Ensalada de Nopalitos con Chiles Guajillo
SERVES 4 • Total: 1 hr. 30 min.
Nopales are an essential part of the Oaxacan diet. With a meaty texture and tart flavor, raw, salted cactus paddles retain their natural vibrant color.
11/4 lb. nopales, dethorned and cut into ½-inch squares
(4½ cups), divided
3 medium garlic cloves, peeled, plus
1 tsp. minced garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped white onion
2 Tbsp. plus
½ tsp. kosher salt, divided, plus more as needed
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 guajillo chile, seeded, cut into thin strips
1 chile de arból, seeded
1½ tsp. Mexican oregano Pinch of freshly ground cumin
1 tsp. distilled white vinegar Freshly ground black pepper
1 To a medium pot, add 3¼ cups of the nopales, the garlic cloves, onion, and enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the nopales turn light green, about 10 minutes, then drain, discarding the cooking liquid. (This first round of cooking removes the goo from the nopales.) Return the nopales to the pot, and add 2 teaspoons salt and enough cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over medium heat, then lower the heat to medium-low to maintain a strong simmer, and cook until the nopales are tender when poked with the tip of a knife, 18–22 minutes. Drain, once again discarding the cooking liquid. Remove and discard the garlic, and set the nopales aside.
2 To a medium bowl, add the remaining ¾ cup raw nopales and 1 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons salt, and toss well to combine. Set aside at room temperature until the nopales have softened and released their slime, about 20 minutes. Rinse and drain well, then set aside.
3 To a large skillet over medium heat, add the olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic, guajillo chile, chile de arból, reserved boiled nopales, oregano, and cumin, and cook, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, cook for 1 minute more, then remove the skillet from the heat. Add the reserved raw, salted nopales and toss well to combine; season to taste with black pepper and additional salt, then transfer to a large bowl and serve at room temperature.
the family’s mezcal brand. In 2014, the fourth-generation mezcalero debuted his own mezcal, Lalocura, to widespread critical acclaim. Ángeles shrugs off the glowing reviews, and his master distiller title. “At the end of the day, we are all farmers,” he insists.
José Melchor Pérez, who farms tomatoes in the Oaxacan town of San Pablo Güilá, credits a few less-than-happy years in America with his success. It was while picking produce near San Jose, California, that Melchor Pérez first encountered a greenhouse. Today, the agricultural partnership he founded, Daan Llia, claims more than 300 greenhouses that yield approximately 3,000 tons of produce a year. Together, he and the partnership’s other members employ at least 800 local people, 75 percent of them women. What Melchor Pérez really aims to cultivate, however, is hope
Ángeles shrugs off the glowing reviews, and his master distiller title. “At the end of the day, we are all farmers,” he insists.
for Oaxaca’s future. “Kids won’t have to leave anymore,” he explains, “because they can call this project their own.”
I could go on and on, telling you about Omar Alonso, who returned from California and founded the tour-guide company Oaxacking, or about Miguel Martínez Cruz and Mario Cruz Santos, who used savings from their stint in the States to establish Ilegales, a pub that serves burgers, beer, and a wide variety of mezcal. But I’d rather you visit Oaxaca and see these things for yourself.
i still live in los angeles, so the
time I spend in Oaxaca invariably ends at the airport, with a stop at nearby Alfonsina for my final meal. Jorge León and his mother, Elvia León Hernández, serve customers out of their home kitchen, offering her memelitas and various egg dishes for breakfast before he takes charge at night. A Oaxacan returnee of a different sort, León left for Mexico City, where he cooked at Pujol, one of the country’s most famous restaurants. His tasting menu at Alfonsina reinterprets Oaxacan traditions and ingredients in an incredibly sophisticated way.
It is a beautiful thing to witness, two generations sharing one Oaxacan kitchen, combining past and present. And
It is a beautiful thing to witness, two generations sharing one Oaxacan kitchen.
Right: A worker at the Lalocura distillery removes the agave plants’ spiky leaves. Below: Omar Alonso, pictured at Ilegales, promotes Oaxaca through his Instagram feed, @oaxacking.
Saveur visited the nowlegendary Restaurante Tlamanalli for the magazine’s debut cover story 25 years ago.