Heart-Healthy Fare With a Latin Accent

For the average heart-healthy consumer, the fat and calories found in typical Mexican food is too high a price to pay for good flavor. Americanized versions of such popular dishes as tacos, tostadas, burritos, refried beans and even fajitas can derive as much as 50% of their calories from fat.

The primary concern with Mexican food is that so many of the favorite dishes, such as those described above, are loaded with higher-fat cheeses, fried in oil or use fattier cuts of beef as their basis. Nutritionists recommend that consumers opt for low-fat cheeses, steamed tortillas, lean meats, skinless poultry, and polyunsaturated or mono-unsaturated oils instead of lard for frying beans, rice and tortillas. In this way, total elimination of Mexican food from the diet is not necessary.

Another option is to try some of the delicious Mexican vegetarian dishes that offer the same Latin flavor but contain a lot less fat. Most of these items contain vegetables, grains, legumes and some milk and cheese products--but the oil, cream, large amounts of cheese and other fatty ingredients have been reduced or have been replaced by low-fat alternatives.

Prolonged Heating


The whipping cream, normally called for in dishes such as chile strips or cream and corn, have been replaced with half and half or low fat milk. Another way to cut back on the amount of fat in the following recipes is to replace high-fat cheeses, such as Cheddar, Jack and cream, with lower-in-fat substitutes. The butter also is reduced in these recipes. We suggest whipped butter or vegetable-oil-based margarine in recipes that originally required butter. The aeration process tends to make a lighter product that is ideal for sauteeing but is not, however, a suitable replacement in baked goods.

“Fully satisfying and high in protein, these Latin-flavored vegetarian recipes can be enjoyed by the entire family,” said Regina Cordova, food and nutrition consultant for the California Milk Advisory Board, which developed several of these recipes.


(Yellow Rice)


3 tablespoons oil

1 1/2 teaspoons annatto seeds

1 cup long grain rice

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

2 cups chicken stock

3 diced or whole hot red chiles



1/2 cup sliced almonds

Rajas de Chile Verde

Heat oil in medium saucepan. Lightly fry annatto seeds in hot oil. Remove from oil when dark brown, then discard seeds. (Oil will be dark orange in color.)

Add rice to oil and saute, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes or until toasted. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is tender.

In separate saucepan, bring stock to boil. Add boiling stock and chile to rice along with salt to taste. Bring mixture to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until liquid is absorbed, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from heat and add almonds. Cover and let steam 5 minutes. Serve hot over Rajas. Makes 6 servings.

Rajas de Chile Verde

(Chile Strips)

2 tablespoons oil


1 medium onion, sliced into 1 1/2-inch strips

10 chiles poblanos, roasted, peeled and cut into strips

1/2 cup lowfat milk

1 cup shredded lowfat Jack cheese

Heat oil in skillet and lightly saute onions until transparent. Add chile strips and salt and saute until heated through. Reduce heat and stir in milk. Add cheese and stir until melted.


(Corn and Cream)

3 tablespoons whipped butter

1/4 cup chopped onion

1 clove garlic, minced

2 chopped epazote leaves, optional

1 sweet red pepper, chopped

1 (10-ounce) package frozen corn

1 (1/2-pound) package Neufachatel cheese, cubed

1/2 cup half and half or milk


Melt butter in skillet and saute onions and garlic until tender. Add epazote and red pepper and cook until tender. Add corn and saute briefly.

Reduce heat to low and add cream cheese, stirring until cheese has softened and begins to melt. Slowly stir in half and half and simmer 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Makes 6 servings.

Note: While half and half is not considered a low-fat dairy product, it replaces the high-fat whipping cream originally called for in the recipe.


(Mushrooms in Chipotle Cream Sauce)

3 tablespoons whipped butter

2 cups mushrooms, sliced

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 cup milk

2 tablespoons adobo sauce from 8-ounce can chipotle chile in adobo

2 tablespoons cotija cheese, finely crumbled

1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt butter in skillet and saute mushrooms, onion and garlic until onions are transparent. Add half and half and adobo. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, until sauce is reduced by half, about 20 minutes. Add cheese and salt. Stir over low heat until cheese melts. Makes 6 servings.


(Fruit and Milk Blender Drinks)

1 cup cold lowfat milk

3/4 cup desired fruit, peeled, seeded and cut into small cubes

2 tablespoons honey, optional

4 to 6 ice cubes

Place milk, fruit and honey in blender. Cover and blend on medium speed until very smooth. Add ice cubes, 1 at time, while blender is running and process until completely crushed. Taste for sweetness, then serve in tall glass. Makes 1 serving.

Note: Suggested fruit, nut and herb combinations: 3/4 cup papaya and 2 tablespoons lime juice; 1/2 whole banana and 1 cup strawberries; 1 whole banana and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 3/4 cup diced honeydew melon and 3 mint leaves; 3/4 cup chopped pineapple and 1/2 cucumber, chopped; 3/4 cup diced cantaloupe and 2 tablespoons lime juice; 1 whole banana and 3/4 cup orange juice; 1/2 cup chopped pineapple and 1/4 cup ground almonds.