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Cinco De Mayo : Primer on Low-Fat, Low-Cholesterol Mexican Cooking

May 02, 1991|LESLYE BORDEN

Cinco de Mayo, probably the most celebrated Mexican holiday in the United States, is observed in Mexico only in Puebla, the town where the Mexican army, led by General Zaragoza, withstood a French onslaught in 1862. American restaurants and supermarkets have seized upon this victory to promote Mexican foods in the United States.

For the growing number of Americans who worry about dietary fat and cholesterol, this holiday poses a challenge. It's lots of fun to celebrate, but authentic Mexican foods are high in fat. Lard, for instance, is what makes beans so sweet and delicious, and it's the key ingredient of flour tortillas. Grated cheese, sour cream and guacamole, used as garnishes for many Mexican dishes, are all high in saturated fat. You could use up a week's fat allotment in just one night. What can a party person do to join the festivities and still keep a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet?

The solution is simple if you cook your own Mexican dishes and adapt the recipes to fit your dietary needs. If you've never cooked Mexican food before, don't be intimidated. The recipes are straightforward and delicious.

Start by making your own salsa. One that is a big hit in my family is jicama salsa. Jicama is a sweet root vegetable that often looks worn and unappetizing in the market, but don't let that throw you. It is best eaten raw (peeled, of course) and frequently shows up on vegetable platters with dips. As a salsa you can serve it with chips, or as a salad with the entree.

If you serve the salsa as an appetizer, don't use commercial chips. Make your own, using corn--rather than flour--tortillas. (Corn tortillas contain no added oil.) Instead of frying them, brush the tortillas with water and bake them in a hot (500-degree) oven to make them crisp. They just take a few minutes and the difference in calories is worth the extra work.

Corn tortillas are also used in enchiladas, but Mexican homemakers usually lightly fry the tortillas before filling them and covering them with sauce. You can simplify this process by dipping the tortillas in sauce to soften them and then layering them in a casserole between whatever filling you have chosen.

Ground white-meat turkey is a good substitute for shredded pork or ground beef, which normally fills enchiladas. (But beware of regular ground turkey: Like regular ground beef, it can contain 50% more fat in calories--the label may advertise 15% fat, but that is by weight.) Shredded roast turkey or chicken is another alternative.

Top the enchiladas with low- or no-fat cheeses--it's actually more authentic. Restaurant Mexican food may be garnished with shredded Cheddar or Jack cheese, but these high-fat cheeses are traditionally not used in Mexico. Mexican queso fresco , on the other hand, is made from skim milk.

You can make good low-fat beans at home with just a few little tricks. Instead of using a ham bone for flavor, add a good portion of chile powder or cumin. For the most authentic beans, drain off some of the cooking liquid and use it instead of oil to "refry" the beans. Alternate adding liquid and beans, mashing and stirring, until you have used up about half the beans. Then combine the mashed mixture with the rest of the cooked beans. You'll have thick, wonderful refried beans. And pureed, the beans make a wonderful dip.

One of the most typical Mexican desserts is flan , a light, custardy mixture of eggs, cream and sugar topped by a sauce made of caramelized sugar. Even this dish can be adapted to the requirements of a low-fat, low-cholesterol diet. Instead of using whole eggs, make your flan with egg substitute. Replace the cream or whole milk with nonfat evaporated milk or nonfat milk. This dessert is almost totally fat-free, and you still have the characteristic taste of caramelized sugar, which makes flan so wonderful.

If you follow the suggestions below, you will have a meal that is about 544 calories per serving and contains only 13% fat (by calories), less than the 30% recommendation by the U.S. Surgeon General.

LOW-FAT, LOW-CHOLESTEROL

ENCHILADA CASSEROLE

1/2 cup nonfat chicken broth, about

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 pounds extra-lean ground turkey white meat

2 cups Low-fat, No-Cholesterol Refried Beans

1 teaspoon salt

No-Fat Red Enchilada Sauce

12 corn tortillas

8 ounces shredded no-fat Cheddar cheese

In large skillet, heat 1/4 cup chicken broth. Add onion and garlic and cook until vegetables are tender and start to give off their own liquid. Then crumble in ground turkey. Continue cooking, adding more broth if necessary, until meat loses pink color. Add refried beans, salt, and 1/2 cup enchilada sauce. Simmer until liquid evaporates and meat is thoroughly cooked.

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