I recently spent two weeks in Mexico City and have come home with many things. A jacket for one, as it was quite chilly there; some cool jewelry, a much harder stomach (after a week of battle), and last but certainly not least…a true passion for Mexican Cuisine!
I had the opportunity to take a food tour from Lesley Tellez, owner of Eat Mexico (http://www.eatmexico.com), a food tour company based in Mexico City. She took my boyfriend and me for a tour of the Tianguis Market- a traveling food market that dates back to Aztec times. They have a wide variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, grains, dairy, and meat, in addition to some crafts and home-goods. Following the wonderful tour was a cooking lesson, where we learned how to make many great dishes including guacamole and “Tacos de Acelga” aka Swiss Chard Tacos (that’s right- a healthy taco does exist!)
So what did we find?
Along with the more typical Mexican fruits and vegetables i.e. avocados, plantains, limes, etc., I discovered some items that I have never seen before…Cactus (fruit and vegetable), Chayote, and Poblano peppers, to name a few. Even more fun was seeing some new varieties of some old favorites: red bananas, and multi-colored avocados! These avocados were so delicious, it is no wonder that they keep them all for themselves (they don’t export them)!
Why have you done a good thing?
Cactus “Nopales”- This is the vegetable part of the cactus, also known as cactus pads. The fruit part of cactus is called “Prickly Pear”, “Cactus Fruit”, or “Tuna Fruit”. They are originally from Mexico but can now be found growing in California, as well, from September to May. When the Nopales are cooked, they taste like a combination of roasted green peppers and okra. In Mexico City, I saw them used as a topping for enchiladas, a filling for quesadillas, and as the star ingredient of a Nopales Taco. Cactus has sterols (compounds found naturally in the cell membrane of plants- works to help excrete cholesterol from the body), polyphenols (responsible for giving plants, fruits, and vegetables colors- antioxidant properties), and glycoproteins (helps with our immune system), along with some fiber, potassium, calcium, vitamin A, vitamin C, and iron. Cactus has been studied to lower cholesterol, help control blood sugars, and even as a “Hangover Helper”!
Nutrition Info: Cactus Pads “Nopales”, serving size 1 pad
10 calories, 0.1g fat, 0.7g fiber
Nutrition Info: Cactus Fruit, serving size 1 fruit
61 calories, 1g fat, 14g Carbohydrates, 4.5g fiber, 1g protein.
Chayote: This Native Mexican plant produces two forms of the vegetable: prickly and smooth (not much difference except that you can eat the skin of the smooth). The chayote is part of the squash family and can be substituted for summer squash in any recipe. Besides the delicious taste, we love this vegetable for its nutrient-density (meaning the most amount of nutrients for the least amount of calories). One cup of chayote is only 38 calories and containes vitamin C, potassium, calcium, folate, and fiber (working together to help immune system, muscle contraction, bone strength, brain, and digestion)- so yes, you guessed it… a great Bang for your Bite!
Nutrition Info: serving size one cup:
38 calories, 0.8g fat, 8g carbohydrates, 4.5g fiber, 1g protein
*Eat Chayote raw in a salad or easily cook by boiling whole, with skin on, until soft (about 45 minutes and until you can easily stick a kife in it). It can also be grilled, broiled, or steamed.
Poblano pepper: This is considered the Mexican version of the US “Bell Pepper” because it is found in abudance all over Mexico (originating from the town Pueblo, for which it was named). I got to see it in two forms: fresh and dried. When it is dried, it is called Ancho chile, and is used in the traditional Mexical Mole sauce. Poblano peppers are the star ingredient in the popular Mexican dish “Chiles Rellenos” and can be used in the fresh or dried form (although Iprefer using the fresh!) The poblano pepper is naturally spicy butcan become mild when the seeds are removed. We love this vegetable for its vitamin C content (1 pepper has almost all you need for the day!) Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant and can also help in certain types of wound healing. In addition, it is a low –calorie food, like chayote and catus, making it another great Bang for your Bite!
Nutrition Info: Serving size is 1 pepper
17 calories (that’s about it!)
Where can I find these items?
While many of these great items are native to Mexico, we can get most of them right here in New York! Order Poblano peppers from Fresh Direct (www.freshdirect.com), or go to Whole Foods Market to find Poblano peppers and Chayote. For many Mexican ingredients, including Cactus “Nopales”, head over to Essex Farm Fruits and Vegetables, 120 Essex Street, New York, NY. In addition, you can likely find many of these items at specialty markets throughout the city.
So go ahead and buy these strange looking foods when you come across them…you will now know all about their health benefits, and better yet, you will know what to do with them!
How to make Chiles Rellenos: step-by-step instructions (with pictures)!
You will need (use as many peppers as you would like, 1 pepper serves 1):
-Rice (brown), cooked (make 1 cup of rice for up to 10 peppers, using about 2 spoonfuls of cooked rice for each pepper) *Can also add in ½ cup cooked carrots and onions to the rice for a veggie-filled pepper.
-Manchego cheese (lite), sliced *about 2 slices for each pepper
-Eggs (4 eggs will cover about 6 pepeprs)
-Tomato sauce (low-sodium)
-Olive Oil (start with 2 Tablespoons and adjust as you cook to keep pan coated)
1) Char Pepper on flame-burner or broil in oven until completely blackened
2) Place in plastic bag and seal, wrap in dishtowel to keep heat in, about 15 minutes) * Tip: cook rice while peppers are steaming to save time
3) Remove peppers from bag and let cool for a few minutes before peeling off outer (chared) skin. *Tip: if you are having trouble getting the skin off, try running the pepper under cold water
4) Make a vertical slit on one side of the pepper, from the stem down to the bottom, and remove all seeds and inedible portions.
5) Stuff pepper with rice and slices of cheese, re-connect slit by pulling open part together and weaving a toothpick through both sides.
6) Separate eggs, preserving yolks for later use. Whip the egg whites with an electric mixer or by hand until stiff peaks form. Next, fold in the egg yolks.
7) Submerge the pepper in the egg mixture and coat well on all sides
8) Heat olive oil in a pan and cook on med-high heat (one pepper at a time) until browned on all sides; transfer to paper towel to drain off excess oil.