Vegan Cactus Tacos
Cactus tacos have been a natural vegan option on a lot of menus I have come across, yet I had never given them a try until about a year ago. I don’t know why it took me so long to try cactus. I suppose I couldn’t envision the flavor or the texture despite being very adventurous with vegan food and seeing vegan cactus tacos on the menu all the time.
Looking back, I really wish I had tried all those tacos of the past, because once I finally caved in when it was the only vegan option at a local Mexican restaurant, I was hooked. They did not taste at all how I thought they would. I vaguely imagined a jelly like and flavorless substance, this couldn’t be further from the truth
A Note About Cactus Tacos AKA Nopales
Cactus, also known as nopales (depending on where in the world you are) is actually relatively easy to find jarred, like you would find pickled jalapenos or pickles themselves. You can even easily order them here if you don’t have a Mexican section in your local market or a stand alone Mexican market They are packed in a flavored, slightly spicy, slightly thick liquid, reminiscent of pickle juice. I have only ever seen them as naturally vegan, which obviously helps make the taco vegan with much less effort.
I would best describe the texture of the cactus as almost canned green bean like, but with that slight vinegar/spicy flavor. It’s a pleasing texture. From the jar, the cactus is slightly slimy and it’s up to you if you rinse them, as they can be eaten “as is”.
These cactus strips are the heart of the taco, and being they are already cooked, it makes it very quick to assemble this meal for a mid-week dinner. I hope you are quicker to take the cactus leap than I was and give this recipe a try. I detail out the ingredients and process below, but you can “jump to recipe” if you want to get down to making tacos right away.
Ingredients for Vegan Cactus Tacos
Let’s be honest, this isn’t a major “work all day in the kitchen” kind of meal. It’s more of an assembly of ready-to-use ingredients that work really well together! By all means, if you make taco shells from scratch, I am sure they would work awesome here. Pickle your own jalapenos? Definitely add them.
Below I will walk you through how to pickle your onions the night before and tell you about my favorite macadamia cheddar crunch sprinkle I love on these. You can easily make a the macadamia crunch for these and also use it on many things through out the week. Personally, I enjoy snacking on them.
If you are going to pickle your own onions, you may want to make them the night before for a few reasons. For starters, if you want them to turn that cool pink color, use red onions and let them sit overnight, and the magic will happen. Secondly, the longer the onions sit, the more the flavor develops. The most basic, basic, basic pickles onion recipe we like is the following:
1 red onion
1 cup any vinegar you like
1/4 cup any sweetener you like
1 tbsp salt
1 cup water
2 garlic cloves
Bring the vinegar, sweetener, salt and water to a boil, then remove from heat and cool.
While cooling, slice the onions and garlic super thin in a mandolin and add to a clear jar.
Add the cooled liquid to the onions and garlic. Let rest in the fridge overnight. Enjoy these for weeks on other vegan tacos or dishes!
Macadamia Cheddar Crunch Crumbles
This diverse crunch can be a snack or a topping. I went over all the details how to make your own macadamia crunch. I firmly believe it’s worth the effort to add the crunch to the tacos for an extra bit of zing.
So, these are the infamous cactus strips I was so terrified to try! Pretty harmless looking, right? It really makes me regret not indulging in all those vegan tacos of the past. I tried making them two ways. Baked in the taco shell, and fresh from the jar and rinsed, then added to a baked shell. Both my husband and myself liked them the second way better. When we baked the nopales, they shriveled up too much for our liking and lost some flavor.
My recommendation is to use them straight from the jar or rinsed. When I baked them it kind of felt like baking a pickle. Which made me think of fried pickles, which I love. The next recipe I play with cactus, I am defiantly going to try a battered and fried version, but for today the simple, easy and fresh method is what works best for this recipe.
Also the fresh-from-the-jar method seems like it would make an excellent addition to a cactus taco salad! If you don’t have shells but you have tortillas, I think you will enjoy this dish fragmented out like that.
Here is a list of fresh topping which worked particularly well in addition to the pickled onions and macadamia crunch:
Fresh chopped cilantro
Fresh or pickled jalapeño
Side of Lime Rice
I made a side of rice with lime juice, vegan butter and chopped cilantro sprinkle. I also love to sprinkle the macadamia cheddar crunch on top of it.
All you have to do is cook the rice according to their instructions. I make a 1/2 cup of rice for two people. Then I squeeze a 1/2 of a lime on the rice and add a teaspoon of vegan butter and mix and stir a little. After I put it in a small side bowl, I sprinkle with some fresh cilantro.
This simple rice mix also works well in various vegan taco recipes, so if you are in a taco mood, make extra for another recipe later in the week so you can use up all your taco shells.
Baking Your Cactus Tacos
This is how I baked the cactus tacos. As I mentioned above, baking the nopales shrivels them up a bit and makes them lose some flavor. My suggestion is to line up the shells like you see below and sprinkle a tiny bit of olive oil and bake them without the nopales. If you want the taco to be warm on the inside and out, then add the cactus to the shells before baking like you see below..
Plating Cactus Tacos
Once you have your shells slightly baked, it’s time to stuff them with your fresh ingredients and plate them. I like to stuff them with the cactus on the bottom, then lettuce and jalapeno, then pickled onions and macadamia cheddar crunch sprinkle. Serve with rice, hot sauce, lime wedges, and extra macadamia crunch.
Cactus, also known as nopales (depending on where in the world you are) is actually relatively easy to find jarred, like you would find pickled
jalapenos or pickles themselves. You can even easily order them here
if you don't have a Mexican section in your local market or a stand
alone Mexican market. They are packed in a flavored, slightly spicy,
slightly thick liquid, reminiscent of pickle juice. This makes this meal very quick and easy and a perfect midweek vegan dinner.
- 6 hard taco shells
- 1 425 gram jar or napoles (see post)
- 1/4 cup of macadamia cheddar crunch (see post)
- 1/4 cup of picked onion (see post)
- 1/4 cup of jalapenos, sliced (fresh or pickled)
- 1/2 cup of lettuce shred
- 1 lime cut into 4 wedges
- cilantro lime rice side (see post)
Line up and bake your taco shells at 250* F for 15 minutes or until you see them start to slightly brown. If you want the cactus to be warm (we like it straight from the jar), add the cactus to the taco shells before baking. Make sure to pat the cactus dry so the shell doesn' become soggy while baking.
Dress the tacos with the remainder of the ingredients and serve with lime-cilantro rice, lime wedges, and extra macadamia cheddar crunch.
Yes, it' really this quick and easy - and delicious!
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