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6 Great Prickly Pear Recipes to Try This Week

Prickly pear recipes
Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / valtercirillo

Prickly pear fruit and pads can be eaten in a variety of ways, including drinks, desserts, and even mains. We’ll show you six great prickly pear recipes to try this week.

Prickly pear fruit comes from the prickly pear cactus, also known as nopal cactus or tuna. It’s red in color with spines on the outside, and its pads or leaves can be eaten too. It is a durable plant that can grow in dry, drought-prone conditions and requires simple cultivation techniques making it a great eco-friendly food to add to your diet. Cacti also have a high nutritional value; a 2020 study concluded that cactus pear fruit peel, used in chutneysjuice, or dried and preserved, contains high levels of antioxidants and nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, and vitamin C. 

Prickly pear cacti grow in much of the desert in the Southwest (from central Texas to inland southern California), Mexico, and the Caribbean. The fruit is ready to harvest from late summer until December.

Prickly pear can usually be found in the Hispanic section of the grocery store (sometimes green instead of pink). After the spines are removed the pads can be grilled, added to salads, eaten raw, or stir-fried. Alternatively, the fruit can be eaten raw or juiced and tastes similar to watermelon. Remember to consider food miles when eating prickly pear, as if you don’t live close to a desert area, it’s likely to have traveled some distance to get to your plate.

How to Prepare Prickly Pear

Prickly pear fruit with the spines removed.
Prickly pear fruit with the spines removed.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / guvo59)

As the name suggests, prickly pear fruit is prickly, it’s covered in small spines and should be handled with care. It’s a good idea to wear thick rubber gloves when preparing them for cooking. The first step is to wash them under cold water and scrub them with a coarse brush to remove the spines (or glochids) — store-bought prickly pears often already have the spines removed.

The skin of prickly pears is tough and needs to be peeled to get to the edible flesh, again wear rubber gloves when doing this to avoid any stray prickles. First, trim the ends and then slice the skin down the length of the fruit, the peel should come away in one piece.

Alternatively, cut the prickly pear in half and scoop out the flesh from each half using a spoon, this method is good if making juice or blending the fruit. Now you know how to prepare prickly pear, let’s dive in and explore some prickly pear recipes.

1. Prickly Pear Jelly Recipe

Prickly pear jelly goes great on toast or crackers.
Prickly pear jelly goes great on toast or crackers.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / 969209)

Prickly pear jelly tastes great on toast, crackers, or sourdough and its sweetness can be adjusted to taste. Its color will depend on the color of the fruit, ranging from light pink to deep purple.

Yield: 3 pints / 24 servings


  • 27 prickly pears
  • 2 packets of fruit pectin (1.75 oz)
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 4½ cups white sugar


  1. Peel the prickly pear as above and cut it into chunks. Place in a blender and puree in batches. Sieve the mixture into a large bowl to remove any pulp and seeds. Repeat until all the fruit has been liquified.
  2. Pour 3 cups of prickly pear juice into a large pot with the pectin and lemon juice. Bring to a boil whilst stirring constantly. 
  3. Add the sugar and return to a boil, stirring constantly for about three minutes then remove from the heat.
  4. Pour the mixture into sterilized jars. Leave a quarter of an inch of space at the top of each jar. Tightly screw the lids on each jar. 
  5. Take a large pot and place a wire rack at the bottom. Fill halfway with water and bring to a boil.
  6. Carefully lower the jars into the boiling water (use tongs in necessary), and top up with boiling water until it covers an inch above the jars.
  7. Bring the water to a rolling boil and cover the pot. Allow to boil for fifteen minutes, this is called a water bath and is done to extend the shelf-life of the jelly.
  8. Remove the jars from the water using tongs and place them on a dish towel on a plate, allow to cool for twenty-four hours.
  9. Store at room temperature for up to twelve months.

2. Prickly Pear Juice

Use the prickly pear recipe for juice to use as a base for cocktails.
Use the prickly pear recipe for juice to use as a base for cocktails.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Antonio_Cansino)

Prickly pear juice is refreshing and sweet, this recipe uses lime to add some tanginess. It can be used as the base for kombucha cocktails, summer spritz cocktails, or margarita mocktail.

Yield: 3 cups 


  • 3 pounds prickly pears 
  • Juice from 3 limes, more or less to taste
  • Agave syrup to taste


  1. Peel the prickly pears as described in section one and cut them into chunks.
  2. Pulse in the blender with the agave syrup and lime juice until smooth.
  3. Pour through a sieve into a jug to remove any pulp and seeds.
  4. Refrigerate and consume in up to three days. Alternatively, fill ice cube trays with the juice and freeze, then add a couple of cubes to a glass of water for a more diluted taste.

Tip: for hot summer days, you can turn this into delicious juice pops

3. Red Leaf and Prickly Pear Salad Recipe

Use red leaf lettuce in this salad for color and texture.
Use red leaf lettuce in this salad for color and texture.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Couleur)

This prickly pear recipe makes a great side dish to any main course. A tasty salad that uses prickly pear, fresh figs, zucchini, red leaf lettuce, and chopped walnuts to surprise your tastebuds. Enjoy a variety of textures and tastes drizzled in a tangy vinaigrette dressing.

Yield: 4 servings


  • 2 medium zucchini
  • 1 prickly pear
  • 4 fresh figs
  • 1 head red leaf lettuce
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp minced shallot
  • 1 tsp honey (or vegan honey substitute)
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard (optional)
  • ¾ tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp pepper
  • ⅓ cup toasted, chopped walnuts


  1. Chop the ends off the zucchini and use a potato peeler or cheese grater to grate them into long strands, and place in a large salad bowl.
  2. Peel the prickly pear as in section one and cut it into thin slices, and add to the salad bowl.
  3. Quarter the fresh figs and wash and shred the red leaf lettuce, add to the salad bowl, and toss all together.
  4. To make the vinaigrette dressing take a small bowl and add the vinegar, oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, minced shallot, honey, mustard, and salt and pepper and mix quickly using a spoon until blended.
  5. Serve the salad topped with chopped walnuts and drizzle with the vinaigrette dressing.

4. Prickly Pear Sorbet Recipe

This prickly pear recipe tastes best on a hot summer day.
This prickly pear recipe tastes best on a hot summer day.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / DorianKrauss)

Prickly pear is so versatile, it can even be used to make desserts. This prickly pear recipe for sorbet is super easy to make and is a refreshing sweet treat.

Yield: 8 servings


  • 8 prickly pears (3 pounds)
  • ½ cup water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp lime juice


  1. Peel the prickly pears as in section one. Cut in half lengthways and scoop out the flesh into a blender.
  2. Make the sugar syrup by placing the water in a small pot and bringing it to a boil on medium to high heat. Add the sugar and stir constantly until the sugar is dissolved.
  3. Add the sugar syrup mixture and lime juice to the blender and pulse until smooth. Sieve the mixture into individual freezer-proof containers, to remove any pulp and seeds. Smooth the surface of each and cover. Freeze for at least six hours. 
  4. Remove from the freezer for a few minutes before serving.

5. Prickly Pear Pad Fries

Handle prickly pear pads with care.
Handle prickly pear pads with care.
(Foto: CC0 / Pixabay / Hans)

Fancy snacking on prickly pear instead? Try making prickly pear pad fries, also known as nopalitos fritos in Mexican cuisine. They are crispy and crunchy and are made from the pad part of the prickly pear cactus, rather than the fruit.

Yield: 4 servings


  • 4 prickly pear cactus pads
  • 2 egg whites
  • ⅔ cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • ½ tsp chipotle powder
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ⅓ cup breadcrumbs
  • ¾ cup iced water
  • 2 cups vegetable oil


  1. Prepare the prickly pear cactus pads by removing the thorns and “eyes” using a knife, wearing thick rubber gloves to protect your hands. Carefully remove the edges of the pads and wash thoroughly.
  2. Place the pads in a large pot and cover with water, bring to a boil, and cook for two minutes. Remove from the water and allow to cool.
  3. Cut the cactus pads into long thin strips, similar to the size of french fries, and set them aside.
  4. Beat the egg whites until they form peaks, and set aside.
  5. Take a medium-sized mixing bowl and add the flour, cornstarch, chipotle powder, baking powder, and bread crumbs, and mix well. 
  6. Fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients and at the same time gradually add the iced water until a thick batter forms. Refrigerate for ten minutes.
  7. Dip the prickly pear pad fries in the batter and at the same time heat the oil in a deep frying pan until hot.
  8. Add the fries to the hot oil and fry until crispy and golden brown, move them using a spatula to ensure they don’t stick together.
  9. Remove from the heat, drain well, and serve with your favorite dip.

    6. Chopped Prickly Pear Pads

    Prickly pear recipes can use both the fruit and the pads.
    Prickly pear recipes can use both the fruit and the pads.
    (Foto: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash / David Lloyd Blunk-Fernandez)

    The pads (nopales) of the prickly pear cactus are used in Mexican cuisine to add flavor and texture. This vegetable dish involves frying the pads with tomatoes to create a dish to have with a main course or it can be eaten alone as a light snack.

    Yield: 4 servings


    • 2 prickly pear pads
    • 1 tsp vegetable oil
    • Half an onion
    • Half a tomato
    • Salt and pepper


    1. Prepare the prickly pear cactus pads by removing the thorns and “eyes” using a knife, wearing thick rubber gloves to protect your hands. Carefully remove the edges of the pads and wash thoroughly.
    2. Slice the prickly pear pads into long strips. 
    3. Add the oil to a large frying pan and warm on medium heat. Add the prickly pear pad slices and fry, stirring continuously until the liquid from the prickly pear pads evaporates — about fifteen minutes.
    4. Peel and mince the onion and dice the tomato. Add to the frying pan and fry the mixture until the onion becomes transparent.
    5. Season with salt and pepper.
    6. Remove from the heat and serve.

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