I cook healthy Mexican food, and yes, it is absolutely possible!
I have always enjoyed good food, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I decided to get serious about learning more about my passion. The first place to look was into my own traditional food, Mexican food. What I learned right away was that Mexican food was not the same in the southern Mexican regions as it was in the northern part of the country, in fact, they were eating things down south that I did not even know existed. It was a marvelous discovery. I grew up eating chiles rellenos, chilaquiles, enchiladas, rice, mole, beans, quesadillas, burritos, and a lot of queso fresco (fresh cheese). But the first time I traveled to Yucatan, in a small little town of Villadolid, deep in the jungle and very close to the great Chichen Itza pyramid, I discovered a huaraches ( mashed beans spread on a corn patty with cactus sprinkled on top) I also had many seafood dishes with chili and chocolate based sauces. The food was an adventure in itself.
When I came back to the United States, I began to research the ancient food staples of the Mayan and Aztec people and how the European influenced their diets after the conquest. As it turns out, many of the foods that we consider a part of traditional Mexican cuisine, were not always in the ancient Mexcian’s diet. While nachos are considered a popular Mexican food in the United States, they are hardly eaten in the southern parts of Mexico. Cheese is not used very often, and contrary to popular belief, Mexican food is not fattening and greasy.
My family comes from the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua. I grew up eating enchiladas with lots and lots of cheese. Chiles rellenos were oozing with it and we sprinkled cheese on top of tostadas as well. The most sought after cheese in the area was “queso menonita” which is the cheese made by the Amish community in Northern Mexico. It is made fresh from cow’s milk.
Now, when I make my everyday meals at home I try to make them as healthy as possible. Since I just took a course in nutrition science for culinary professionals at school, I have knowledge and some tips to make good food the healthy way. In the case of cheese, the healthiest tip that I can provide would be to use restraint. sure, cheese can be made with skim or whole milk, and true, that can make a lot of difference when it comes to fat, but we must also consider things like sodium, which is more than abundant in cheese.
I used queso fresco made from skim milk for the filling in the enchiladas. I only used 2 oz, grated. I also refrained from frying the tortillas before rolling them with the cheese.
Ingredients (for 3 enchiladas)
3 Corn Tortillas (I use thin yellow corn tortillas)
2 oz grated cheese (queso fresco)
1/8 c minced sweet onion
8 New Mexico dry chili pods (stems removed)
1/4 c tomato paste
2 garlic cloves
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
1. Bring 2 cups of water, salt and garlic cloves to a boil and drop the chili in the water. Turn off the heat and let the pods soak until they become soft.
2. Transfer the ingredients into a blender and puree. Slowly add the tomato paste. Less than 1/4 c of paste may be used as it serves to balance out the heat of the chili pods, but if very little heat is desired, then you may add the entire 1/4 cup. Add the cumin and blend some more until it all becomes a puree. Pour the pureed contents into a colander or sieve with a container in the bottom to remove the seeds from the chili puree.
3. Pour sauce into a stainless steel pan and heat on low.
4. On a different container mix onion with grated cheese
5. Finally heat up the tortillas on a cast iron skillet or for 15 seconds in the microwave. Dip each tortilla into the sauce and remove, lay flat on a plate and place some of the cheese/onion mix inside. Roll up like a burrito. Do the same for each tortilla. Finally sprinkle any leftover cheese on top of the tortillas.
During my high school years I worked in a Mexican food restaurant and I remember that many of the foods served there were fried. Even with enchiladas, it is common to fry the tortilla to soften it up and add flavor before dipping it into the chile sauce. I believe that we really have to step away from using fat as a primary source of flavor, specially if the chile sauce is boasting with a tangy and spicy flavor. Chili pods can be great to experiment with. You can mix and match the pods you use for a sauce, or if you want a deeper and bolder chili pepper, you can try using ancho peppers (dried poblanos) instead of the New Mexico peppers.