Avocado and Nopal Salad With Preserved Lemon
This is one of those striking and architectural salads that impresses your friends at the dinner table, but is, in fact, really easy to make. Nopales are paddles of the nopal cactus and they can be eaten raw or cooked, with the spines removed of course. In the Bay Area and throughout California and the Southwest United States they can be found relatively easily. In San Francisco, they are at a few stands at various farmers markets, in grocery stores like Rainbow and Berkeley Bowl and most Mexican markets.
For this salad I use a salt-curing method I learned from spending some time in the kitchen at Contramar in Mexico City. Salt-curing works just like it sounds: you salt the nopales heavily and wait until its water and gooey slime releases, rinse, and repeat twice. I love this method for salads because the nopales come out perfectly seasoned and still crunchy. Once your done with the curing, putting together the salad takes all of 5-10 minutes.
I like cutting the nopales into irregular strips, and layering with rich buttery avocado, crisp cucumber, and briny preserved lemon vinaigrette. I also add crumbles of ricotta salata cheese, a nod to the mexican cotija cheese, and lots of fresh mint to tie everything together.