Some things just go well together, and two of those things are a good salad and a great cheese. The combination can be magical. So much so, that occasionally you can forgo a drippy dressing if the cheese is just right. Of course, the true magic of which we speak can only be properly achieved if said salad combines different flavors that bounce off the tongue and mesh naturally. After having tasted a little something called nopales (or nopalitos) a few months ago, the sudden urge hit to test a recipe with these prickly pear cactus leaves. Well, that was it. We had no ideas really how to make it work. The only way we can really get inspiration is by trolling a few grocery stores and markets to see what jumps out at us. We literally picked up veggies that we enjoy on their own, threw them in the basket and said a prayer that this fusion salad would work.
It’s pretty exciting to deal with a tricky, unknown ingredient. You never know what you’ll end up with, but it’s worth the effort. We had a little cotija cheese in the fridge, and if you’ve been reading us for a while, you know we went on a really big cotija kick for a bit. Back with a vengeance, the cotija cheese was just the thing to add the perfect level of salty flavor to this warm salad with colorful, naturally sweet vegetables, the crunch of the nopales and the bright tang of the cilantro dressing. This simple, sweet vegetable salad with one of our favorite cheeses proved to be a good match. Here’s to Deb at Kahakai Kitchen for her Soup, Salad and Sammie Sundays!
Nopales and Cotija Salad with Spicy Cilantro Vinaigrette – Serves 4-6
2 medium nopales, thorns removed and cut into 1/2-inch squares
2 beets, sliced
3 orange tomatoes, sliced
2 large sweet potatoes, sliced
1 red onion, sliced
1 avocado, cubed
4 ounces cotija cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/3 serrano pepper, chopped*
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, chopped
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Zest of 1 lime
Juice of 1 lime
1. Place beets and sweet potatoes in one bowl and red onion and tomatoes in a separate bowl. Drizzle a bit of olive oil and salt over each bowl of vegetables and toss to coat.
2. Spread the veggies in a flat layer on two separate parchment paper lined baking sheets. Slide beets and sweet potatoes in the oven and roast at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Place tomatoes and red onions into the oven on a separate rack and continue roasting for another 20-25 minutes.
3. Remove veggies from oven and let sit for a few minutes to continue cooling.
4. Place nopales pieces into a sieve or colander and rinse under warm water for a couple of minutes. (If your nopales is extra oozy, continue to run water over the pieces until most of the juice stops running). Set aside.
5. Prepare dressing by placing cider vinegar, cilantro, garlic, lime juice and zest, agave nectar, serrano pepper and cumin in a food processor. Blend until smooth. Slowly drizzle in grapeseed oil until incorporated. Salt to taste.
6. Finish salad by tossing warm roasted veggies with nopales. Top with avocado and cotija cheese. Drizzle cilantro dressing over the salad.
*Taste a tiny piece of the serrano pepper before adding it to the dressing. You can add more or less based on your penchant for heat.
Click HERE for a printable recipe.