The edible leaf or paddle of the prickly pear cactus. Nopal is the Mexican word for cactus and the leaf growing on the stem is referred to as Nopales. The leaf is prepared by removing the thorns and eyes, after which it is served fresh, canned, cooked, steamed, or pickled. When the leaf is prepared for steaming, canning or pickling, it is often diced or cut into strips and is then referred to as Nopalitos. The meat of the pad can have a somewhat sour green bean flavor or a delicate, almost asparagus or bell pepper taste, depending on how it was prepared, the variety of cactus, and when it was harvested during the growing season. It can be served as a vegetable dish or as a complement to other foods such as soups, salads and egg dishes. When cooked, the pad is simmered in boiling water until tender. If cooked too long, the leaf will emit a substance that is sticky, similar to cooking okra. Nopales is also referred to as a cactus pad or leaf. When it is candied, it is known as Acitrónes.
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