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6 medium-to-small (15 to 17 ounces total) fresh cactus paddles (nopales or nopalitos)
1/3 cup good-quality olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 canned chile chipotle en adobo, seeded and minced, plus 1 teaspoon of the adobo from the can
a generous
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium red onion, very thinly sliced
8 ounces lump crab meat, preferable fresh, cleaned of any bits of shell
1 ripe, large tomato, cored, seeded and diced
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh coriander (cilantro)
several attractive lettuce leaves for garnish



  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. The cactus: For each cactus paddle, trim off the outlining edge (including the blunt end that attaches the paddle to the plant), then slice or scrape off the spiny nodes from both sides. Cut into 2 X 1/4 -inch slices. Toss the cactus with a little vegetable or olive oil. Place cactus on a baking sheet (do not crowd leave some space between the paddles), sprinkle with salt, and place in a preheated 400 degree oven. Turn frequently until soft and just beginning to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove and cool completely.
  3. Finishing the salad: While the cactus is cooking (or up to 3 days ahead), combine the olive oil, vinegar, chile chipotle, adobo, salt and red onion. (If preparing ahead, cover and refrigerate). Immediately before serving, combine the crab, tomato and cilantro with the dressing and cooled cactus. Adjust seasonings if necessary, then divide onto small plates lined with lettuce leaves. Serve at one.

Yield: 6 portions