Mexican food doesn't have to be indulgent.
That's the message Ivy Stark wants to send. The executive chef at Dos Caminos is marking National Nutrition Month by launching a healthy Mexican menu at all four of the restaurant's Manhattan locations.
"It's really been my mission for years," Stark said. "I teach a lot of cooking classes , and one of the main things I always bring up is that it doesn't have to be unhealthy ... and big gobs of melted cheese."
Working with nutrition consulting company SPE Certified, Stark created a menu that features healthy upgrades on Mexican staples, from a sangrita margarita with fresh tomato and citrus juices to grilled Mexican street corn with a smoky chile yogurt.
"We ensured that it had the most nutrient-rich ingredients," Stark said.
One of the highlights of the menu is the spring vegetal taco, a flavorful and seasonal mix of griddled avocado and asparagus, which are packed with nutrients and antioxidants.
"You start getting those really nutty, buttery avocados from California," said Stark, who likes to grill hers. "The sweetness of the smoke counteracts the richness of the avocado."
The recipe also features refried white beans that are pureed with olive oil, cucumber pico de gallo and queso fresco, all packed into a corn tortilla, providing some whole grains and calcium. Stark likes the Trader Joe's brand of corn tortillas, but also recommends making them yourself if you have the time.
Just add water to masa harina until it "reaches a Play-Doh consistency," roll into a ball then form into a tortilla shape and cook on a non-stick griddle until done on each side -- about 2 minutes, Stark said.
"They're super easy to make," said Stark. "It's no more than a 10-minute deal once you get the hang of it."
Cooking the avocado and asparagus is a quick step, too, to help preserve the nutrients.
"[Don't] overcook them because you cook out the nutrients," Stark said. "It's a really quick grill or blanche in water."
If the asparagus is thin enough, you can even just eat it raw, she said: "The less cooking the better."
Dos Caminos’ spring vegetal taco
12 corn tortillas, handmade or store-bought
12 oz. refried white beans (see recipe)
12 spears grilled jumbo asparagus
2 ripe California Hass avocados, grilled and cut into twelve slices
12 tsp. cucumber pico de gallo (see recipe)
12 tsp. queso fresco
Refried white beans
1 cups dried cannellini beans
2 serrano chiles, split
1/2 gallon water
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. lemon olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1. Wash the cannellini beans in a colander under the sink. Spread the beans out on a sheet pan or counter and sort through and discard any stray dirt, stones, or shriveled beans.
2. Bring the water to a boil in a medium stock pot. Add the beans and the serranos.
3. Reduce to a simmer, cover and cook, skimming foam from the top occasionally, approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. To test for doneness, taste three or four of the smaller beans. They should be cooked through and creamy inside.
4. Drain the beans, reserving the liquid. Mash the beans, along with some of the bean cooking liquid, with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon until creamy but not completely mashed.
5. Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion with the oregano and salt until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the mashed beans and cook, stirring occasionally. Cook until the liquid evaporates and the beans form a mass that pulls away from the sides and bottom of the pan, about 10 minutes.
6. Puree in the blender, while adding the lemon olive oil in a steady stream. Season with salt as needed.
Cucumber pico de gallo
2 kirby cucumbers, ends trimmed and then peeled
1 small red onion, finely diced
2 roma tomatoes, finely diced
1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped
1 serrano chile, finely chopped
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. lemon olive oil
1. Finely dice the cucumbers, combine with the remaining ingredients and season with salt.
2. Let stand 30 minutes before serving.
Warm the corn tortillas by placing them on a warm griddle for 30 seconds.
Place 1 oz. white beans into each of the corn tortillas.
Cut asparagus in half and place on top of white beans.
Place 1 slice of grilled avocado in each tortilla.
Top avocado with 1 tsp. of cucumber pico in each taco.
Sprinkle with queso fresco.