Grilled Salmon with Nopales Salsa

Twice a year, 3 of my recipes are published in Santa Barbara Dining & Destinations Magazine and I always have fun coming up with a theme that’s local and seasonal.  Festive occasions including Cinco de Mayo, Summer Solstice, and Old Spanish Days/Fiesta attract visitors to our town and bring out the inner-hostess in most of us. Seems like everyone is entertaining outside, firing up the grill and looking for a way to make everyone feel welcome “Santa Barbara style”. Here’s a fun recipe that I made up that will suit these and any other occasion that feels fun and festive. Don’t forget to pair this with my awesome Prickly Pear Margarita also featured in the same issue of SBD&D. Once again, thanks to the wonderful & talented Matt Dayka for photographing my food for this issue. Viva La Fiesta and party on!

Serves 6, Prep Time 1 hour 15 minutes


2 cups cooked & chopped nopales (cactus paddles)

1 red bell pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, seeded & chopped

½ cup finely chopped red onion

2 cups heirlooms tomatoes, seeded and chopped

2 TB cilantro

2 TB extra virgin olive oil

Juice from 2-3 limes

1 TB seasoned rice vinegar

1 tsp himalayan pink sea salt

¼ tsp ground black pepper

3 lbs Salmon

Optional: 6 Whole, uncooked, trimmed cactus paddles for presentation


Please read note at bottom for preparing nopales.
In a large bowl, combine nopales, bell pepper, jalapeno, red onion, tomatoes, cilantro, olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, sea salt, and black pepper. Stir gently until thoroughly mixed, set aside.

Pre-heat Grill to medium heat. Brush both sides of the salmon with a little olive oil. Season the salmon on both sides with a litte sea salt and pepper. Place the fish on the grill, skin side down and cook for about 3 minutes then turn the fish 45 degrees and cook for an additional 3 minutes. Turn the fish over and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until cooked through to the desired degree of doneness.Remove the fish from the grill and serve with the salsa spooned over the fish. Serve immediately. For a fun presentation, serve salmon on uncooked, trimmed cactus paddles on a plate.

Note for Preparing Nopales: You may buy cactus paddles or “nopales” pre- trimmed in many grocery stores-or Mexican specialty markets, but if you’re brave enough and live in an area abundant with cactus, you may prep them yourself.  Choose paddles that are bright green, soft, but not limp. The smaller paddles are more tender, but the larger ones are also tasty. To clean, wear plastic gloves, rinse under cold water being careful with the thorns. Nopales are tricky and their thorns are almost invisible. Wherever there is a bump there may be a thorn. Then, using a vegetable peeler, peel away the bumps and thorns, then rinse again. No need to peel off all of the outer dark green skin, in fact, try to keep as much as you can. Lay the paddle flat on a chopping board and trim about ¼ inch off the edges and about ½ inch of the thick base. Cut into small ½ inch size pieces.
In a pot, bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add a pinch of sea salt and 2 cups of chopped nopales, stir and cook at a low to medium boil for 20 minutes. Drain and rinse with cold water. You will need to rinse several times to remove the gelatinous liquid which can be a little stubborn. PS You may buy nopales in the jar, but it is not nearly as flavorful.
Of course, if you’re unable to find cactus/nopales locally, you may order online OR skip it. This salsa recipe is pretty tasty even if you had to omit the cactus. Good Luck and Happy Cooking. Let me know how yours turns out!