I had some expectations last year when I went to Rancho La Puerta, a health spa in northern Baja Mexico: hours of tranquil pampering, as much exercise as I could pack into a day and tiny portions of spare-looking diet food. I wasn't disappointed by the daily spa schedule of massages, salt rubs, soaks in hot baths and hikes. But when it came to the food I wasn't sure what to expect. Was I going to starve?
It turned out there was no need to worry. There was plenty of food at all the meals, and beyond that, it was delicious Mexican food. Since is was a spa menu, I was pleasantly surprised to find Mexican food like Shrimp Tamale Casserole, Quick Guacamole, Chile Rellenos and tacos (recipe below).
Want to make your favorite Mexican-inspired recipes healthier? Try some of these strategies perfected by Rancho La Puerta:
- Start with super-fresh ingredients, including plenty of fruits, vegetables and herbs. A lot of the produce for the Ranch is grown on the property.
- Keep portion sizes reasonable. Most of the portions at the Ranch are small (compared to an American restaurant) and that limits the calories.
- Limit added fats, especially saturated ones found in meat or butter. Instead use fats that are high in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil.
- Season dishes with fresh herbs and spices instead of fats and salt.
Charred Tomato & Chicken Tacos
1 pound ripe plum tomatoes, cored (about 4-5)
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, trimmed and cut into 1-inch chunks
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1 large white onion, finely chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
2 cloves garlic, very finely chopped
2 jalapeño peppers, seeded and very finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
4 scallions, chopped
12 corn tortillas, warmed
1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream for garnish
2 limes, cut into quarters
1. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high heat until very hot. Place tomatoes in the skillet and turn occasionally with tongs until charred on all sides, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a plate to cool slightly. Cut in half crosswise; squeeze to discard seeds. Chop the remaining pulp and skins; set aside.
2. Add 1 teaspoon of the oil to the pan and heat over high heat until the oil is very hot. Add chicken and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is browned on all sides and no longer pink in the center, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
3. Reduce the heat to medium and add the remaining 1 teaspoon oil. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeños and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add lime juice and the reserved chicken and tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and stir in cilantro and scallions. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.
4. Spoon filling into warm tortillas, roll up and serve with sour cream and lime wedges.
Makes 6 servings, 2 tacos each.
Per serving: 310 calories; 7 g fat (2 g sat, 3 g mono); 68 mg cholesterol; 35 g carbohydrate; 28 g protein; 6 g fiber; 140 mg sodium; 613 mg potassium. Nutrition bonus: Vitamin C (42% daily value), Selenium (35% dv), Magnesium (19% dv), Potassium (18% dv), Vitamin A (17% dv).
TIP: Wrap tortillas in barely damp paper towels and microwave on High for 30 to 45 seconds.
By Jessie Price
EatingWell food editor Jessie Price's professional background in food started when she worked in restaurant kitchens in the summers during college. She started out testing recipes for EatingWell and then joined the staff here full-time in 2004 when she moved to Vermont from San Francisco.
Related Links from EatingWell:
- Find healthy recipes in over 100 recipe collections-from chicken to Chinese to cake-at eatingwell.com.
- Find recipes for more of your favorite naughty foods made nice in EatingWell's new book, Comfort Foods Made Healthy.
- Sign up for EatingWell's free weekly newsletters and get healthy recipes, diet tips and nutrition news delivered right to your inbox.
- Get a free trial issue when you subscribe to EatingWell Magazine.