Cactus casserole | Homesick Texan

Cactus casserole with rice, ancho chiles and cheese

Servings 8
Author Lisa Fain


  • 2 dried ancho chiles, seeds and stems removed
  • 3/4 pound cactus paddles or 1 15 ounce jar of cactus paddles
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 3 cups cooked rice
  • 1 pound Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded
  • Salt to taste


  1. In a dry skillet heated on high, toast the ancho chiles on each side for about 10 seconds or just until they start to puff. Fill the skillet with enough water to cover the chiles. Leave the heat on until water begins to boil and then turn off the heat and let the chiles soak until soft, about 20 minutes. Once hydrated, discard the soaking water and rinse the chiles. Place the chiles in a blender with 1/4 cup of water and blend until a paste forms.

  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

  3. For the cactus, if you’re using fresh cactus paddles, first you’ll need to remove the thorns. To do this, trim off the thick base and the edges of the paddle, about 1/8 of an inch all around. Wearing a glove, one at a time, hold each paddle over the sink and while running water over it, scrub it with a vegetable or pot scrubber on both sides until all the thorns are gone. You can also scrape the paddle with a paring knife, but be careful not to also scrape off too much of the green skin.

  4. Slice the cleaned paddles into thin (about 2 inches by 1/4 inch) strips and place in a pot of water. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. Drain and rinse well under cold water. If using canned paddles, simply drain them and then rinse with cold water.

  5. In a large cast-iron skillet, heat up the canola oil on medium heat. Add the onions to the skillet and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for one more minute. Remove the skillet from the heat.

  6. In a bowl, mix together the sour cream the ancho chile paste, the cumin, the oregano, the allspice, the cayenne and half the shredded cheese. Then stir in the cooked rice and the cactus. Taste and add salt and adjust the seasonings. Spoon the sour cream, rice and cactus mixture into the greased skillet, stirring well to combine with the onions and garlic. Top with the remaining shredded cheese.

  7. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes or until brown and bubbling.

Recipe Notes

Cactus paddles, both fresh and canned, can be found at any Mexican grocery. Canned ones can be found at many regular supermarkets as well. In Spanish, they are called nopales or nopalitos, which is how they will be probably labeled at a Mexican grocery. And you can substitute 2 tablespoons chili powder for the ancho chiles if you prefer.