Nopales are the leaf shaped stems of the Opuntia family of cacti. They grow just about everywhere here in California and the southwest as well as other parts of the world. The most commonly used species is Opuntia ficus-indica. Here in the good ole' USA we know this ubiquitous plant by the name prickly pear. These are quite edible and are a staple in Mexico, Central America and othe parts of the world where they're raised. The fruits, when ripe, are edible and also used for making jams and sauces. You can pick up nopales in jars at supermarkets in most states.
Here I'll show the basic cleaning and preparation for storage or cooking of the "leaves". The first photo shows the first cut around the outside edge of the leave. I made two cuts on this leave but I usually just make one cut as shown in photo 2.
Next I cut the base of the leaf off and then I trim off the little bumps which hold the glocids (tiny, obnoxious needles) and the bigger, more painful spines. I do this by laying the very sharp blade parallel to the surface of the leaf and cut/scrap as if filleting a fish. Both sides of the leaf are done this way. Then I rinse the leaf off and put it aside.
Photo 3Photo 4 shows a pile of finished napolitos ready to be further processed for cooking or put in the freezer for later. If I am cooking them I cut them in strips or cube themand add them to stir fry or eggs. They can be eaten raw but there is a very slimy mucilage in the leaves that takes a whole lot of getting used too. I prefer cooking them myself. The mucilage disappears on cooking. These plants are also eaten by people with type 2 diabetes and they have been proven to help releive this disease. You can find further research on this on the net.
This last photo shows a nice bag full of napolitos ready for the freezer. I washed them off and used paper towels to dry them before bagging. That way when they are taken out for use they separate easily and I can get just 1 or 2 leaves for my recipe. This bag cost me the whole sum of 60 cents. They can be harvested in the wild and some folks grow them as ornamental plants and will let you take a few of the young leaves for eating. Only the tender young growth should be harvested. The older, larger, leaves are too woody and tough to eat. Enjoy!