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.

Sesame chickpea and halloumi salad with Creamy roast garlic dressing

Sesame chickpea halloumi salad 2If you haven’t experimented with halloumi cheese then you need to start. This cheese is so delicious, is lower in fat content than hard cheeses (halloumi has 25 grams of fat per 100 grams while tasty cheese has 36 grams of fat per 100 grams), is high in protein (20 grams per 100 grams) and is very low in carbohydrates. Pan-fry several slices as a filling addition to a salad or to serve along side poached eggs and avocado.

I used halloumi cheese last night to make this tasty and healthy whole food salad. It was easy to prepare, satisfying and packed with dietary fibre, as well as a range of vitamins and minerals thanks to the kale, tomatoes and avocadoes.

The ingredients are nothing too complicated or out of the ordinary; canned chickpeas baked with sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and chilli flakes, kale massaged with olive oil, lemon juice and salt, tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, pan fried halloumi cheese and a delicious dressing made with roasted garlic, Greek yoghurt, tahini, white wine vinegar and salt – a simple Sunday night dinner.

Sesame chickpea halloumi saladSesame chickpea and halloumi salad with Creamy roast garlic dressing

Makes 2 serves

Ingredients

Sesame chickpeas

1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I did not use all of the chickpeas – save some for a salad the following day)

2 teaspoons sesame oil

1 tablespoon soy sauce

½ tablespoon rice wine vinegar

Sprinkle of chilli flakes

Creamy roast garlic dressing

1 clove garlic, roasted

¼ cup Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon tahini

1 tablespoon water

Salt

Salad

Two handfuls of kale leaves (Aldi now sells chopped kale by the bag which I am very pleased about!!)

Olive oil

Lemon juice

Salt

1 tomato, diced

½ cup cucumber, diced

½ an avocado

250 grams halloumi cheese

Utensils

Baking tray (I used a silicone non-stick tray)

Measuring cups and spoons

Spoon

Aluminum foil

Small mixing bowl

Salad bowl

Sharp knife

Chopping board

Non-stick fry pan

Tongs

Method

  • For the Sesame chickpeas place the drained and rinsed chickpeas into a baking tray. Cover them with the sesame oil, soy sauce, rice wine vinegar and chilli flakes and mix until the chickpeas are covered. Bake the chickpeas at 170°C for about 30 minutes.
  • To roast the garlic, wrap a peeled garlic clove in foil and roast in the oven at 170°C for about 20 minutes. Mix the roasted garlic clove (which will be mushy) with the Greek yoghurt, vinegar, tahini, water and salt.
  • Place the chopped kale into a salad bowl. Drizzle the kale with olive oil, lemon juice and salt. Massage the kale until it softens and is well covered with the oil, lemon juice and salt.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes, cucumber and avocado.
  • Slice the halloumi cheese (about ½ cm thick) and pan fry in a non-stick fry pan over medium heat until the cheese is golden brown on both sides.
  • Add the Sesame chickpeas to the salad and divide between two plates. Top the salad with slices of the fried halloumi cheese and the Creamy roast garlic dressing.

Broccoli rice salad with roasted chickpeas

Broccoli rice saladAlthough I love cauliflower rice, I purchased some broccoli over the weekend (very cheaply might I add) and decided to try making a broccoli rice salad. I pan fried the broccoli ‘rice’ in some sesame oil for extra flavour and oven roasted chickpeas to go with the salad. The dressing was made with tahini, soy sauce and lemon juice, which complimented the broccoli well.

Broccoli rice salad 2Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients; this salad is actually quite easy to assemble. I roasted the chickpeas while preparing the broccoli rice and the remainder of the salad. I found this salad satisfying enough to have as a meal (well, I had a bit of dessert afterwards too). Try this tasty and healthy version of a rice salad without the refined carbohydrates.

Broccoli rice salad with roasted chickpeas

Ingredients

Roasted chickpeas

1 400 gram tin of chickpeas, drained and rinsed

2 tablespoons soy sauce

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon chilli flakes

Broccoli rice

2 – 3 heads of broccoli (I used 3 as mine were small but 2 large heads would be sufficient), chopped into florets

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Salt

Pepper

 

1 red capsicum, diced

1 tomato, diced

2 shallots (green part only), finely chopped

¼ cup of sunflower seeds, lightly roasted

Dressing

2 tablespoons tahini

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 tablespoon hot water

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon chilli flakes

Utensils

Chopping board

Sharp knife

Food processor

Non-stick fry pan

Wooden spoon

Baking tray

Baking paper

Measuring cups and spoons

Spoon

Small mixing bowl

Salad bowl

Method

  • Line a baking tray with baking paper (I actually used a silicone-based non-stick baking tray which did not require baking paper) and spread the chickpeas out in the tray. Coat the chickpeas in the soy sauce, ginger and chilli flakes and bake for about 20 minutes at 160°C.
  • Meanwhile, add the broccoli florets to a food processor in batches and process until it resembles the texture of rice. Add the garlic clove during one of these batches of processing.
  • Add the sesame oil to a non-stick fry pan. Fry the broccoli rice over medium heat until it begins to turn golden brown. Season with salt and pepper.
  • Prepare the remaining ingredients for the salad. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing into a small mixing bowl and mix well to combine.
  • Once the chickpeas are roasted, combine all the ingredients together in a salad bowl. Pour the dressing over the salad and mix it through.

Beetroot coleslaw

Beetroot coleslawAdd some beetroot to your coleslaw for additional health benefits, such as the antioxidant betanin, which is abundant in beetroot, plus the colour and taste are great. This ‘clean’ dressing is made with Greek yoghurt, Dijon mustard, apple cider vinegar, salt and pepper and coconut milk for sweetness.

Beetroot coleslaw

Ingredients

1 medium beetroot, peeled and grated

1 carrot, grated

¼ of a head of cabbage, finely sliced

2 shallots (green part only) finely sliced

Dressing

1 cup Greek yoghurt

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

3 tablespoons coconut milk

Salt

Pepper

Beetroot coleslaw 2Utensils

Grater

Sharp knife

Chopping board

Salad bowl

Mixing bowl

Spoon

Method

  • Combine all the ingredients for the coleslaw into a salad bowl and mix to combine.
  • For the dressing mix the ingredients together until well combined. Pour the dressing over the coleslaw and mix it through.

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.

My experiments with ‘aquafaba’

Aquafaba chocolate mousseHave you tried cooking with ‘aquafaba’? Wait, have you heard of aquafaba? It is the liquid from a can of chickpeas and it can be used as an egg replacement, more specifically an egg white replacement, in vegan cooking (find out all about it here http://aquafaba.com/index.html). Amazingly, you can whip this chickpea brine, or ‘aquafaba’ as it has been named, and it becomes light and fluffy like egg whites. Although I now eat meat after 10 years of being vegetarian, I would say that I eat a predominantly plant-based diet and I like to experiment with healthier, low calorie versions of desserts. So when I saw recipes popping up on vegan food blogs that I follow, I was intrigued and had to give it a try.

Aquafaba

I experimented with aquafaba in a chocolate mousse and in a Mocha orange bean brownie. It really does become light and fluffy when you beat it. It can be used to make vegan meringue, however, I have no desire to make a meringue as it seems like a lot of effort. I decided to go with a simple, no added sugar chocolate mousse made with coconut butter. Most recipes will instruct you to whip the aquafaba with an electric mixer but I do not own one so I just used my food processor. While I don’t think I quite achieved the soft peaks I should have, I was still quite impressed with the final texture of the mousse. I used the remainder of the aquafaba from a can of chickpeas in a Mocha orange bean brownie made with cannellini beans. It was good too; moist without being overly rich and made without any refined carbohydrates or butter. I served the mousse with a big slice of brownie for a tasty, no refined carbohydrate dessert.

Mocha orange brownie 2So what about the science behind this amazing substance? I would assume that the ability of aquafaba to form a foam is due to the proteins in the brine from the chickpeas, which act the same way as the proteins in egg whites. As you beat the chickpea brine, the proteins from the chickpeas become denatured or unfolded. This exposes both hydrophobic (water repelling) and hydrophilic (water attracting) amino acids. Also as you beat the brine, air is introduced. The denatured proteins gather together where the air and water meet and bonds form between the denatured proteins creating a foam and holding the incorporated air in place.

Mocha orange brownieIf you are curious about aquafaba then I encourage you to give it a go. It is such a cheap ingredient that it doesn’t matter if you screw it up the first time; think about how many times you have poured chickpea brine down the sink. My first attempt at using aquafaba was in a banana and coconut loaf. I used way too much and the loaf fell apart.

Do I have any suggestions on how to use the chickpeas themselves? Yes I do. I like to oven roast or pan roast chickpeas for a nice addition to a salad. I oven roasted the chickpeas from this particular can by spreading them out on a baking tray lined with baking paper and covering them with a couple of tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of tomato paste, chopped garlic, salt and pepper. I added the roasted chickpeas to a salad made with rocket, baby cos lettuce, tomato, mushrooms roasted with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper (I put them on the same tray as the chickpeas) and pan fried halloumi cheese. It was a delicious whole food dinner and dessert with plenty of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Chickpea halloumi salad 2Chocolate mousse made with ‘aquafaba’

Ingredients

½ cup of aquafaba

2 tablespoons coconut butter, melted but cooled

2 tablespoons coconut milk

2 tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 tablespoon granulated erythritol/stevia blend (I like Natvia brand)

Utensils

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Small bowl

Spoon

Method

  • Add the aquafaba to the food processor and process until it is light and fluffy. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor and process until well combined. Scoop the mousse into a bowl and refrigerate until the mousse is firm.

 Mocha orange bean brownie made with ‘aquafaba’

Ingredients

¼ cup of aqua faba

½ cup of cannellini beans

2 tablespoons of coconut butter or oil, melted

2 tablespoons cocoa powder (I think 3 would have been better)

1 orange, peeled and chopped into quarters

2 tablespoons stevia

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 heaped teaspoon of instant coffee

½ cup coconut milk

½ cup coconut flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

Utensils

Measuring cups and spoons

Food processor

Mixing bowl

Spoon

20cm x 20cm baking tray

Baking paper

Method

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C. Firstly, add the aquafaba to the food processor and process until it is light and fluffy. Add in the cannellini beans, coconut butter or oil, cocoa powder, orange, stevia, vanilla extract, instant coffee and coconut milk and process until the mixture is smooth.
  • Mix together the coconut flour and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Add the mixture from the food processor to the flour and mix well to combine. Scoop the brownie mixture into a 20cm x 20cm baking tray lined with baking paper. Bake for 40 minutes or until the brownie is firm. Allow the brownie to cool before removing it from the tray using the baking paper. Allow it to cool completely before slicing.

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.