Traveling the world through cuisine

Heading South of the Border

Mexican dancer

I’ve always found it funny how much animosity I see in the United States towards Mexico when it comes to immigration, the people, language, etc…but on the flipside most Americans love the food. I’m not kidding. Look how much franchises like Taco Bell and Chipotle have managed to explode in the US.

Tacos and burritos are probably the best example not of Spanish food, but actually ancient Aztec and Mayan cuisine. It was street food back then just as much as it is now, but the tortilla, the fillings, and the spicy flavor is credited to the ancient cultures that lived in the Mexican region long before the Spaniards landed on their shores.

I love Mexican food with a passion. Growing up in Chicago you can’t avoid the culture as there are small taquerías on every block and better restaurants celebrating the cuisine all over the city. While I mentioned franchises like Taco Bell and Chipotle are very popular among non-Mexican Americans, I won’t say they are the authentic cuisine.

For as tasty and flavorful as Mexican cuisine is, much of that street food carries the price of sodium, fat, and cholesterol. Trying to enjoy the cuisine without adding to your waistline or cholesterol level can be challenging, but it’s important to remember that like any cuisine that appears as “always unhealthy”, it’s in the more popular dishes that you’ll see the bad stuff.

Most authentic Mexican cuisine gathers its flavor from the fruits, vegetables, and herbs known to the region. Lime, cilantro, corn, beans, chili powder, squash, peppers, and cinnamon are examples. Whether it ends up as healthy or unhealthy is up to the chef, and I want to show how I healthy up Mexican street food.

To start things off, we’re going to make a nice marinate that will work for both the fish tacos and chicken burritos on the menu. I took ideas from all over the internet to make my own recipe. It utilizes much of the flavors of Mexico and can work either to soak meat overnight or baste/brush it with lightly.

Mexican Marinate

Mexican Marinate

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup of white vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup of water
  • 1/3 cup of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup of fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 3 tsp of Adobo seasoning
  • 1 tbsp of whole black peppercorns
  • 1 tbsp of oregano
  • 2 tbsp of ground cumin
  • Juice of one lime

Instructions

Mix all ingredients together and allow to sit for an hour.

Quick Notes

Allowing them to sit for an hour will meld the flavors together into one unified mixture.

Variations

This marinate is somewhat on the mild side. If you prefer spicy, add in some chili powder, hot pepper sauce, or red pepper.

The very first time I ever heard of a fish taco (taco de pescado), I kept thinking it was some new gourmet thing. Granted I grew up thinking tacos were only about ground beef, steak, or chicken in a crunchy tortilla with lettuce, tomato, and cheese. I was wrong. Fish tacos have been a staple of Mexican cuisine for a very long time, dating their origin back to tribes living in the Baja peninsula.

When I first made fish tacos, I was in love. I was not into seafood growing up, and I can see why many cringe when offered, but I believe a good fish taco will make anyone like seafood. The ideal situation is to grill a meaty fillet with some of that marinade, and assemble your tacos with healthy ingredients like fresh greens, tomatoes, low-fat or fat-free cheese, and whole-wheat tortillas.

Fish Tacos

Fish Tacos

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1/2 cup of the Mexican marinate
  • 3-4 fillets of tilapia, perch, or cod
  • 2-4 whole wheat or multigrain tortillas
  • 1 roma tomato, seeds removed and chopped
  • 2-3 leaves of Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 3-4 tbsp of low-fat or fat-free shredded cheese
  • 4-5 tbsp of your favorite salsa

Instructions

  1. Heat up your grill to high heat, brush the grill with the olive oil when hot.
  2. Take a fillet of the fish in your hand and brush one side with the marinate.
  3. Place the fillet on the grill (marinate side down) and immediately brush the other side with marinate.
  4. Cook the fish roughly 2-7 minutes per side. Set aside when finished.
  5. Heat up a frying pan or skillet on medium heat. Place a tortilla in it and heat it up for one minute per side.
  6. Assemble your taco with some of the fish, vegetables, cheese, and salsa. Garnish with slices of lime.

Quick Notes

Never marinate fish by soaking. Thicker meats like tuna can be soaked the way we do beef or chicken, but soaking fish in marinate will only break the tissue apart. The citrus of the lime will actually start cooking the fish once it touches it. Hence why we brush the fish before cooking.

Be very careful when grilling fish, as more delicate meats like tilapia can easily fall apart on the grill. If you’re concerned with your fish falling apart, then place a sheet of aluminum foil on the grill first. You can even wrap up the fish in foil the way you do corn on the grill. The high heat of the grill will sear the outside and thus make it easier to handle the fish. I’d suggest buying a longer spatula known as a fish turner to make it easier on yourself.

Heating up the tortillas will make them softer and more flexible. Going cold will make it harder.

Variations

This is how I like to do fish tacos. The Baja way is to bread and deep fry the fish, and serve it with red cabbage. You can cook up some beans with rice and either serve it on the side or in the tacos. One great idea was to put the cheese on the tortilla as you’re heating it up and let it melt in. It’s really up to you how you want to do it. Feel free to get “unhealthy” on the ingredients if you desire.

If you don’t want to grill the fish, then broil or bake it in the oven.

Burritos are a deep love with me (I actually just ate at Chipotle before writing this article). Unfortunately those burritos can get anywhere from 700 calories to as high as 1400 calories. I’m not kidding.

Long ago when I moved out on my own, I tried to “healthy up” the idea of a burrito because I wanted to enjoy them with less guilt. The end result is less calories than what you would get out of Chipotle or a taquería, and makes for a nice alternative when you get the urges.

You will marinate the chicken first, so plan ahead.

Chicken Burritos

Chicken Burritos

Ingredients

  • 4-5 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 batch of the Mexican Marinate
  • 4 tbsp of olive oil
  • 1-2 large whole wheat or multigrain tortillas
  • 1 cup of cooked rice with or without beans
  • 2 roma tomatoes, seeds removed and chopped
  • 3-4 leaves of Romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1/4 cup of low-fat or fat-free shredded cheese
  • 1/4 cup of your favorite salsa

Instructions

  1. Place the chicken breasts into a sealable container.
  2. Pour the marinate over the chicken and seal the container.
  3. Marinate the chicken for at least four hours. Overnight is better.
  4. Heat up your grill to medium heat, brush the grill with the olive oil when hot.
  5. Place the chicken breasts on the grill and cook until done.
  6. Cut the chicken up into slices.
  7. Heat up a frying pan or skillet on medium heat. Place a tortilla in it and heat it up for one minute per side.
  8. Assemble the burritos with the ingredients as you desire.

Quick Notes

I did not put a recipe for the rice because it’s simple brown rice seasoned with limejuice, cilantro, chili powder and red pepper. Just try on your own and make it ideal to your tastes.

Tags: burrito, chicken, Mexican, seafood, taco

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