From tortillas to posole, mariscos to mole, Mexican food is big on taste. Forget the goopy stuff most American Mexican restaurants serve. Real Mexican food is complex, balanced and varied.
While it is true that much of Mexican cuisine is based on corn, you can also savor delicious mariscos, or seafood dishes, that are a specialty of Mexico's coastal cities, or enjoy the stews and complex sauces of Mexico's mountain regions. There is even a specific cuisine of the Mexican desert based on a variety of cactus plants.
But common to all the many regions of Mexico are chilies, an essential ingredient in Mexican cuisine. There are roughly 60 different kinds grown, from mild Anaheims (usually stuffed) to smoky poblanos and fiery serranos, and they may be used fresh or dried. Other flavors components include cumin and coriander, cilantro, tomatillos (resembling tiny green tomatoes in husks and with a tart flavor), Mexican cinnamon and the slightly sweet-crunchy root vegetable called jicama. You will also find pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, added as a crunchy garnish, and quinoa, a grain served as a side dish.
Many Mexican restaurants have wood grills for cooking meats, poultry and fish. Stick to the grilled specialties and you can't go wrong.
Know Your Menu Posole: A spicy stew, usually of pork, made with hominy, onions, garlic, chilies and spices
Ceviche: Raw seafood marinated in citrus juice
Escabèche: A sweet-and-sour vinegar mixture with aromatic vegetables, spices and hot and sweet peppers; usually used to cook shrimp and other seafood
Tamales: Masa (a kind of dough) enclosing meats, vegetables and chilies, which is then wrapped in corn husks and steamed
Mole: A complex, rich sauce usually served with turkey, chicken and other poultry. It includes sweet and savory ingredients such as cinnamon, cloves, garlic, raisins and chocolate
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At Mexican Restaurants
Choose... grilled chicken wings with ranch dressing
Instead of... chili poppers or chilies rellenos
Choose... sopa de albóndigas (meatball and vegetable soup)
Instead of... quesadillas
Choose... jicama salad
Instead of... beef nachos
Choose... grilled pescado special (fresh fish of the day) with grilled vegetables and chilies, or mixedseafood (marisco)
Instead of... any taco platter
Choose... pollo asada (grilled marinated chicken) with pico de gallo salsa
Instead of... chicken chimichanga
Choose... camarónes al ajili (Shrimp in garlic sauce)
Instead of... shrimp enchilada
Choose... grilled skirt steak with onions and chilies
Instead of... beef burrito
Choose... turkey mole
Instead of... chicken tortilla
Tips -- Tacos, burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, flautas and chimichangas are all prepared with either a corn or a flour tortilla. It's fine to order these, but be sure to pass on the tortilla wrapper for lower carb diets. In addition, almost every Mexican dish will be accompanied by a heaping plateful of tortillas, just as Italian restaurants serve a breadbasket with meals. Ask your waiter not to bring these to the table.
-- Guacamole, made with nutrient-dense, fiber-rich avocados, is a good start to a meal. Instead of tortilla chips, ask for cucumber or jicama sticks for dipping.
-- If you are past the Induction phase and crave a margarita, ask for a real one made with tequila, lime juice and triple sec. It will be lower in carbs than one made with a sugary sour mix.