Cactus Paddle Gumbo Recipe

I'm an okra fan and always have been, ever since I was a kid. The thing is, though my mom would make okra lots of times, she almost always would make it cooked in tomato sauce, and she never, ever, ever made the traditional dish made out of okra- gumbo- "because it's slimy".
I've never tasted "real" gumbo before made with okra, but my friend Butter from Hunger and Thirst for Life Blog had the terrific idea of using cactus paddles, also known as nopales, in place of okra in gumbo.
You see, the sliminess in okra isn't a bad thing when it comes to gumbo. Because it's actually what thickens it and makes it taste good.
Butter's idea to use nopales in place of the okra stemmed from the fact that nopales are mucilaginous like okra, and that their slime probably would also be able to be used as a thickener. While this recipe calls for cactus paddles, feel free to use okra in this recipe instead; just replace the nopales with the okra, and add a little bit of lemon juice to compensate for the the acidity the nopales would add.
I based this recipe off of Butter's nopale cactus paddle gumbo, increasing the amounts and using the ingredients I had available.
I'm really glad I tried out this recipe; it was a hit with my family. When I asked my husband, Mike, if I should make it again, he didn't want to say that I should "because when I tell you that you should make something again you never make it again, and I want you to make this again so I won't say anything."

Cactus Paddle Gumbo Recipe

1/4 cup oil (I used coconut, but any oil is fine)
1/4 cup rice flour or wheat flour
2 cups chopped nopales (about 1 large paddle)
3 cups chicken broth
2 1/2 cups water
1 cup chopped green pepper (approximately 1 whole pepper)
1/2 cup celery parts, stems or leaves
1 1/2 cup chopped onion (approximately 2 large)
1-2 teaspoons thyme (it's very strong- start off with less thyme, then add more to taste)
2 teaspoons oregano
1 tablespoon paprika
1-2 teaspoons salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon hot paprika or cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon honey or sugar
1 teaspoon garlic powder
3-4 cups cooked chicken (I used chicken gizzards, but any deboned chicken is fine)

1. Chop up your cactus paddles very small. Boil in the broth for 20-30 minutes.

2. Mix flour and oil. Cook on a medium heat, mixing often, until browned, about 5 minutes.

3. Chop onions, pepper, and celery. Add onion, pepper, and celery to the flour and oil. Cook until softened.

4. Add the rest of the ingredients, including the cactus paddles and broth, the spices, and the water, just leaving out the chicken parts.

5. Cook 20 minutes or until the vegetables are all very soft.

6. Add chicken and cook for 5 minutes more.

Serve topped with rice.

Have you ever eaten gumbo? What was in your gumbo? Are you a fan? 
Does this seem like a recipe you'd try?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. This sounds really really good! I never would have thought to take nopales in this direction, but it's really brilliant!

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