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons cumin

2 teaspoons cinnamon

3 cups (1  28 ounce can) organic fire roasted, diced tomatoes

1/2 tablespoon chipotle in adobo (this amount yields a moderately spicy sauce, use more or less chipotle along with the adobo sauce, depending on how hot or mild a sauce you like)

1/4 cup cilantro, chopped

Fresh lime or lemon juice, to taste

1. Heat a little oil in a medium sauté pan. Sauté the onion, garlic, cumin and cinnamon with a sprinkle of salt, stirring frequently, 5-6 minutes or until the onion is tender.

2. Add the tomatoes and simmer a few minutes, or until heated through.

3. Add the chipotle and cilantro and purée in a blender (or use an immersion blender) until you have a smooth, not-too-thick, pourable sauce. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding a squeeze of lime or lemon juice, salt and pepper, as needed.

—The tortillas: Buy the best quality corn tortillas you can find. Warm them by steaming, or pour a thin film of oil on a hot frying pan or griddle and heat the tortillas about 2 minutes on each side.

—For the garnish: a small wedge of cabbage, washed and finely sliced, a few sprigs of cilantro, washed and trimmed, fresh lime wedges.

—To serve: place one tortilla on a plate, spoon on a layer of filling, top with a second tortilla and nap everything with a layer of sauce.  Garnish with the cabbage and cilantro sprigs, with a lime wedge on the side. Serve and eat immediately. Feliz Cinco de Mayo!


Purée the salsa ranchera with an immersion blender, or in batches in a conventional blender.


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