You may not typically think of Mexican food as healthy, but done right it can offer distinct health advantages. For example, the fiery ingredients associated with some Mexican dishes (think jalapeños, cayenne, and other chili peppers) can flavor foods without the need for much salt, which helps to keep sodium down. And chili peppers themselves may have medicinal properties. These six Mexican-inspired recipes include classics like enchiladas and guacamole, each of which we’ve embellished with a healthy twist—like adding extra vegetables or shifting the veggie-meat ratio to reduce calories and add beneficial vitamins, minerals, and fiber. Ole!
Using skinless turkey breast instead of beef in these enchiladas cuts the saturated fat and calories considerably, while leaving plenty of protein and B vitamins. This dish also gets a nutrition boost from puréed roasted vegetables, which are added to the usual enchilada sauce ingredients. Make sure you heat the tortillas briefly in an ungreased skillet before rolling them up, so they’ll be pliable (tortillas straight from the refrigerator are liable to break when bent).
This recipe keeps calories down by substituting puréed frozen peas for some of the avocado—which, while incredibly good for you, is also high in calories for a fruit (110 to 180 per half, depending on variety). To assess an avocado’s ripeness, lightly press it with your thumb. If it feels soft, it’s ready to eat; if there is a slight give, it will be ready in a day or so; if it’s firm, it will need three or more days to ripen. To speed ripening, try storing your avocado in a paper bag along with an apple or banana, which give off compounds that accelerate ripening.
Translated from Spanish, salsa verde literally means “green sauce.” The green comes from several key healthy ingredients, including green bell peppers, parsley, cilantro, jalapeños, and lime juice. If you happen to be in the anti-cilantro camp, try crushing the leaves and letting them stand for a while before mixing them into the recipe; this allows enzymes to break down the herb’s aldehyde chemicals (the same as found in soap), which some people’s taste buds detect more distinctly than others.
Here’s a little-known fact about corn: It’s not actually a vegetable but rather a grain—the seed of a type of grass, like wheat. Whatever its classification, it serves as a healthy base for this versatile relish, which pairs well with grilled meats, poultry, or fish. It also makes an excellent and less-expected taco or burrito condiment; or you can scoop it up salsa-like with tortilla chips. If the amount of cayenne pepper in the recipe is too mild for your fiery tastebuds, increase it as desired.
European cities like Brussels may now be considered the “chocolate centers of the world,” but chocolate's origins are uniquely Mexican: The word “chocolate” is derived from the Aztec cacahuatl, meaning “bitter water,” and refers to the extremely bitter unsweetened drink the Aztecs made from ground cocoa beans and spices. It wasn’t until the mid-1600s that chocolate made its way from Mexico to Europe, where sugar was added to it to create the sweet treat we’re used to today.
Fajitas are more of a Tex-Mex/American invention than a traditional Mexican dish, but you’ll often find them at Mexican restaurants stateside. Our version gets a health boost from a blend of colorful vegetables (mainly sweet bell peppers and red onions), which play the starring role while the chicken serves as more of a “condiment.” The more different colors of bell peppers you use, the greater the variety of potentially beneficial phytochemicals you’ll be including. The peppers also add vitamin C and some dietary fiber.