Springtime is the time when cactus puts out their first new pads, and we begin to think of different ways to include them in our meals. Pan de Nopalito or Cactus Cornbread has always been a ranch favorite, and we seem to make it year round.
Cactus isn’t just for Springtime
So what do we we do when the nopalitos, or young cactus pads, are past their prime in the middle of the summer? We look for jarred cactus at the grocery store, which is conveniently de-thorned and cooked, ready to use.
Of course, in most of the Hispanic markets, you can find prepared, chopped fresh cactus in the produce aisles, ready for boiling and use in any recipe. But us old-fashioned ranch types like the free-for-the-taking kind that is delivered to our front pasture starting annually in March.
If you have never eaten cactus, or nopales (the alternative term nopalitos is simply the diminutive) just know that they taste a bit like lemony green beans, with a waxier, firmer texture. A great source of vitamin C, cactus might be an acquired taste for some, but in the not too distant past, it was the only reliable green produce available in hot, dry South Texas.
Cast Iron is Best for Pan de Nopalito
There are other recipes for nopalitos that are simple presentations, but the cornbread version is really delicious, and a great way to introduce the flavor to the unfamiliar. And use a cast iron skillet if you have one, for an extra crunchy cornbread crust. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t forget the butter. Lots of butter, please!
Pan de Nopalito is good any time of the year, but I seem to crave it in the Autumn, when nopalitos are way out of season. This is one of my favorite recipes, although I try not to make it too often. I usually eat the whole pan by myself!Print
Pan de Nopalito (Cactus Cornbread)
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 25 minutes
- Total Time: 35 minutes
- Yield: 8 servings 1x
- Category: Bread
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Southwestern
3/4 cup chopped fresh or jarred* cactus pad (nopalitos)(112g)
1/4 cup vegetable oil, shortening, or drippings (60ml)
1 cup corn meal (140g)
1 cup all-purpose flour (125g)
1 – 2 tbsp. sugar (12g-24g – optional)
1 tbsp. baking powder (12g)
1/2 tsp. salt (2g)
1 cup milk (240ml)
1 egg, beaten
3/4 cup corn kernels, canned or fresh (130g)
Place the cleaned, dethorned cactus pieces in a small saucepan, and cover with water. Boil cactus until the pieces turn from bright green to dull green. Drain and discard water, and rinse away any goo that the cactus naturally releases. (*If you are using the jarred nopalitos, they are already cooked so you can skip the cleaning and cooking steps entirely.)
Heat oven to 425°F (218°C) Warm the vegetable oil (shortening or drippings) in 10” (25cm) oven proof skillet to approximately 300°F (148°C.)
Meanwhile, combine the corn meal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the egg and milk, combining well with an electric hand mixer. Stir in the corn and cooked nopalito bits.
Pour the mixed batter into warmed skillet of vegetable oil and place in the preheated oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Cool briefly but serve warm.