The fabulous thing about Mexican food is that is combines a wide variety of fresh ingredients and encourages you to create your own combinations. So, whilst you may think of the tortillas, use of sour cream or loads of cheese as unhealthy, the wide variety of fresh ingredients used means there are still so many ways to create a healthy version of a Mexican classic meal. Simple substitutions and thoughtful meal selections can make eating healthy Mexican food easier than you think! It just comes down to a few basic principles: portion size, types of toppings and who’s making it. As we have spoken about it in previous blogs, it all comes down to balance.
CAN MEXICAN FOOD BE HEALTHY?
At the core of Mexican cooking are flavour-packed foods with brilliant fresh ingredients prepared in ways that give them the best chance at retaining plethora of nutrients that help keep your body functioning at it’s best. Meals are balanced, and usually contain a mixture of meat, vegetables & legumes, grains and dairy to build out an inclusive plate that keeps you fuelled and full.
VEGETABLES & LEGUMES
Mexican food makes a brilliant use of locally available vegetables and legumes and uses them in a range of ways both cooked and raw. If there was one cuisine that embodies eating the rainbow, this would be it. Think about freshly made salsa, grilled vegetables and (an Aussie fave) guacamole, all staples that are prepared to maintain the natural flavour of theirrespective ingredients and play a clever role in the balancing act of creating a meal. The salsa giving some kick, guac mellowing things out, and veggies complimenting beautifully cooked proteins.
Also found in a lot of Mexican dishes are legumes like beans. Added to provide protein and flavour, they are a staple that is low cost while providing a nutritional kick. For example, you’ll find black beans in burritos, tacos, salads and more as well as the Mexican-inspired Chilli Con Carne. Frijoles are beans often boiled with onion and garlic or fried off and can form the main ingredient of a dish or be served as a garnish.
Proteins come in many different forms in Mexican food. From chicken, beef and goat through to seafood utilising vegetables or beans instead (like frijoles as above). The region that you visit will largely dictate what is available as local produce is largely favoured. These ingredients are often paired with beautiful spices and can be cooked in a range of ways.
In Australian versions of Mexican food, you will most often see chicken, beef, fish or vegetables forming the main protein or ingredients as these are readily available with no compromise on quality or flavour.
Rice and tortillas are often seen with most Mexican meals as they play a nutritional and textural role. Tortillas are made with either flour or maize (corn) and are served on the side or hold layers of ingredients known as the humble taco.Rice is used in a range of ways and while corn was used in its place for some 4000 years, rice is equally important in Mexican food today.
Americanised Mexican cuisine encourages the use of large amounts of cheese and sour cream. In Mexico, there different cheeses and the use of sour cream is also not strictly traditional.
In traditional Mexican food, sour cream is crema - more like crème fraiche (not readily available in Australia). It is added to provide a creamy element to mellow some of the spice and acidity seen in Mexican cooking; think of it more like a couple of teaspoons rather than large tablespoon dollops. There is also a range of local Mexican cheeses that are used depending on the region and also what type of texture desired – crumbled, melted but not liquid, super melty and so on. These are added for flavour and texture and not designed to hide the deliciously fragrant spices and aromas.
HERBS AND SPICES
Fresh herbs and spices play a critical role in giving Mexican food its punchy fresh flavour. From spices rubbed on meats and tossed through vegetables as they grill, to fresh herbs lovingly added at the last second as a very intentional garnish, these ingredients are not just here for show. They are key influence in a true Mexican flavour, and they also add bucket-loads of nutrients into the mix.
MEXICAN FOOD AMERICAN STYLE
Where you eat Mexican food is heavily influenced by other cultural food habits and local food preferences.
This is perhaps most noticeable when you visit the United States of America – the land of the giant servings, liquid cheese, and sour cream. This is why you are more likely to experience ‘Mexican-inspired’ rather than authentic Mexican. Weird considering how close they are to Mexico.
The ‘Mexican-inspired’ style is most likely to be experienced in fast food chains throughout the USA. Their preference leans towards the use of ingredients with a higher fat content including large amounts of cheese and sour cream – which in moderation can be a great part of a balanced diet, but not in excess. It’s good to also note that when we talk about this Americanised-Mexican, there is still plenty of restaurants serving authentic Mexican. These speciality restaurants also enjoy putting their spin on things while keeping true to great ingredients and a balanced approach. This is also the benefit of when you are cooking at home.
MEXICAN FOOD IN AUSTRALIA
Much like America, it can also be a bit of a mixed bag when it comes to what’s on offer locally. Whether you’re making Mexican at home or heading out to some of the incredible restaurants out there, it pays to know what to look for and having a general understanding of portion sizes, and how to build or choose a balanced plate.
If you are keen you experience a fresh take on Mexican food, some of our Melbourne’s favourites include Radio Mexico, Fonda, or Mamasita. For Sydneysiders those in the know love local haunts like El Loco, Chica Bonita, or Flying Fajita Sisters. But there are countless around Australia.
Don’t be shy, let us know where your favourite Mexican is so we can do a shout out on our socials!
HOW WE DO MEXICAN
Our team love Mexican food for it’s wide range of dishes and incredible fresh flavour. We offer dishes like Chicken Burrito Mix, Spicy Bean Burrito Mix both of which are brilliant bases to make dishes like burritos, nachos, or even enchiladas. We love a good naked burrito as well, and one of our lunchtime go-to’s is our Open Chicken Burrito with Quinoa & Vegetables, which has added grains and veggies for a nutrient boost and brilliant flavour!
For a Mexican-inspired dish (but not authentically Mexican), we have our incredible Beef Chilli Con Carne, which is perfect for chilli bowls served with rice, lettuce, avo, a little cheese, salsa and a small dollop of light sour cream. Too good to refuse!
Tell us in the comments below what your favourite Mexican food is and what you would like to see added to the menu!