Ensalada de Nopalitos con Quelites (Fresh Cactus Salad with Field Greens)

Recipe by Christian Irabién, Chef at Aparo, opening this fall in DC's historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood. Photography by Jennifer Chase.

Photo by Jennifer Chase.

Photo by Jennifer Chase.

Servings: 6

You should be able to find cactus with the needles removed, but if you don’t, you can ask nicely at the store to clean them for you. Or, you swiftly remove the needles by scraping them with a knife. Watch those prickles, they're small and annoying when they get inside your skin!

2 pounds cactus paddles, needles removed
1 1/2 cups kosher salt
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
2 teaspoons white pepper (or substitute black pepper)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lime, zested
1/3 cup lime juice, fresh squeezed and strained
1 teaspoon dry oregano, ground
2 1/2 cups blueberries
5 ounces queso fresco, crumbled
1/4 cup red onion, small diced
2 bunches purslane, washed and trimmed of thick stems (substitute watercress)

In a mixing bowl, coat your cactus paddles evenly with half of the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Throw on the grill to get some nice char marks and dilute some of the cactus mucilage. Remove and allow to cool.

Meanwhile, in a bowl, add the remaining olive oil, lime zest, lime juice, 1/2 cup of blue berries, 3 tablespoons salt, oregano, and cilantro whisk until evenly incorporated to make the dressing. Reserve.

Cut cactus into manageable strips, and coat with remaining salt, about a cup or so - heavily salted - and place on a strainer to allow the salt to extract the remaining mucilage - I like to let it sit for at least 30 minutes.

Take the cactus and rinse under cold water to remove all the excess salt and place into a large mixing bowl. Add to the bowl the remaining blue berries, red onion, and dressing - toss freely.

Garnish with queso fresco crumbs and purslane vines.


Christian Irabien is a Mexican native who has led teams in renowned kitchens, receiving accolades for his Executive Chef role at Calavera in Oakland, Ca. and Jose Andrés’Oyamel in Washington, DC. Christian has been an integral part of the rising DC restaurant scene, collaborating with non-profits, restaurants, food banks and farms in the area as an active participant for better working conditions and wages for restaurant workers; while also strongly advocating for a better local food system. His restaurant, Amparo, will open later this fall at 3110 Mount Pleasant St NW in the historic Mount Pleasant neighborhood of D.C.