It seems like there’s a Mexican food restaurant every other block where I live. Most feature menus that are full of Tex-Mex specialties. These restaurants fill the bill when I crave the food that I grew up with: beef enchiladas, tacos, and fajitas. Inevitably, the main course is topped with cheese and comes with a side of refried beans. And of course, I always lobbied for an appetizer of queso to go with the baskets of chips that kept being placed on our table.
Increasingly, these feasts have become a rare indulgence for me as I’ve tried to focus on eating a healthy diet. Fortunately, I found Rick Bayless’s cookbook, Mexican Everyday, which features easy recipes that are good for both your taste buds and for your health. I had heard about Bayless’s focus on Mexican food for many years, but came to appreciate his zeal for Mexico and its culture through watching Top Chef Masters last year. So when I saw Mexican Everyday at the local bookstore, I grabbed it. Little did I know that in doing so, I was grabbing a book full of healthy recipes.
In the book’s introduction, Bayless describes his increasing focus on a greater sense of well-being, including eating healthier and becoming more fit. Noting that people often ask him how he can be a chef and be so lean, Bayless described gaining at least 25 pounds by his mid-forties. “That’s when I rather accidently found myself on the path that led to my uncovering the difference between the celebratory, succulent works of art our restaurant is known for and fresh, simple everyday food that satisfies the spirit’s quest for deliciousness while providing the body with just what it needs to function at its peak,” the Chicago chef wrote in the introduction. Through attending yoga classes and ongoing reflection, Bayless developed six essential learning:
- “My weight reflects a mental picture I have of myself. For me, yoga, challenged my body in directions I’d never considered – unlocking a welcome new image of myself, unlocking physical (even spiritual) potential I’d never considered.”
- “No matter what weight-loss diet plans promise, monitoring the quantity of food is essential to maintaining healthy weight. I hesitate to say it because it sounds so clinical, so undelicious, but the real truth is: I need to monitor the quantity of calories I consume – calories, because different foods have very different concentrations of calories.”
- “Eating a wide variety of fresh ingredients is fundamental to nutritional fitness.”
- “Processed foods, many prepared foods and most fast foods have no place in everyday eating.”
- “The world’s most time-honored cuisines illustrate that: (1) everyday eating is best kept to deliciously seasoned simple preparations of natural ingredients (mostly unrefined and balanced among a variety of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and meat) served in moderate portions, and (2) fabulous feasts – once a week, or, for special occasions, more often – are an essential part of our healthy nourishment.”
- “For us to be able to enjoy great food without gaining weight, our bodies need to burn as much fuel as possible. Though aerobic activity burns fuel, strength training can offer more: more control, healthier appearance and more fuel-burning-every-minute muscle.”
So, I hear you asking me – how are the recipes that Bayless offers in this book? Yummy! I’ve made several, including: Grilled Chicken Salad with Rustic Guacamole, Romaine, and Queso Añejo; Roasted Mushroom Salad with Spinach and Bacon; Swiss Chard Tacos with Caramelized Onion, Fresh Cheese and Red Chile; Tomatillo-Sauced Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushrooms; Seared Salmon with Spinach and Creamy Roasted Peppers; and Tomatillo Pork Braise with Pickled Chiles. Later this week, I’ll be trying Chicken a la Veracruzana.
This cookbook sets a high bar for taste, ease and economy. Bayless offers ways to “tweak” recipes and uses ingredients that you can easily find in your grocery store. Several recipes are set up to be made in the slow-cooker so you can start the food cooking in the crockpot before going to work and have it ready by dinner-time. The only suggestion that I have for the book’s improvement is to include nutritional information after each recipe. Even without this information, I appreciate Bayless’s commitment to natural ingredients and to great flavor. Thanks to him, I can keep Mexican food on my regular rotation of cuisines I can enjoy while still eating healthfully.
Published On: May 24, 2010