Episode 102: East Meets West

Pork and Cactus Salad with Thai Flavors

Pork and Cactus Salad with Thai Flavors

Other Recipes from Planet Barbecue Episode 102: East Meets West

Yam nua yang is one of the glories of Thai cuisine—a colorful, hot-cold beef salad that plays the fire of Asian chili peppers against the cool crunch of tomatoes and lettuce; the sweetness of sugar and ginger against the acidity of fresh lime and the salty tang of soy sauce and fish sauce. Nopalitos–the tender young paddles (“leaves”) of the prickly pear cactus–are a popular salad fixing and vegetable in Mexico. You find them stacked in decorative mounds at markets throughout the country. Bring them together and you get a salad that’s as colorful as the Mexican flag and that explodes with East West flavors.

Serves 4 as an appetizer; 2 as a main course


Pork and Cactus Salad with Thai Flavors


  • 1 pound thinly sliced boneless pork shoulder

For the marinade / dressing:

  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro, rough chopped (save 1/2 cup leaves to finish the salad)
  • A 2-inch piece of ginger, rough chopped
  • 1 stalk lemongrass, trimmed, white part rough chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and rough chopped
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup Asian fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup fresh lime juice

For the nopales:

  • 1 pound nopalitos (cactus paddles), trimmed (spines removed) or green beans, trimmed

To finish the salad:

  • 1 head Boston lettuce, separated into leaves, rinsed, and spun dry
  • 1 pound jicama, cut into 1/4 inch strips (optional)
  • 1/2 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/4 inch strips
  • 1 jalapeno or serrano chile, sliced paper thin
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, rinsed and halved
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves (1/2 cup if not using basil leaves)
  • 1/4 cup fresh Thai or Italian basil leaves (optional)
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped dry-roasted peanuts

Recipe Steps

1: Arrange the pork slices in a non-reactive baking dish.

2: Make the marinade/ salad dressing: Place the ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Pour half the marinade over the pork, turning to coat both sides. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to 2 hours. Set the remaining marinade aside to finish the salad.

3: Set up your grill for direct grilling and heat to high. Brush and oil the grill grate.

4: Lightly brush the nopales on both sides with vegetable oil. Arrange on the grate and grill until sizzling and browned on both sides, 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a cutting board to cool, then cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips. Note: the nopales can be grilled ahead of time at a previous grill session.

5: Assemble the salad. Line a platter with the lettuce leaves and arrange the nopales, jicama, if using, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, mint, basil, and the reserved cilantro on top. The salad can be prepared up to 1 hour ahead to this stage, but if you do so, cover it with a damp paper towel.

6: Have your grill on high heat and brush and oil the grate. Drain the pork well and place on the grate. Grill the pork until sizzling, browned, and cooked through, 2 to 3 minutes per side, turning with tongs. Transfer to the cutting board and let rest for 30 seconds, then cut it into 1/4 inch slivers.

7: Arrange the hot pork slices over the salad. Spoon the reserved dressing on top. Sprinkle with the toasted peanuts and serve.

Recipe Tips

Our thanks to the sponsors of Planet Barbecue Season 1:

Steven Raichlen’s Planet Barbecue is a production of Barbacoa, Inc., and Resolution Pictures. © 2023 Barbacoa, Inc. Photos by Chris Bierlein