Growing up in the United States, I had a very specific idea of Mexican cuisine. This is understandable, with big fast-food franchises and plenty of restaurants advertising their 2 for 1 margaritas and guacamole. My first educational experience of Mexican food came from the pre-school where I worked for a year in Mexico City. I taught English to 5- and 6-year-olds, and we had lunch together in the classroom every day. Every week, a parent was in charge of making lunch for the entire class. I saw and tried things I had never even heard of. After a couple of months, I was intrigued by some of the things that were repeatedly on the menu, such as jicama and hibiscus water. I began to do some research on these newly tried elements of Mexican food, and I was surprised to find many of them actually aid the digestive and immune systems. Here are my five favorite healthy ingredients that will make your Taco Tuesdays more authentic and less guilty!
5 Ways To Have Healthy Taco Tuesdays
While I have occasionally seen hibiscus used as a meat replacement in vegan tacos and a way to add excitement to salads, it is most often used to make the common drink here in Mexico: hibiscus water. Children at the pre-school had it almost every day, and it will almost always be on any Mexican restaurant or street stall’s menu. While hibiscus water is not recommended for people that suffer from kidney failure, it is a great diuretic. The best way to make it is in water, without boiling so it does not lose its properties. In order to balance out its tartness, add some honey or lime juice, and serve cold for a refreshing summer drink. While there are more studies to be made regarding human consumption and health benefits, hibiscus tea has been shown to lower both blood pressure and bad cholesterol.
At first I thought this was a fruit, but it is actually a root vegetable of a bean-producing vine that can grow up to 20 feet in length. From the outside, they look like a giant potato that can weigh up to fifty pounds. Inside it is white and crunchy, kind of like a water chestnut. Rich in fiber, jicama is great for digestion. Both children and adults love snacking on jicama here in Mexico, and it is almost always sold by street fruit vendors. Since it has a low glycemic index, it does not cause a spike in blood sugar which makes it a great option for people with diabetes. Jicama has also been linked to preventing blood clots. While you can have it plain, it is pretty flavorless. Here in Mexico, people will add things like lime juice and salt, tajin, or some kind of sauce. When grated, it can be a great salad topping.
This is one of my favorite toppings for tacos! It is believed that the Aztecs were the first ones to discover the properties of nopal. As the nopal gets older, it gets harder and more difficult to eat, which is why it is important to eat it while still young. It is rich in antioxidants, and its anti-viral properties make it a personal favorite. Not to mention, I love its mixture of crunchy texture and gooey sap after a few minutes on the pan. This is not something I have seen children eat, but it is a common side dish for adults.
4. Squash blossoms
Also known as “zucchini flowers,” they are a low calorie option (unless fried) when you are eating quesadillas. Compared to the other ingredients, they are not as impressive in terms of health benefits and nutritional value. However, they also make for a beautiful garnish, and they offer vitamins A and C. If you’re looking for a low-key recipe, check out my squash blossoms nachos for a lazy day.
I had heard of chia seeds long before moving to Mexico, but I was surprised to find them regularly in flavored water. Mexicans love accompanying their meals with “flavored water,” which is juice with more water than fruit. These are blended fruits (like guava and passion fruit) with a lot more water than a juice or smoothies would have. This dilutes the fruit enough so you can taste some flavor. I remember seeing co-workers drinking regular water with a teaspoon of chia seeds mixed in. Once I tried it out, I loved the benefits. I found that drinking water with chia every day helped me regulate my bowel movement. A well-known superfood, they are rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, and zinc.
Which of these ingredients will you add into your next Taco Tuesday?
Also by Vanessa: How I Had The Most Spiritual Experience Of My Life In The Hot Springs Of Manialtepec
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Photo: Nicolas Gras , Brooke Lark , Laury Raiken, Miguel Urieta , ARLOUK , tetep_cs via Unsplash