southwesternflavorsWhen you think of dishes from the southwestern U.S., do you think of burning hot chili peppers and acidic tomatoes? I do too– but the flavors of the region are so much more than that! Southwestern cooking borrows much from the cuisine of our neighbor to the south, Mexico, but also adds influences of Native American and traditional Midwestern cooking. Summer is the perfect time for fresh vegetables, outdoor barbecues and flavorful (but low-acid) southwestern dishes!

The weather is often mild enough in some areas of the Southwest to use the barbecue year-round so grilled chicken and pork are favorites. But have you tried grilling vegetables? Zucchini squash and fresh ears of corn pick up wonderful smoky flavors from grilling. Try using mesquite wood chips for smoke– an even more authentic flavor!

Crave the flavors but need to ditch the hot spices? Try these Southwestern taste favorites:

  • CILANTRO, the leaf of the plant that produces coriander seeds, is commonly used in sauces and salads. It’s a great flavor addition when paired with bits of cooked bacon in scrambled eggs. A sprinkling of dried cilantro enhances the earthy flavor of buttered potatoes too. Bits of fresh cilantro even complement ripe cantaloupe!
  • OREGANO is also commonly used to flavor summer vegetables. Try sprinkling garlic salt and dried oregano on pan-fried or steamed yellow crookneck squash.
  • The LEMON THYME plant easily braves dry summer heat and is plentiful in southwestern gardens. Chopped fresh sprigs impart a light lemony taste to grilled chicken that’s been brushed with olive oil. Sprinkle the chopped fresh herb on the chicken at the end of its cooking time.
  • CUMIN is widely used too, both on meat and with summer vegetables. Try it to season turkey or pork burger patties. Fry bell pepper slices and cold cooked rice in a little oil, then sprinkle on powdered cumin, stirring to mix and heat the cumin (bringing out the flavor) before serving (figure a quarter tsp. per serving, more or less, to taste). Cumin can also lend a southwestern kick to hash browns, refried black or pinto beans, or sweet potato fries (try putting sugar, cinnamon and a dash of cumin in a paper bag, then add hot cooked sweet potatoes and shake! Delicious!
  • MILD TOMATO SALSA makes a flavorful option to top southwestern-style burgers. And it may not be off your menu forever, especially if your symptoms are well controlled and you also use Prelief! Herdez brand’s mild tomato salsa is free of preservatives and flavor enhancers and is a good choice to start with, if and when you are feeling brave enough to body-test some salsa. Sabrosa Foods makes a naturally lower in acid salsa by using less tomato and incorporating more bell peppers. Or you could try making your own by simply dicing some low acid tomatoes with fresh cilantro, green or red bell pepper and sweet onion.
  • Look for TORTILLAS that don’t contain benzoate or sulfite preservatives. Check around for Hispanic markets that sell fresh home-style tortillas. Another supplier is Whole Foods Markets – they carry freshly made preservative-free corn or flour tortillas. (There are 340 stores across the US, Canada and in Britain. Of course you can also make your own (Imusa’s Victoria Cast Iron Tortilla Press is a good 6-1/2 inch one. Just remember to put wax paper between the dough and the metal. After pressing, cook the tortillas in a skillet).

EASY MEXICAN LUNCH – makes 1 serving

Spread a couple tablespoons of refried beans on a corn tortilla; sprinkle with a pinch of ground oregano (or ground cumin if you can get away with it); add chopped hard-boiled egg whites and some grated Monterey Jack cheese (or mozzarella); roll up and heat in the microwave. Top with fresh avocado or guacamole and enjoy!

Looking for more IC Friendly Mexican Cooking Recipes??? Read Bev’s Mexican Cuisine articles in her Fresh Tastes By Bev diet column on the IC Network!