The Six Healthiest Staple Foods in Mexican Cuisine
Mexican food, like the culture, is intense, spicy and full
of variety, sometimes even being referred to as mestizaje,
or "mixing." While corn, and particularly corn tortillas,
plays a fundamental role in most all Mexican cuisine, there
are many other ingredients in Mexican cooking that add not
only characteristic flavors but also incredible nutrients.
Avocados are probably most well known in the States for the
popular guacamole dip, but in Mexico they're also used in
salads, soups and main dishes. Avocado, sometimes called the
"alligator pear," (yes, avocados are a fruit) comes
from the Aztec word "ahuacalt."
Health Benefits: Avocados are an excellent source of the
healthy monounsaturated fat oleic acid, which may help lower
cholesterol and protect against breast cancer. They also contain
the highest amount of the carotenoid
lutein among commonly eaten fruits, along with high amounts
of other carotenoids and vitamin E, which together have been
found to inhibit prostate cancer growth.
Plus, because healthy carotenoids are fat-soluble, consuming
avocados, which are naturally rich in monounsaturated fat,
might enhance your body's ability to absorb these healthy
nutrients from other vegetables.
Hot Chili Peppers
Fresh and dried chili peppers are what give Mexican dishes
their characteristic spice, though specific peppers are used
for flavor while others are used for heat. Some popular varieties
include jalapeno, poblano, serrano, guajillo, chipotle, pasilla,
habanero, ancho, mulato and cascabel.
Health Benefits: Capsaicin
is the active ingredient in chili peppers, giving them not
only their spice but also their health benefits. In fact,
the hotter the pepper, the more capsaicin it contains. This
spicy compound has been found to:
Provide pain relief
Prevent sinusitis and relieve congestion
Relieve intestinal disease
Protect the heart by reducing cholesterol, triglycerides
and platelet aggregation
Help your body burn fat and lose weight
Pinto and Black Beans
Beans are another major staple ingredient in Mexican cuisine,
perhaps second only to corn. While a variety of beans, like
pinto, lentils, kidney beans and fava beans, are used in Mexican
cooking, we're focusing on pinto and black beans because they're
more common in Mexican cooking and they offer a unique nutritional
benefit -- lots of antioxidants. Typically, Mexican beans
are served boiled or refried.
Health Benefits: Pinto and black beans are rich in antioxidants,
both making it into the top
20 antioxidant-rich foods list, according to a 2004 study
in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.
Plus, beans are high in dietary fiber, which is an excellent
cholesterol fighter, and the complex carbohydrates they contain
help keep your blood sugar levels balanced throughout the
day -- essential for staying alert and feeling energized.
Cilantro, sometimes referred to as Mexican or Chinese parsley,
has a strong flavor that people usually love or hate. In Mexican
cuisine, it's a popular herb used in guacamole, salsas and
Health Benefits: Cilantro is rich in beneficial phytonutrients,
flavonoids and active phenolic acid compounds, which may be
responsible for many of its health benefits. Cilantro, and
its seeds, have been found to help control blood sugar, lower
cholesterol and fight inflammation and free radicals. Cilantro
may also have antimicrobial properties.
Fresh tomatoes are the backbone of many Mexican salsas and,
mixed with chilies, they're used in everything from soups
and salads to sauces, meat and seafood dishes.
Health Benefits: Tomatoes are rich in lycopene, a carotenoid
with potent antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties. Lycopene
protects cells from oxygen damage, fights colorectal, prostate,
breast, endometrial, lung, and pancreatic cancers, and reduces
your risk of heart disease. Studies have found that lycopene
works synergistically with other phytonutrients in tomatoes
to provide these benefits. Tomatoes are also an excellent
source of vitamins C, A and K.
Fresh fruit is popular in Mexico, particularly for breakfast,
and papaya -- said to have been called the "fruit of
the angels" by Christopher Columbus -- is commonly eaten
alone or as an addition to salsas and sauces.
Health Benefits: Papaya is full of antioxidants, B vitamins,
folate, pantothenic acid, fiber and more, which work in synergy
to provide a range of health benefits. Papaya has been found
to protect against heart disease and colon cancer, fight inflammation
and macular degeneration, and support the immune system.
It also contains papain, an enzyme that's good for digestion
and is also used to treat sports injuries and other trauma
Have a Mexican Fiesta
Tonight With Two Tasty Recipes!
Huachinango a la Veracruzana (Red Snapper Veracruz-style)
- 3 cups chicken broth
- 1 whole red snapper (about 3 pounds)
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp lime juice
- 2 pounds of tomatoes
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 onion, finely sliced
- 2 garlic cloves
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/4 tsp oregano
- 12 olives, green; halved
- 2 tbsp capers
- 2 jalapenos en escabeche
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- Slice the onions finely. Peel and slice the garlic. Cut
the jalapenos into strips. Set them all aside.
- Clean the fish, leaving the head and tail on. Prick the
fish on both sides with a coarse-tined fork, rub in the
salt and lime juice, and set aside in the dish to season
for about two hours.
- Skin, seed, and chop the tomatoes roughly. Set them aside.
- Heat the oil and cook the onion and garlic, without browning,
until they are soft.
- Add the tomatoes, with the bay leaf, oregano, olives,
capers, jalapenos, and salt to the pan and cook the sauce
over a brisk flame until it is well seasoned and some of
the juice has evaporated -- about 10 minutes.
- Pour the sauce over the fish.
- Sprinkle the remaining olive oil over the sauce and bake
the fish for about 20 minutes, uncovered, on one side.
- Turn the fish over and continue baking it until it is
just tender -- about 30 minutes.
- Baste the fish frequently with the sauce during the cooking
- 1 avocado, peeled and seeded
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 tsp garlic salt
- 2 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
- Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor.
- Blend until uniformly liquid.
- If desired, add a bit more milk so that it has a creamy
but not watery texture.
- Serve with tacos.
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Place: Ethnic Cuisine