Mexican Cooking 101: Chef’s Guide for Delicious, Plant-Based Authentic Flavor

print

Mexican Cooking 101

May 5th is “Cinco de Mayo”, the day in 1862 when the Mexican army overcame France for a symbolic victory that eventually led to Mexico’s Independence.  While it has remained a relatively minor celebration south of the border, in the US, Cinco de Mayo has become a day to celebrate Mexican heritage, with everything from mariachi serenades to colorful parades.

No Mexican party would be complete without a celebration of Mexican cuisine.  However, many of our perceptions of Mexican food (mine included) have been skewed by the influence of fast food business selling Doritos Gorditas  and deep fried ice cream.  True Mexican cuisine can more closely be likened to our understanding of Italian food — a cuisine celebrating fresh, local ingredients, with regional diversity spanning from the coast to the mountains.

Essential colors of Mexican Food Red Tomatoes, Green Lime, Jalapeno, and Cilantro, and Red Onion

Here is my Chef’s Guide to Mexican Cooking:

  • Is Mexican Food Healthy?
  • 5 Essential Mexican Cooking Fundamentals
  • Recipes for the Ultimate Mexican Fiesta – All plant-based, oil-free, gluten-free, vegan recipes

Is Mexican Food Healthy?

Absolutely!  Authentic Mexican food focuses on fresh, seasonal ingredients.  Contrary to what a “Mexican” fast food might suggest, Mexican cooking has long been centered on beans, rice, corn, and fresh vegetables.

4 Healthy Reasons to Eat More Mexican

1) Naturally Plant-Based:

Cheese or dairy might be used as a garnish, but the deep-fried nachos supreme, smothered in sour cream, is an American Tex-Mex creation.

2) Gluten-Free:

Because Mexican food uses mostly corn, rice, and beans as its main starches, most of the dishes are naturally gluten-free.  Wheat is used to make flour tortillas, but those can easily be swapped out for traditional corn or even fancier brown rice tortillas.

3) Fresh and Simple:

Because Mexican food focuses on fresh ingredients, with simple preparations, means there’s no need for processed foods, heavy oil, or fattening cream sauces.

  • Chef Katie’s Tip:  If you’re supplementing your Mexican fiesta with store-bought jarred salsa, pre-made spice blends, or other foods, check the label.  Look for ingredients that you can recognize, and avoid any oils, refined sweeteners, and stabilizers like “guar gum” and “carrageenan”.  These ingredients can have off-putting textures, with a fake flavor that detracts from the fresh, healthy flavors you want.

4) Budget-Friendly:

Mexican Food is even healthy for your wallet!  Beans and rice are often called “peasant food” because they are so affordable, yet so nutritious and satisfying.  A pound of dried beans might cost $2.  Cook them with some onion, garlic, and dried pepper, and you’ll have a hearty pot of Chipotle Black Bean Soup that will feed you all week.


What are 5 Basic Mexican Ingredients?

Think about these Mexican staples:


1)   Beans, Corn, and Rice

 Satisfying Rice and Beans - Delicious, healthy Mexican comfort food
Satisfying Rice and Beans – Delicious, healthy Mexican comfort food

 

Naturally gluten-free foods, beans, corns, and rice are the starchy base for most Mexican dishes.  These healthy complex carbs are also a great source of vegetarian protein and filling fiber.  They serve as filling for tacos, burritos, and enchiladas.  The create creamy, satisfying soups.  And nothing beats a big ‘ole pot of beans and rice.

 Black Turtle Beans

 Dried Ancho and Fresh Poblano Peppers - Essential flavors for Mexican cooking

2) Salsa and Peppers

 

 

 Dried Ancho and Fresh Poblano Peppers - Essential flavors for Mexican cooking
Dried Ancho and Fresh Poblano Peppers – Essential flavors for Mexican cooking

 

Mexican sauces or “salsas” are often centered around the vast array of chili peppers available in the country.   A salsa can be as simple as pureed roasted red peppers, or as complex as a 15-ingredient, day-long mole.  For somewhere in the middle, I suggest my Pasilla Pepper Sauce.  You can use it as a base for experimenting with any dried peppers, like guajillo, ancho, and Santa Fe.

How Spicy Is it?

Two of my Chef’s Tips to tell how spicy that pepper might be:

1. Small is Mighty Spicy
Smaller chili peppers usually pack more spicy flavor.  Little ghost peppers, bird chilies, and habaneros are spicier than larger Ancho and jalapeno peppers

2. Stripes mean Spice
For fresh peppers, like jalapenos, stripes mean the pepper was on the vine longer and riper before picking.  This means it had more time to really develop its spicy flavor

 Spicy Pasilla Pepper Sauce Ingredients - Healthy, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Mexican Salsa Vegan Recipe
Spicy Pasilla Pepper Sauce Ingredients – Healthy, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Mexican Salsa Vegan Recipe

 

 A Quick Yellow Tomato Salsa can easily be pureed in the blender for a fresh, healthy, gluten-free, oil-free Mexican snack
A Quick Yellow Tomato Salsa can easily be pureed in the blender for a fresh, healthy, gluten-free, oil-free Mexican snack

 Jicama Chips with Yellow Tomato Salsa - Easy, Healthy, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Plant-Based Vegan Sauce Snack Recipe
Jicama Chips with Yellow Tomato Salsa – Easy, Healthy, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Plant-Based Vegan Sauce Snack Recipe

 


3) The “Trinity”: Tomato, Cilantro, Lime

 The Mexican "Trinity": Tomato, cilantro and lime - Essential Mexican flavor and the building block for delicious Pico de Gallo
The Mexican “Trinity”: Tomato, cilantro and lime – Essential Mexican flavor and the building block for delicious Pico de Gallo

 

Think of the colors of the Mexican flag: red, white, and green.  These are also the colors of the red tomatoes, white lime juice, and green cilantro that are the key flavors for Mexican cuisine.  Add these three to rice, beans, or roasted corn to easily impart fresh Mexican flavor.  Make a quick Pico de Gallo for a healthy, fresh topping on baked potatoes, Quinoa fiesta bowl, or Tacos.

 Pico de Gallo - Healthy, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Easy, Spicy, Vegan, Plant-Based Mexican Salsa Sauce Recipe
Pico de Gallo – Healthy, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Easy, Spicy, Vegan, Plant-Based Mexican Salsa Sauce Recipe

 

 Pineapple Salsa - Trade out the Tomatoes for some Pineapple in this Healthy, Gluten-Free, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Easy, Spicy Vegan Mexican Condiment Recipe
Pineapple Salsa – Trade out the Tomatoes for some Pineapple in this Healthy, Gluten-Free, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Easy, Spicy Vegan Mexican Condiment Recipe

 


4) Avocado

 Healthy Avocado
Healthy Avocado

 

A healthy source of plant-based fat, avocado is an easy go-to for add cool creaminess to any dish.  My favorite avocado recipe is for Guaca-Jica-Bean Salad.  Creamy avocado, crunchy jicama, rich black beans, and sweet corn come together in a healthy, satisfying salad.  If you want something simpler, though, just dice up an avocado and serve over Tortilla Soup, make a quick Guacamole for Portobello Tacos, or spread on Rye Toast for savory snack.  While some vegetarian recipes will use Queso Fresco as a cheese topping, avocado is a great dairy-free substitute.

 Jicama, Corn, and Black Bean Avocado Salad - Healthy, Easy, Vegan, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Gluten-Free Guacamole Recipe
Jicama, Corn, and Black Bean Avocado Salad – Healthy, Easy, Vegan, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Gluten-Free Guacamole Recipe

 Guacamole - Healthy, Easy, Oil-Free, Plant-Based, Vegan Mexican Avocado Dip Recipe
Guacamole – Healthy, Easy, Oil-Free, Plant-Based, Vegan Mexican Avocado Dip Recipe

 

 Avocado Banana Rye Toast - Healthy, Easy, Quick Plant-Based, Vegan, Oil-Free Snack Recipe
Avocado Banana Rye Toast – Healthy, Easy, Quick Plant-Based, Vegan, Oil-Free Snack Recipe

 


5) Tortillas

 Corn Tortilla Toasting on the Stove - Naturally gluten-free, healthy, plant-based Mexican food
Corn Tortilla Toasting on the Stove – Naturally gluten-free, healthy, plant-based Mexican food

 

The “bun” for most handheld Mexican foods, tortillas are traditionally made with just masa (cornmeal flour) and water.  Tortillas are essential for Grilled Mushroom Tacos, Spicy Tortilla Soup, and Quinoa Enchiladas.  You can use them as a gluten-free substitute in lasagna, swapping out the layers of wheat pasta for corn tortillas.  My favorite go-to summer snack: Toasted Tortilla with Almond Butter, Sliced Peaches, and Nutmeg.  Okay, it may not be an authentic Mexican dish, but it hits all the right spots: crunchy, creamy, sweet, and delicious.

 Charred Mushroom Poblano Tacos - Healthy, Plant-Based, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Grilled, Vegan Mexican Entree Recipe
Charred Mushroom Poblano Tacos – Healthy, Plant-Based, Gluten-Free, Oil-Free, Grilled, Vegan Mexican Entree Recipe

 

 Tortilla Soup with Hominy - Healthy, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan Mexican Recipe
Tortilla Soup with Hominy – Healthy, Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan Mexican Recipe
 Tortilla with Almond Butter, Peaches, Nutmeg - Quick, Easy, Healthy Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Gluten-Free Vegan Snack
Tortilla with Almond Butter, Peaches, Nutmeg – Quick, Easy, Healthy Plant-Based, Oil-Free, Gluten-Free Vegan Snack

 

Chef Katie’s Tortilla Tip:   These days, the rainbow of tortilla selection is pretty impressive — corn, flour, whole wheat, brown rice, spinach, sprouted grains, and even blue corn.  You can find good tortillas at almost any grocery these days.  Just check the label.  If there’s more than 5 ingredients, the authenticity factor (and the flavor quality) goes down.  My favorites are always El Milagro’s corn tortillas.

15 Ultimate Mexican Recipes

Hungry Yet?
Healthy, Plant-Based Oil-Free, Gluten-Free Recipes
For Cinco de Mayo or any Vegetarian Fiesta

Chipotle Black Bean Soup
Smoky, creamy, satisfying black bean soup — there’s nothing quite like it. This easy, healthy, fat-free vegan recipe gets smoky spice from dried chipotle peppers and Mexican flavors from cumin and marjoram. Packed with healthy vegetarian protein and gluten-free fiber, make a big batch of this in your Slow Cooker for a future meals.

Tortilla Soup with Hominy
Canned fire-roasted tomatoes and hominy make this a quick pantry gluten-free meal. Baked tortilla strips add a crunchy topping. This is vegan, fat-free Mexican recipe packs healthy spicy flavor.

Stewed Black Beans
Black turtle beans are simmered with onion, garlic, bay, and dried chipotle pepper for this easy, fat-free Mexican recipe. You can even make a big batch in your Slow Cooker: simply throw everything in and set on low for 8-10 hours. This healthy, gluten-free, vegan dish tastes great over Quinoa Fiesta Salad, Arroz Verde, or just topped with some fresh Guacamole.

Stewed Mexican Pinto Beans (Fat-Free, Vegan)
Pinto beans are simmered with onion, garlic, bay, and dried chipotle pepper for this easy, fat-free Mexican recipe. You can even make a big batch in your Slow Cooker: simply throw everything in and set on low for 8-10 hours. Beans are packed with healthy vegetarian protein and gluten-free fiber. Serve them over Quinoa Fiesta Salad, Arroz Verde, or just topped with some fresh Guacamole.

Guaca-Jica: Corn, Bean, Jicama, and Avocado Salad
Crunchy, creamy, spicy, sweet – this salad has it all! Take your typical guacamole recipe and give it a boost with crunchy jicama, sweet corn, and healthy black beans. This oil-free, gluten-free vegan recipe is full of healthy plant-based Mexican flavor. Enjoy this has over chopped lettuce for a new take on taco salad, or serve as a dip for baked tortilla chips

Yellow Tomato Salsa with Jicama “Chips”
Crisp, crunchy jicama makes the perfect grain-free chip. Paired with this quick yellow tomato blender salsa, this makes an easy recipe for healthy summer snacking. Enjoy this gluten-free, fat-free vegan recipe with Poblano Tacos or pair with Guacamole and Pico de Gallo for party appetizers.

Spicy Pasilla Pepper Sauce
This spicy Mexican sauce uses dried Pasilla peppers, but you can experiment with any dried chilies for different levels of heat, sweetness, and smokiness. Make a batch of this healthy, oil-free, fat-free recipe for unique flavor. This goes great with Easy Black Bean Cakes, Portabella Tacos, or a Quinoa Fiesta Bowl.

Pico de Gallo
This classic Mexican combination of tomato, onion, and jalapeno come together with fresh cilantro, lime and cumin in this healthy recipe. Use the freshest tomatoes for natural delicious flavor. This vegan, gluten-free, fat-free chunky condiment is a spicy topper for Mushroom Poblano Tacos, Enchiladas, or a Stewed Black Beans.

Jicama Cilantro Slaw
Crisp, crunchy jicama is the perfect ingredient for a light, refreshing slaw. This fat-free, vegan Mexican recipe tastes great served with Charred Mushroom Tacos or Chipotle Baked Beans for a healthy, gluten-free dinner.

Pico de Gallo
This classic Mexican combination of tomato, onion, and jalapeno come together with fresh cilantro, lime and cumin in this healthy recipe. Use the freshest tomatoes for natural delicious flavor. This vegan, gluten-free, fat-free chunky condiment is a spicy topper for Mushroom Poblano Tacos, Enchiladas, or a Stewed Black Beans.

Guacamole
Nothing says fiesta quite like simple Guacamole, an essential Mexican recipe. This healthy version is oil-free with healthy fat from ripe avocadoes. Use it over Mushroom Poblano Tacos, Southwestern Black Bean Burgers, or a big bowl of Chili. This is authentic, natural vegan.

Pineapple Salsa
Who says salsa is only for tomatoes? Sweet, juicy pineapple works well with the Mexican trinity of cilantro, lime, and jalapeno in this light, refreshing, easy recipe. Use this fat-free, spicy condiment over your favorite vegan dishes, like Mushroom Poblano Tacos, Black Bean Cakes, or Southwestern Black Bean Burgers.

Charred Mushroom Poblano Tacos
This vegan gluten-free, fat-free mushroom recipe is packed with charred grill flavor. It makes an easy, healthy Mexican dinner

Red Quinoa Enchiladas Rojas
This vegan gluten-free, fat-free Mexican recipe uses healthy red quinoa for a protein and fiber-packed enchilada filling. Roja sauce is made from dried ancho chilies, which bring smoky heat to this baked entree. For a milder version, you can cut the amount of dried chilies and use fresh red bell pepper.

Mexican Chocolate Sauce with Pineapple
This vegan Chocolate Sauce recipe gets some Mexican spice with cinnamon and chipotle powder. Natural sweetness from dates and a side of pineapple make this a healthy, satisfying treat. It’s gluten-free, sugar-free, with a sophisticated flavor.

Related Post

Advertisements

Join the Discussion