Healthy Mexican inspired side dishes

Healthy mexican side dishesI like cooking Mexican inspired food. I say ‘Mexican inspired’ because my Mexican dishes are far from traditional Mexican. I am often substituting ingredients to make my dishes lower in calories and carbohydrates, and easier to make. I do, however, try to use Mexican flavours, such as garlic, onion, chillies, tomatoes, cumin, lime juice and salt.

Here are a few of my healthier versions of Mexican inspired side dishes.

Healthier Chilli con queso

This dip or side dish is typically made from a blend of melted cheese, cream and chillies – delicious, yet very high in calories. So I made my own version with low fat cream cheese, coconut milk and Greek yoghurt. Now I can enjoy this side dish any night of the week. Spoon this con queso over a bean and vegetable dish or use it as a dip with carrot and celery sticks.

Ingredients

250 grams low fat cream cheese

½ cup coconut milk

¼ cup Greek yoghurt

1 clove garlic

½ red onion

½ a tin of chopped tomatoes

1 teaspoon minced chillies (or adjust to desired taste)

Salt

Sprinkle of paprika

Utensils

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor or high-speed blender (I use an Omniblend – buy yours here and help support my blog http://www.omniblendaustralia.com.au/ref/54/)

Small saucepan

Spoon

Method

  • Add all the ingredients to a food processor or high-speed blender.
  • Process/blend until the mixture is smooth.
  • Pour the mixture into a saucepan and simmer over low heat, stirring frequently, until the Chilli con queso thickens.
  • Allow the Chilli con queso to cool briefly before serving warm as a dip or spooned over a Mexican meal. For an even tastier dip, leave the con queso overnight after simmering then gently reheat it before serving.

 Smoky avocado dip

Smoky avocado dipI use tahini frequently in salad dressings and sauces, but I hadn’t combined it with avocado and I’m glad I did because it worked well.

Ingredients

1 avocado

1 heaped tablespoon tahini

½ cup Greek yoghurt

½ teaspoon paprika

Juice from ½ a lime

Salt

Utensils

Bowl

Sharp knife

Spoon

Fork

Measuring cups and spoons

Method

  • Mash the avocado in a bowl with a fork.
  • Add in the remaining ingredients and mix well.

 Lime cauliflower rice

I do like my cauliflower rice. It has a similar texture to regular rice but is far lower in calories and carbohydrates. I added lime juice and salt for a more Mexican flavour.

Makes two serves

Ingredients

1/3 head of cauliflower

Juice from ½ lime

Salt

Utensils

Food processor

Sharp knife

Chopping board

Method

  • Add the cauliflower, lime juice and salt to the food processor. Process until the cauliflower resembles the texture of rice. Heat the cauliflower in the microwave for two minutes before serving.

Spinach, pumpkin and chickpea patties with Carrot tzatziki

Spinach pumpkin chickpea pattiesThis meal is absolutely loaded with vegetables. I baked these tasty Spinach, pumpkin and chickpea patties to keep them low in calories, but they are still full of flavour. I served them with a tasty Carrot tzatziki. I used the food processor to do the majority of the work for the patties and the tzatziki, so it was actually quite simple, too. Serve the patties with a side salad for a complete meal.

Spinach, pumpkin and chickpea patties

Makes 10 small patties

Ingredients

1 cup pumpkin, cubed

200 grams frozen spinach

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 clove garlic

¼ cup fresh chives (I used chives because I have some growing in a pot, but fresh parsley would work too)

½ tablespoon dried basil (or fresh if you have it)

Salt

Pepper

1/3 cup coconut flour, sifted

1 egg

Utensils

Sharp knife

Chopping board

Measuring cups and spoons

Medium sized pot

Strainer

Food processor

Large baking tray

Baking paper

Spoon

Spatula

Method

  • Pre-heat the oven to 170°C.
  • Boil enough water in a pot to cover the pumpkin well. Once the water is boiling add in the cubed pumpkin and the frozen spinach and boil until the pumpkin is soft.
  • Meanwhile, add the rinsed chickpeas to a food processor along with the garlic and herbs. Process until the chickpeas form a smooth paste.
  • Once the pumpkin is soft, drain the pumpkin and spinach. To save washing up, add the processed chickpeas to the pot. Now add the boiled pumpkin and spinach to the food processor and process until smooth. Add the processed pumpkin and spinach back into the pot along with the chickpeas. Mix to combine.
  • Add the coconut flour, egg and salt and pepper to taste to the pattie mixture. Mix well.
  • Line the baking tray with baking paper. Use the spoon to scoop out 10 small patties onto the lined baking tray. Flatten and smooth the patties with the back of the spoon. Bake at 170°C for 45 minutes (if you feel like carefully flipping them after 30 minutes you can, but it is not totally necessary).

Carrot tzatziki

Carrot tzatziki

Ingredients

1 clove garlic, roasted

2 small or 1 medium carrot, peeled

1 cup Greek yoghurt

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon honey

½ teaspoon cumin

¼ teaspoon paprika

Salt

Utensils

Foil

Sharp knife

Peeler

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Method

  • Peel the clove of garlic and wrap it in foil. Roast the garlic in the oven at 170°C for 15 minutes.
  • Cut the ends off the carrots and peel. Roughly chop the peeled carrots and add them to the food processor. Process them until they are finely chopped.
  • Add in the remaining ingredients and process until all ingredients are well combined.

Olive and Sriracha hummus

Make this tasty hummus as spicy as you like by varying the amount of Sriracha chilli sauce.

olive sriracha hummus

Olive and Sriracha hummus

Ingredients

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

½ a 350 gram jar of pitted kalamata olives, drained

1 heaped tablespoon of tahini

2 tablespoons coconut milk

1 teaspoon lemon juice

2 cloves garlic, roasted

Salt

Pepper

1 tablespoon Sriracha chilli sauce (vary this amount depending on your taste)

Utensils

Strainer

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Spoon

Method

  • Add the chickpeas to the food processor and process until they are roughly chopped.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and process until the hummus is smooth (some lumps may still remain). Scrape the sides of the food processor as necessary.
  • Taste and add more Sriracha chilli sauce to achieve your desired spiciness.

Two ways to use Romesco sauce

Romesco sauceI have ramped up my training 4 weeks out from my next adventure race to ensure that I am as fit as my schedule will allow. This means easy, quick, but still healthy and nutritious meals for dinner during the week (which I normally make anyway but I have even less time than usual to cook). I am not one to compromise on taste, however. This Romesco sauce with chicken and vegetables and Romesco salad are two examples of simple, tasty, whole food meals.

I had actually never heard of Romesco before, but I was Googling something and I came across it. Once I discovered what it was I had to have a go at making it. Apparently this sauce originated in the coastal city of Tarragona in Northeastern Spain and is served with seafood. Well this sauce is that good you can have it on just about anything. Most recipes use loads of olive oil and even some crusty bread, but I ditched both of these ingredients to make the recipe as clean and as ‘whole food’ as possible and it still turned out very delicious.

Romesco chicken and vegetablesThe first time I prepared Romesco sauce I cooked chicken breast, vegetables and kidney beans in it. To save time, I roasted the capsicums the night before so that they were ready to peel and throw into the food processor the following night. I served mine with Tomato cauliflower rice (cauliflower rice processed with a little bit of tomato paste, paprika, salt and pepper) while the boyfriend had his with steamed white rice. It lasted us two nights which made life easier.

Romesco saladWell it just so happened that I picked up a bag of red capsicums today for only $1 so I had to make Romesco sauce again. This time I used the Romesco as a salad dressing. You could easily prepare a big batch on the weekend then use it in some meals during the week. I have made it with almonds and with walnuts and both are equally delicious. I imagine this sauce would work well on fish, vegetables or in a cauliflower risotto.

Romesco sauce

Ingredients

2 red capsicums

1 clove garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

¼ teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

½ cup almonds or walnuts, toasted

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Utensils

Chopping board

Sharp knife

Large baking tray

Baking paper

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the capsicum in half and remove the tops, membranes and seeds. Roast the capsicum halves along with the garlic clove in the oven for about 45 minutes or until the capsicum is tender and the skin begins to brown.

Roasted capsicum

  • Place the roasted capsicums into a heatproof container and put the lid on. Leave the capsicums in the container for at least 10 minutes. This steaming process helps to remove the skin. Peel the skins off the capsicums and discard.
  • Lightly toast the nuts in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring or shaking the pan frequently.
  • Place the peeled capsicums plus the remaining ingredients into a food processor and process until a fairly smooth, paste-like consistency is achieved (some small chunks may remain).

Romesco chicken and vegetables

Makes 4 serves

Ingredients

1 chicken breast, cubed

1 vegetable stock cube

2 zucchini, sliced

½ a red capsicum, cubed

200 grams of mushrooms, sliced

1 400 gram can of kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 serve of Romesco sauce

Cauliflower rice or white rice to serve

Utensils

Chopping board

Sharp knife

Non-stick fry pan

Wooden spoon

Food processor (for cauliflower rice)

Method

  • Add the chicken breast along with the crumbled vegetable stock cube and about a ¼ of a cup of water to a non-stick fry pan. Cook the chicken on high heat until it is almost cooked through adding more water as necessary to prevent sticking.
  • Add in the vegetables and cook until the vegetables are tender.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add in the Romesco sauce and kidney beans and about ½ a cup of water.
  • Mix the sauce through to cover all the ingredients and continue cooking until the sauce is heated through. Serve over cauliflower rice or steamed rice.

Romesco salad 2

Romesco salad

Ingredients

4 – 5 baby cos lettuce leaves or any salad greens you like

1 tomato, sliced finely

½ cup frozen peas, thawed

1 carrot, grated into ribbons

½ an avocado, sliced into chunks

100 grams of feta cheese, cut into small cubes

2 boiled eggs, sliced

Romesco sauce

Salt

Pepper

Utensils

Chopping board

Sharp knife

Salad bowl

Method

  • Combine all the ingredients into a salad bowl and drizzle with as much Romesco sauce as you desire. Season with salt and pepper.

How to make tahini

How to make tahini at homeTahini is so good. It has a smoky, nutty flavour that works well in so many dishes – sweet and savoury. I use tahini in salad dressings, in sauces, on eggs (in fact I had this homemade tahini on eggs this morning and I will describe these awesome eggs below), in dips, in brownies, in slices and even in my coconut milk ‘ice cream’. So I thought it was about time I had a go at making my own. It turns out it is very easy and the texture is great too. I actually prefer the texture of my homemade tahini to the store bought tahini. Here are the steps:

Step 1: Oven roast your sesame seeds at 160°C for about 15 minutes or until they start to turn golden brown. Do this on a silicon based baking tray or line a baking tray with baking paper. I started with 1 and a ½ cups of sesame seeds and this produced half a jar. Next time I would go with at least 2 cups because I figure if I am going to put in that effort then I may as well make a decent amount.

Step 2: Add the roasted sesame seeds to a food processor and process until the sesame seeds, basically, turn into tahini. You will need to scrape the sides of the food processor with a spoon during this process. This took no longer than 10 minutes (I wasn’t timing to be honest).

Step 3: Pour your delicious tahini into a clean jar and enjoy!

Not only is tahini delicious and versatile, but it also has beneficial properties. Sesame seeds contain about 50% fat, predominantly in the form of the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) linoleic acid (1, 2). PUFAs have been shown to have cardiovascular protective effects (3). Be mindful, however, that due to the high fat content of sesame seeds, tahini is high in calories (like all nut and seed butters), so if you are actively trying to lose weight I suggest you limit the amount you eat. As well as the oil, sesame seeds also contain about 20% protein, a range of vitamins and minerals, including calcium, magnesium, iron and vitamin B. The most interesting compounds in sesame seeds are the sesame lignans, which include sesamin, sesamolin and sesaminol. I have previously talked about these lignans in my post ‘Low carb bibimbap’. Research into these lignans has shown that they display antioxidant properties (4), meaning these compounds can scavenge free radicals, which are believed to contribute to life style diseases such as circulatory disorders and aging. Additionally, research conducted on lignans has shown serum lipid lowering and cholesterol lowering effects in experimental animals (5-7) and humans (8).

Homemade tahini on eggsSo you are probably wondering about the cost. Did I save money by making my own tahini? Well I paid $9.00/kg for sesame seeds and I used about 250 grams ($2.25) to make approximately half a jar. I normally pay $5.10 for a full jar of tahini, so I could potentially save myself 60 cents per jar. 60 cents does not sound like much but I buy a jar of tahini almost every fortnight, so that is $15.60 a year. If I could buy sesame seeds even cheaper then I could save even more. Will I continue to make my own tahini? If I have the time then yes, I probably would as I quite enjoyed the process and I enjoyed the texture. Plus there was no added oil – just sesame seeds. I had scrambled eggs, vegetables and lentils this morning with my delicious homemade tahini on top, along with cottage cheese, extra sesame seeds, salt, pepper and some homemade fermented sweet chilli sauce – similar to sriracha. I may post this recipe soon. Have a go at making tahini. You will be impressed.

  1. Beroza M & Kinman ML (1955) Sesamin, sesamolin and sesamol content of the oil of sesame seed as affected by strain, location growth, aging, and frost damage. J Am Oil Chem Soc 32:348-350.
  2. Chen P, et al. (2005) Dietary sesame reduces serum cholesterol and enhances antioxidant capacity in hypercholesterolemia. Nutr Res 25:559-567.
  3. Morris MC (1994) Dietary fats and blood pressure. Journal of cardiovascular risk 1(1):21-30.
  4. Fukuda Y, Nagate M, Osawa T, & Namiki M (1986) Chemical aspects of the antioxidative activity of unroasted sesame seed oil and the effect of using the oil for frying. Agri Biol Chem 50:857.
  5. Hirose N, et al. (1991) Inhibition of cholesterol absorption and synthesis in rats by sesamin. Journal of lipid research 32(4):629-638.
  6. Ide T, et al. (2001) Sesamin, a sesame lignan, decreases fatty acid synthesis in rat liver accompanying the down-regulation of sterol regulatory element binding protein-1. Biochimica et biophysica acta 1534(1):1-13.
  7. Sugano M, et al. (1990) Influence of sesame lignans on various lipid parameters in rats. Agric Biol Chem Tokyo 54:2669-2673.
  8. Alipoor B, Haghighian MK, Sadat BE, & Asghari M (2012) Effect of sesame seed on lipid profile and redox status in hyperlipidemic patients. International journal of food sciences and nutrition 63(6):674-678.

Roast beetroot and cauliflower pesto

Beetroot cauliflower pestoAlthough I love pesto because it is so versatile and flavoursome, low carb and can be made with whole foods, I am aware of the high calorie content. I am always trying to reduce the calorie content while still keeping the flavour and texture through the use of ingredients like cannellini beans, ricotta or feta cheese and even frozen peas. Last night I tried something different and included roasted cauliflower along with roasted beetroot. It turned out really well. The texture and flavour were great. It was so tasty I ended up using it as a salad dressing on a simple massaged kale salad with mushrooms and tomatoes roasted in balsamic vinegar. Tonight I may have it smothered on some chicken. And, as with most of my recipes, it was simple to make. The most annoying part is the peeling of the roasted beetroot due to the mess created, but I found that if you roast the beetroot wrapped in foil with the skin on, open the foil once the beetroot is tender and allow it to cool briefly then peel the beetroot whilst it is still sitting on the foil, you can reduce the mess.

Beetroot cauliflower pesto 2Roast beetroot and cauliflower pesto

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of pesto

Ingredients

1 medium to large beetroot

¼ head of cauliflower

1 clove garlic

½ cup walnuts

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt

Pepper

Utensils

Foil

Sharp knife

Chopping board

Small baking tray (non-stick or lined with baking paper)

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the stems off the beetroot and wrap the whole beetroot in foil. Roast the beetroot for about 45 minutes or until it is tender.
  • Meanwhile, chop the cauliflower into small florets. Spread the cauliflower florets out onto a baking tray (non-stick or lined with baking paper). Roughly chop the garlic clove and spread this among the cauliflower. Season the cauliflower and garlic with salt and pepper and roast for about 40 minutes or until the cauliflower is golden brown and tender.
  • Once the beetroot is roasted remove it from the foil (or for easier clean up leaving it sitting on the foil), allow to cool briefly and peel the beetroot. Roughly chop the beetroot and add it to the food processor. Pulse briefly to roughly chop it.
  • Add in the roasted cauliflower and garlic, walnuts, balsamic vinegar and extra salt and pepper to taste. Process the pesto until a fairly smooth consistency is achieved (about 4 – 5 minutes). Some chunks will remain.

Easy pesto chicken

Easy pesto chickenAs I mentioned last night, my plan was to cook a chicken breast in the remaining Tomato and olive pesto to make this quick and easy dinner. I cooked the diced chicken breast in a non-stick fry pan with a small amount of water, adding water as necessary to prevent sticking. Once the chicken was just about cooked through, I added in the pesto (about 1/4 of a cup), 1/2 a cup of low fat ricotta cheese and about 1/4 cup of water along with the remaining cannellini beans used in the making of the pesto. I turned down the heat and let that simmer for about 10 minutes while I prepared a quick salad of kale massaged with a drizzle of olive oil, lemon juice and salt, tomato, red capsicum and carrot. I divided the salad up between two plates and put the pesto chicken on top. There was no need for a salad dressing as the pesto sauce was sufficient. The boyfriend had some steamed white rice for extra carbohydrates. Simple and nutritious with protein, fibre, some fats from the pesto, sufficient carbohydrates from the beans and a mixture of vitamins and minerals from the vegetables.