Sparks Vegan, Gluten-Free Nopales Tacos

One of the great things about tacos is you can improvise around whatever you happen to have around. They’re the world’s most forgiving food.

Sparks is pretty rural – a good 20 minutes outside Reno. Making it to the grocery store every few days is downright impractical, so their pantry was mostly canned goods. Before I arrived, I asked them to do all their normal shopping plus pick one local ingredients that they think really represents Sparks.

They chose nopales – which are the meat of cactus paddles. It’s cheap, filling, and even that far north in Nevada, readily available in Wal-Mart (which was pretty much the only grocery option within a reasonable drive.)

Don’t let the purists tell you that all tacos have to be made from fresh produce bought that day – or that all vegan food has to break the bank. Our whole vegan taco night for four cost less than $10. In the southwest you’ll find both whole paddles and trimmed, scraped nopales in the produce section near the other Latin foods. A pound cost less than $3. The corn tortillas cost  another $2 and the generic canned goods, an onion, a head of garlic, and a bag of tortilla chips brought the total for everything I used in our dinner that night to just under $10.

Fresh produce is great when it’s available and affordable, but you can absolutely improvise an incredible, affordable meal from canned goods!

Sparks Vegan Nopales (Cactus Paddle) Tacos

Vegan Nopales Tacos Ingredients

  • 1 ½ – 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 cups diced nopales (cactus leaves), trimmed and scraped (about 6 leaves)
  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • Juices drained from 1 can of diced tomatoes (preferably chili seasoned ones, but plain are fine)
  • 1 tbsp adobo blend spice mix (or your favorite taco seasoning blend)
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper


  • Pour your olive oil in a large sided skillet and sautee the onion over medium heat until it’s starting to barely brown. Add the garlic and keep cooking for another 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove half the sauteed onions and garlic and set aside in a mixing bowl. (You’ll be using these for the pseudo-salsa).
  • Next add the nopales, juice drained from a can of diced tomatoes, adobo blend spice mix, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper.
  • Sautee, stirring occasionally, until the cactus is no longer gloppy and viscous. Raw nopales are a lot like okra. When the mix transforms from a thick snot-like paste into a nice thick vegan sauce, you’re golden.
  • While the nopales cooks, mix up your pseudo-salsa
  • Toast your corn tortillas, fill with your fresh nopales, and top each taco with a couple tablespoons each of pseudo-salsa and canned corn for flavor and crunch.

Sparks Pseudo-Salsa

  • ½ medium yellow onion (reserved from above)
    can of diced tomatoes, drained
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp ground coriander
  • ½ tsp hot pepper sauce of your choice (including FlashBang grenade ghost pepper sauce)
  • ⅛ tsp salt

Pseudo-Salsa Directions & Variations

  • Remember emptying the juice from your canned tomatoes into the nopales? Well it’s time to use the rest of the can! Mix the tomatoes into the sauteed onions and garlic you reserved earlier. Season with cumin, coriander, hot sauce, and salt.
  • Mix well and let the flavors mingle while you toast your tortillas.


    Try adding 1 small can mild green chiles (or medium diced jalapenos if you like some heat), 1 drained cup of corn, and ½ drained cup of black beans to make your own easy Southwest Salsa. Use the rest of the corn and beans in other recipes.