The Mexican food we know and love is about as authentic as American Chinese food. Just as thick sauces, peanuts or frying crop up rarely in China, the Mexican food that Dos Caminos chef Ivy Stark saw on a recent trip south of the border didn’t feature many of the ingredients we expect.
“I want to dispel the myth that melted cheese and sour cream are authentic Mexican food,” she says.
Cheese, in fact, is a rarity — she found none in central Mexico, or the coast. It was actually Mennonites who settled along the border who popularized it. Another missing “staple” on every menu here: quesadillas as we know them. What you do get is cuisine rich with vegetables, which are cheaper than meat. Sauces are made with roasted veggies, spices and sometimes nuts.
After her trip, Stark created a whole new, healthier menu for her restaurants, and shared with us the tips on how, through changing techniques and ingredients, you can capture authentic flavors in dishes that are more nutritious and less fatty.
Roast your vegetables
Stark revamped her guacamole for the new menu, giving it a smoky depth of flavor with roasted jalapeno peppers. “Roasting is a really good technique because it concentrates the flavor,” she says.
Change your wrapper
Replacing flour tortillas with corn saves calories, makes the dish gluten-free (one of the few items with gluten on a Mexican menu) and cuts out any potential hydrogenated oil. Cook it on a griddle to crisp it up instead of frying it.
Put out the fire
Stark worked with nutrition and sustainability consultants SPE Certified, who recommended not putting proteins, including fish, on the grill — the charring can cause carcinogens to form. But you can still grill vegetables like corn and asparagus. “Grilling is also a really good technique, especially if you’re looking to not use any fat,” she says. “It’s really delicious for corn, squash — everything tastes good on the grill because you get that smokiness against the sweetness of the vegetables. And it’s easy!”