Being a born-and-bred Texan, Tex-Mex food was life to me, but a chance encounter with kitchen employees at an all-inclusive in Mexico changed that forever. As most know, Tex-Mex cuisine is about as close as we Texans could ever come to claiming a “native” cuisine. I grew up LOVING it and can still eat it everyday and sometimes multiple times a day. Cinco de Mayo gives me a great reason to indulge in the ubiquitous nachos or quesadillas, but alas I am doing another cleanse this week. Nothing major, just lots of fruit/veg smoothies and salads, but still a super cheesy Tex-Mex meal will not be served any time soon. True Mexican food, as I discovered that day IN Mexico, is totally different. Fresh produce and meat are paramount and cheese is at most, a garnish. To help you celebrate Cinco de Mayo but still eat clean, I am giving you tostadas two ways. Tostadas are an alternative to tacos and offer a better vehicle for lots of veggies than unflexible traditional taco shells yet still give you the crunch that you miss with soft tacos .
My discovery of True Mex food came when we were at our hotel in Cancun. I know, right? How can that be…most all inclusives have marginally good food at best. However, we were in a more remote restaurant away from the crowds about to order breakfast when we saw two of the workers eating something that looked delicioso. When we asked, it turned out they were eating chilaquiles. Lots of green salsa combined with fried tortilla strips and topped with eggs. That sounded like the breakfast of champions to us so we had them make it for us, too, and it was indeed, delicioso!
That led me to start researching True Mexican food. I started watching Rick Bayless faithfully on PBS and devouring (not literally) his cookbooks along with Diana Kennedy’s cookbooks along the way. I made real Mole Negro and found out that the storied “all-day” sauce with a 1000 ingredients wasn’t just a story. I learned to make my own salsas, both cooked and fresh. I’ve made both corn and flour tortillas from scratch and I’ve made sopes and gorditas. I learned that fruits, veggies and fish rule especially in the coastal areas. There were unfamiliar ingredients that are now common in our home like Jicama and dried chiles. With the crunch of raw potato and the sweetness of an apple, jicama is now a staple for when my two teenage vultures are starving and wanting snacks. Squeeze a lime and sprinkle chile powder over a platter of jicama, cucumber and mango slices then you have created a classic Mexican street snack and a great opener for a True Mex meal that is very light. We also regularly have ancho and guajillo chiles in our pantry to make chile pastes and flavor Barbacoa (although I do not make this dish from the traditional cow head buried in the ground, mine is a roast buried in a slow cooker). These formerly foreign but now familiar ingredients and recipes have become our new Mexican food. We still may have the occasional Taco Tuesday with crunchy taco shells (totally Tex Mex) but most of the time, I fry my own corn tortillas to make tostadas if we are going to do any sort of taco night. That’s the way it’s done in Mexico.
These salmon tostadas came about due to a need to stretch a small amount of salmon and to get my non-fish eating son to eat fish. Doused with Harry’s Original Spice from Spice Bros (yes, a shameless plug for my sons’ business.) then grilled or roasted, the salmon is ready in 10 minutes or less. All that’s left to do is lightly fry (either in oven with a little oil or in cast iron) your tortillas and chop up a little cabbage. I also like to make my version of Baja sauce any time I make fish tacos or tostadas which is basically a flavored mayonnaise.
Not feeling the fish? Make refried bean tostadas. Don’t buy the can of refried beans, buy whole beans and fry in avocado oil or bacon fat until bubbly. Mash with a potato masher until half the beans are smooth. These we top with either cheddar or feta (to mimic cotija cheese which is harder to find) and shredded lettuce or cabbage. The pickled onions topping the tostadas in the photo above are simple to make and would work perfectly on the fish tacos as well. To make this beautiful fuschia condiment simply soak thinly sliced purple onions in lime juice and salt for 30 minutes to an hour until they are softened and the purple color has washed out to fuschia and permeated the onion strips.
I would love to hear your favorite clean-eating Tex-Mex or True Mex recipes. Please share in comments below or on my facebook page.
- 1 lb salmon filet, skinned
- 2 tbsp Harry's Original or your favorite smoky taco seasoning
- 8-12 corn tortillas
- Baja Sauce, recipe follows
- Shredded cabbage
- Pickled Onions
- 2 cans pinto or black beans (look for BPA free cans)
- 2 tbsp avocado oil or bacon fat
- 1 tsp each sea salt, cumin, chile powder
- 8-12 corn tortillas
- Shredded lettuce or cabbage
- Shredded cheddar or crumbled feta
- Pickled Onions
- ½ cup mayonnaise
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 tsp cumin
- Season salmon with spice liberally. Place on grill or in 450 degree oven and cook until the edges are opaque and top and bottom are seared. Flake apart.
- Heat ½" of oil in a cast-iron skillet and fry tortillas until crisp. You can also brush tortillas with oil and bake at 375 until crisp to avoid frying.
- Layer each tostada shell with some salmon, cabbage, salsa, Baja sauce and pickled onions.
- In a large skillet, heat fat and carefully add beans to avoid splattering. Stir in seasonings and mash beans with potato masher or fork until hafl the beans are smooth but whole beans are still visible.
- Make tostada shells as described above then top each shell with beans, lettuce or cabbage, cheese, salsa and pickled onions.
- Mix all ingredients together with a whisk until smooth.