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Written by Robert Morris, co-founder of Slow Food Las Vegas and former Professor Emeritus from the University of Nevada

If you were to pair cactus with other foods you might want to consider pairing it with limes and paprika. This is a popular pairing in Mexico with the cactus food called nopalitos where Opuntia ficus-indica, the prickly pear or nopal cactus, is native. In the popular literature you might think that this cactus was native to Italy since this plant gets much more play there as a food than where it grows natively, the inland deserts of Central Mexico.

However, Mexicans have enjoyed this food in many prepared forms for centuries. In respect for its place of origin, I prefer to use the Mexican terms for the edible portions of the plant: tunas (fruit), nopales (immature whole cactus pads for eating) and nopalitos (cactus pads that have been prepared for eating or cooking).

In 2003, I established nopal cactus plots at the University Orchard located at the Center for Urban Horticulture and Water Conservation in North Las Vegas, Nevada. Faculty and my good friends at the University of Sonora-Hermosillo, Mexico (USON) donated cactus pads from USON’s agricultural farm just outside of Hermosillo and taught us how to plant and manage their production.