It’s only been a week or so since I first brought nopales home, a type of cacti native to Mexico and Central America. It has a long history in native food ways and is still used often in traditional Mexican cooking. It boasts a long list of health benefits that I had known but still had never been inspired to cook with them myself. I’m not sure if it was the slippery like texture or the acidic flavor that put me off. Nonetheless, last week nopales were all around me, from freshly harvested and prepared nopales to a beautiful piece of art featuring nopales by a local muralista. I decided I needed to begin getting to know this indigenous food.
I took out my current favorite cookbook, Decolonize Your Diet, to look for all recipes using using the cacti and was drawn to the warrior smoothie because I could use the nopales raw. I really wanted to know how nopales would make me feel and if I could use them in non traditional ways. The recipe was simple enough and so I made it and drank my smoothie on a fairly empty stomach. I swear on all the gods, this food is perfect for my body. I can only describe it as making me feel clean and vibrant from the inside and not like your average green juice. It was an inexplicable feeling, one of lightness.
While I’m drinking my smoothie, I get a text from my aunt that my grandmother’s diabetes is getting worse and she might have to begin insulin injections. Of course, nopales are the perfect food to normalize blood sugar. There were just too many elements of my life that were connecting through this vegetable. I started feeling an emotional attachment to this food that was literally medicine for my grandmother and what felt like pure energy for me. The next day I go back to get more nopales to make another warrior smoothie but also to cook it with other veggies for dinner with my family. I made a mixed veggie sauté with nopales and it turned out delicious. The best part is that my kids loved it and were excited to eat cactus. We had a long discussion about el nopal and its curative powers making us even more excited to try it in new recipes.
As my kids and I continue to learn more and explore this vegetable, I am finding many ways to make it a staple food in our house. I am grateful for its return to our diets. Although this isn’t a recipe post, my hope is that you are inspired to learn more about nopales and discover ways to incorporate them into your diet.