Editor’s Note: When we heard that Jim Peyton was writing a fifth book on Mexican cooking, this one focusing on naturally healthful dishes, we asked him to tell us about his work. The book will be out next fall. Peyton has authored four well regarded books on Mexican cooking, history and culture and is finishing a fifth for University of Texas Press. He appears on television shows, conducts cooking classes and demonstrations, lectures on Mexican cuisine and its history, and writes articles for magazines such as Fine Cooking, Texas Highways, and Food & Wine.
By Jim Peyton
When the University of Texas Press asked me to consider writing a book on healthy Mexican cooking, I was thrilled.
But then I stopped to consider if I could really produce the approximately 200 recipes that had the necessary characteristics. They would need to have healthy nutrition profiles, be delicious enough to serve in restaurants, and easy enough for home cooks to prepare. Sure, I had the 15 or so recipes that I use regularly, but what about the remaining 185?
My intuition told me there would be enough, but before signing the contract I wanted to be certain.
After spending a week with my collection of nearly 300 Mexican cookbooks, most of them in Spanish, as well as my own recollections from years of travel, I realized there were more healthy and delectable dishes than I had imagined. The real task would be deciding what not to include!
The guidelines I established were these: Entrée recipes should be under 450 calories and relatively low in fat, except in a few cases where the fat comes from something as healthy as extra virgin olive oil.
There would be none of the usual diet-book shenanigans, such as substituting nonfat yogurt for mayonnaise, which usually destroys what made the dish delicious in the first place.
Nor would I tell readers that with a little experience, things like smoothies, raw nuts, and vegetables would be as satisfying as their favorite comfort foods. Those latter two rules are the result of my observation that people who enjoy food use it as a reward for enduring the stress of daily life. If a meal does not provide that compensation, they will refuse to make it a permanent part of their diets.
The recipes also had to be made with readily obtainable ingredients and not require long or difficult preparation, Therefore, the task was to find enough Mexican recipes that are delicious, naturally healthy, and relatively easy to prepare.
The search encompassed all aspects of Mexican cooking, including the traditional seafood, meat and vegetarian entrees and antojitos mexicanos, which are the corn and tortilla based specialties, such as tacos, enchiladas, tamales, etc. Also included were the upscale elegant cooking often referred to as alta cocina Mexicana and the various north-of-the-border styles of Mexican cooking. A few of the selected recipes are: Sopa Tarasca (Tarascan Soup, possibly the original tortilla soup), Crab salpicón (a delicious crab salad from Veracruz), Huevos motuleños, (Yucatan’s spectacular egg dish), Grilled Sinaloa Chicken, Steak tampiqueña, Puerto Nuevo-style Lobster, and New Mexico-style Green Chile and Enchiladas.
Although it will probably change, the book’s working title is “Naturally Healthy Mexican Cooking, Authentic Recipes for Diabetics, Dieters, and All Food Lovers,” and it is scheduled for release in the fall of 2014.