Thursday, August 1, 2013

Health Mex Cuisine

   Mexican food has been a part of my life just as much as Israeli and Jewish cuisine. I grew up with a second mommy who lived up the streets, who grew up in Mexico and who would cook many different delicious foods for me on a regular basis one of those being my favorite brunch dish, Mollettes, a hard bread, split in two the core scooped out to make room for black beans, melted cheese and some salsa. I also live in San Diego where on every corner you have a Mexican or Latin restaurant roaming around. In San Diego if you go out to eat you are pretty much going for the california burrito, taquitos, or some delicious fish tacos. Unfortunately Mexican cuisine has the reputation of being not the healthiest cuisine to choose from and to be honest I have been a firm believer of that.

Recently I was reminded of how wrong I am in my thinking and my view of Mexican food in San Diego. It took two very different restaurants to prove me wrong. First, Casa De Pico, a large Mexican American restaurant in Grossmont center in La Mesa. A great restaurant to go to where you can see them making fresh tortillas the food is deliciously fresh and you have an array of options. Not only can you flip through and see varies styles of Mexican food but the menu also has sections for the vegetarian, those who are axing out gluten from their diet and for those who want to have an overall healthy (lo-cal) meal. Vegetarians can enjoy a tamale, enchilada, some salads and other options. The gluten free menu consists of salads, soups, ceviche, fish tacos and many other options and the healthy menu will include lo-cal fajita options, salads, fish tacos, chicken and black bean tostada and also more options. I have gotten a few different salads there, and it has been difficult because for me I am not only gluten free but have been sugar free (cane and processed sugars) for a long time now. Try asking for a salad dressing with no sugar. It's like your asking the waiter to find the solution that will lead to time travel. They will give you a puzzled look, ask you to repeat the order and then, reply with "Uhhhhhh..... Let me see what we can find." I will admit I have had two different experiences
when it comes to salad dressings at this place. Once the waiter returned with these prepackaged style dressing, you know those ones you get when you buy a pre-made salad at the grocery store. The second time I went a lovely waitress instead of acting puzzled comes out and says we don't really have many options but I can bring out some olive oil and balsamic or some lemons. That is always a win for me so I said yes.

 This last time I went to the restaurant to be honest I wasn't really hungry at all but I decided to explore their healthy menu a bit more. I am a sucker for Fajita style veggies so the fact that they have a vegetarian fajita option got me all jittery and then I saw it. My next possible option, the Mexican stir fry under 500 calories. stir fried veggies and shredded chicken over rice, I know where my next lunch out will possibly be but then again a gluten free fish taco is always a go to for me.

  My second restaurant experience that has reminded me of how wrong I am about one of my favorite cuisines is a restaurant that has been near and dear to my heart for many years. MyGuadalajara is a wonderfully home feeling hole in the wall style Mexican restaurant down the street from my home. If I wasn't eating Mollettes at my second mommy's house I was down the street at MyGuadalajara enjoying a conversation with the owner of the place or sitting with friends at the outside tables enjoying the weather. I would order the same thing almost every single time which was the carne asada plate (a plate of sauteed marinated beef from a flank steak or chuck). This plate would come with a plate full of refried beans with cheese on top, mexican rice, pico de gallo,  sour cream, guacamole, and either two flour tortillas or three corn tortillas. All of this doesn't sound to unhealthy when you just read it except for the fact that everything is
cooked in oil and if you really pay attention to words and you go to the refried beans, allow me to emphasize the RE part of the REfried beans. This means that it is fried extra (very healthy). guacamole can be very healthy and I have mentioned my love for the guacamole, but imagine getting 3-4 servings of a 100 calorie (give or take) per serving guacamole on top of a boat load of fattening sour cream then you get 3 servings of Mexican red rice, and tortilla's that probably are made with lard and have a calorie count of 150-200 calories each. This sounds so great. the only freebie you may get on that plate is the pico de gallo which is tomatoes and onions diced together with a little heat to it. This entire explanation is probably why Mexican cuisine has such a terrible reputation of being unhealthy. I will admit that I have missed this particular dish but to be honest what I have had missed the most is coming into the restaurant and enjoying the atmosphere.

  Last week I caved in, I let go of my horrendous fears and stereotypes and took my best friend down to MyGuadalajara. Ok, I will admit both the fears and stereotypes were still there I just decided to splurge and get what I wanted and not worry about it. Immediately upon arrival I was welcomed back to the restaurant by the owner working the cashier for the day and the cook behind her who has probably worked there since the dawn of it's time. This is a place where you go up to the cashier to order and then you sit and wait for a spectacular plate of food. Before the food comes out you get chips served to you with a house made salsa which is one of my favorite salsa to scarf down. The chips are ok, sub-par in my opinion but everyone is willing to eat them all just to have a big chunk of salsa placed into their mouths and soon after plates filled with colorful Mexican smells, colors and all around great flavors are brought to where we are sitting in a friendly manner. Of course as I opened the menu my eyes went directly to that mouth watering reminiscent plate, the carne asada plate. I choked up a little and started scanning the menu more. To my surprise I saw many options like fish tacos (again) which in this case is actually sauteed instead of battered and fried which adds probably the same (if not more) flavor then fried fish tacos with a lot less calories. I also saw chicken fajitas, grilled chicken with onions, salads, and also said to my self a carne asada plate without all the sides would be a decent option. My mind was set on something with chicken. The salad option they have there I can get with chicken and I can ask them to ax the sour cream and refried beans, grilled chicken and onions sounds just as delicious and fajitas are always tasty. I decided I had to go with the fajitas which also can come with corn or flour tortillas and my preference is usually corn tortillas. I get the order forgetting to ask them light on the oils and all the other requests. Now, here is when it is great to be acquainted with the people working the kitchen.... The plates were brought out as normal, the Fajita plate sizzling hot still cooking the chicken and veggies while my friends fish tacos also arrived. I looked down already remembering that I forgot to ask them to lighten up on the oil and noticed something different about the plate. I took a napkin ready to blot the chicken and did so and something was very different now. I was pleasantly shocked to see there was a minuscule amount of oil. I smiled for a moment and soon after for a split second dreaded tasting it because it might be to dry or even flavorless because that tends to occur a lot. I took the first bite hesitantly, started to chew and slowly gained my smile back. It was flavored and moist yet light. I am not one who knows how many calories that lunch included and I don't care I know it was light definitely lower than 500 calories and it was just as moist, succulent, flavorful and enjoyed as any Mexican dish.

  Walking home I was inspired to right this blog to say these next few lines. You can decide you will be the one cooking a Mexican meal at home and you can also decide to completely ax it from your life because of your fears or some ridiculous reason but eventually you will be like me and just cave in or you can take the next option. Forget about your fears, forget the stereotypes and just go to your favorite restaurant. There is no harm in asking for changes, there is no harm in letting the waiters and waitresses know your story and there is no harm in enjoying even the slightest splurge. You may even be surprised to know that a Mexican splurge or any splurge for that matter isn't really a splurge at all, it's just the way you bring joy in your life and to repeat myself there is no harm in that.

  I know I am going to remember my skills as a restaurant goer, I am going to enjoy the great times I have being surrounded by people who are loving their meals and who are providing that love of food and I am going to love life.

Till Next Time

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