Mexican Flavor Inspiration
Ashley Jowett
/ Categories: WELLNESS, 2021

Mexican Flavor Inspiration

When I am looking for healthy and delicious meals, I often turn to Mexican-inspired dishes. They have some key characteristics that make them an every-day go-to. They are quick and easy to make, even on a busy weeknight. They include affordable ingredients that are easy to find, in one form or another, all year long. Finally, with plenty of flexibility, especially in terms of how much spice to add, they are real crowd-pleasers.

But what makes Mexican meals so satisfying? There are four answers: meal-making protein, healthy fats, colorful vegetables, and plenty of spice.

Mexican dishes really have a knack for piling many delicious and exciting sources of protein into one recipe. For instance, you might find a recipe that includes beans, chicken, and a sprinkle of cheese. Beans are especially great, because they have 14 grams of protein per cup and 15 grams of fill-you-up fiber. That’s more than half the daily recommended dose of fiber per day!  Swap out the sour cream for a dollop of plain Greek yogurt to double the protein and lower the unhealthy fats in your recipe.

In order to be truly satisfying, healthy fats are a must. Mexican recipes get healthy fats right. Do your cooking in olive oil, the healthiest oil. Add some avocado to up the healthy fats and the flavor. Nearly 80 percent of the calories in avocados are from heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids. The particular fatty acid found in avocados—oleic acid—is associated with reduced inflammation and reduced cancer risk. Just like beans, avocados have tons of fiber: 7 grams or 27 percent of the daily-recommended value!

No recipe is complete without its fair share of colorful vegetables. Mexican recipes have plenty of room for corn, peppers, and onions. Add some super-charged leafy greens, like spinach or kale, for an even higher nutrition profile. Each contains essential nutrients and even more belly-filling fiber, not to mention sweetness and crunch.

Finally, bring on the flavor. Herbs like cilantro; spices like chili powder, cumin, and paprika; chilies or other spicy peppers; and acid-boosting lime juice give you all of the flavor you could want in the level of intensity that is most appealing to you. Using spices and acidic flavors make foods super flavorful with less salt. Avoiding salt can lower high blood pressure and save damage to the heart, brain, and kidneys that high blood pressure causes.

The recipe below includes lots of flexibility. It can be made in easy or more advanced versions. It can be served with chicken or piled on the crunchy inner leaves of romaine lettuce for dinner. Or serve it with whole-grain chips as an appetizer. Try it or any one of thousands of healthy Mexican recipes available online to experience the benefits of Mexican food at home!

Corn Salsa with Chicken

  • 2             Chicken breasts or thighs
  • 4 cups   Corn
  • ½             Red bell pepper
  • ½             Small red onion
  • ½ cup    Fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1             Jalapeno pepper, diced
  • ½             Avocado, chopped
  • 4 tsp      Lime juice, freshly squeezed
  • ½ tsp     Ground cumin
  • ½ tsp     Smoked paprika
  • ¼ tsp     Ground pepper
  • ¼ tsp      Salt
  • 2 Tbsp   Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tbsp   Mayonnaise
  • ½ cup    Cotija cheese (or use feta or your favorite cheese), plus a sprinkle for serving

Easy directions:

  1.  Grill your chicken until the internal temperature reaches 165F. Set aside.
  2. Cut the corn from the cob, about 5 ears; drain it from the can, or pull it from the freezer and put it into a large bowl. No need to thaw frozen corn.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and stir until combined.
  4. Serve with the chicken and a sprinkle of cheese.

More advanced directions:

  1. If cooking your chicken in a skillet, you can rub the chicken with 1 Tbsp of olive oil and cook with an additional tablespoon of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat for 10 minutes on each side until the edges are opaque and the internal temperature reaches 165F.
  2. Increase the heat to high. Add an additional splash of olive oil, if needed.
  3.  Cook the corn 3 – 5 minutes until the outsides of the kernels show charred marks.
  4. Transfer corn to a large bowl and let it cool for a few minutes before continuing with the rest of the recipe.

Kristin Irace, RD, is a registered dietitian at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center.

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