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April 23, 2012

Mexican Fiesta: Cooking for Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is right around the corner! During one of our recent client cooking classes, I found myself in the midst of new friends who were thrilled to learn some great new recipes and cooking techniques. Therefore, we had plenty of reason to celebrate, and decided to do so with a Mexican Fiesta! 

The word ‘salad’ often generates visions of iceberg lettuce topped with tomatoes, cucumber and carrots.  By now, you have realized that the Cooking Matters cooking classes are all about thinking beyond the ordinary- the word ‘salad’ in our class brings on a whole new meaning.   Instead of lettuce, Linda mixed black-eyed peas and corn for the base of this side salad.  Fresh flavors were formed when Kay skillfully chopped bright green cilantro and red onions.  Cumin added some heat, while crisp green bell pepper mellowed everything out.  Our resulting Southwestern Black-eyed Pea and Corn Salad was anything but iceberg!
Upon visiting any Mexican restaurant, patrons are typically greeted with a basket of tortilla chips and some kind of salsa.  That basket of greasy, overly salted, fried chips is a far cry from anything served up in our kitchen.  However, since you can’t have a true fiesta without chips and salsa, we chose to improve the nutrition of the chip by making our own!  Tuwanda created perfect little triangles from fresh, whole-corn tortillas.  These were simply lightly coated with non-stick spray and baked for a mere 10 minutes.  The resulting product- a perfectly light and crisp chip that would make the ultimate vehicle for our Mexican-inspired dips. 
After a quick demo from Chef Sophie, Ana easily cut and scooped the ripe avocados needed for our guacamole.  Wendy assisted in the slicing and dicing; soon we had the quintessential guacamole flavors from finely diced red onion, fresh cilantro and lime and just a touch of heat from jalapenos.  This smooth and creamy guacamole was the perfect accompaniment for our crispy chips. 
Meanwhile, Lon and Wanda worked together to create a fresh mango salsa- cool cucumber and warm jalapeno contrasted nicely in this treat for the taste buds.  Lastly, Tuwanda and Kay got to work on a cooked tomato salsa.  Since tomatoes are not yet in season, the canned version was used.  With the sweetness of cider vinegar and the warmth of cumin and cayenne, this salsa provided multiple layers of deliciousness. 
With our chips, dips and side salad ready to be gobbled up, we still needed the star of the meal.  A mixture of fresh, canned and frozen vegetables were all sautéed together as the filling for our quesadillas.  Black beans and low-fat cheese contributed both protein and texture.  Each participant chose their ideal amount of filling and got to work browning their whole-wheat tortillas for their perfect quesadilla.  With the sound of sizzling cheese and laughter from the group, I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to bring this Mexican Fiesta to an end.  I cannot wait to see (and taste) the culinary masterpieces that will be created by this wonderful group in the future!
By: Morgan Davis, RD, LDN

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