Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fiesta of Flavors

Some like it hot and, according to 2009 trend watchers even more diners are joining the spicy food fan club. That means Mexican food is poised for even greater popularity. That’s good news for health-conscious flavor-seekers who are trying to eat less fat and calories because more Mexican menus and recipes are getting their zing from zesty calorie-free ingredients such as garlic, hot peppers, smoked chiles, fresh salsas, dried spices, tangy limes and fragrant herbs such as cilantro. While Tex-Mex dishes first attracted many of us to Mexican flavors with their liberal use of high-fat ingredients such as melted cheese, fried tortillas and gobs of sour cream, the latest taste trend is closer to the healthier, more traditional cuisines south of border.
Lighter Mexican on the Menu
Rosa Mexicana restaurant, located in Atlantic Station, has an impressive selection of healthier menu choices including Alambre de Camarones – Grilled shrimp marinated in garlic vinaigrette with onions, tomatoes, serrano peppers and Yucatan pico de gallo. They’ll even bring you raw jicama crudités instead of fried tortilla chips to enjoy with guacamole made fresh to order tableside. Jicama is a crunchy root vegetable also called the Mexican potato but tastes more like an apple. It’s low in calories (46 calories per cup and high in fiber (6 grams per cup). Compare that to a bowl full of fried tortilla chips at 20 calories per chip!!
Uncle Julio’s Mexican restaurant group, headquartered in Texas, has taken their healthy choices so seriously, they even teamed with a hospital in Dallas to create dietitian approved heart-healthy menu items. I like to customize a healthy meal at Uncle Julio’s by ordering the shrimp ceviche appetizer and three freshly made tortillas on the side. I wrap the shrimp in the tortillas, add some pica de gallo (chopped tomato, onion, garlic, jalapeno and cilantro) and a squeeze of lime. Skip the margaritas at 300 calories for a 6 ounce drink and choose a 12 ounce Tecate or Dos Equis beer at 150 calories or light beer at 100 calories. I’m happy to see other menu improvements around town, too. Tin Lizzy’s offers whole wheat tortillas and three different kinds of freshly made salsas.
Chipotle Mexican Grill with outlets nationwide has a corporate “Food with Integrity” program which includes serving naturally raised pork, chicken and beef as well as cheese and sour cream from dairies where cows are not treated with bovine growth hormone (rBGH). Dietitian’s note: this doesn’t mean these ingredients have any fewer calories.

Fiesta time
Ceviche- fish or shrimp marinated in citrus
Gazpacho- cold tomato, pepper and cucumber soup. Full of Vitamin C and beta carotene and only 60 calories a cup.
Fajitas: grilled beef, chicken or shrimp with peppers and onions; you control how much cheese or sour cream to put on each tortilla
Fish tacos: Southern California invention -ask for grilled fish, often served with tasty slaw
Grilled fish: look for “asada” on the menu which means grilled. Ask for fresh lime and salsas
Mexican Rice: flavorful side dish; 1/2 cup contains 150 calories
Beans: Choose pinto beans or black beans instead of refried beans (they usually have lard thrown in for flavor).
Enchiladas, burritos and tamales- often baked not fried. Watch portion size and limit cheese and sour cream toppings.
Fiesta of Flavors: Top everything with a healthy helping of shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, green onions, roasted bell peppers and pour on the salsa.
Tortilla Tip: Corn tortillas have 40 fewer calories compared to flour tortillas. Choose whole wheat tortillas when possible.

Border Control
Con Queso: Count 50 calories with every tablespoon of added cheese.
Chimichangas: fried flour tortilla stuffed with beef, chicken, beans or cheese
Chili Rellenos: chili peppers stuffed, battered and fried
Flauta: beef- or chicken-filled fried tortillas, often covered in creamy sauce
Nachos supreme: Mexican “Biggie” sizing; can be as high as 800 calories, with 65 grams of fat.
Taco salad: Sure, there’s some lettuce in there, but it’s mostly meat, cheese, sour cream and guacamole in a fried tortilla shaped like a bowl (Ole! The bowl alone adds over 400 calories!)
Refried beans: Due to added lard count 500 calories per cup.


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