Whole Food Ideas for a Mexican Holiday

Whole-foods cooking takes you back to the basics.
Whole-foods cooking takes you back to the basics.

Mexican cuisine is one of my favorites, both to enjoy in restaurants and to cook at home. But depending on what you eat, it may not always be the healthiest. I'm not just talking about things like fat and calories but also in terms of additives, preservatives and processing.

For followers of the whole food diet (or movement, or way of eating, if you consider "diet" a dirty word), it might initially seem difficult to cook Mexican food. Especially for the holidays, when foods can often be more time-consuming to prepare and shortcuts make things go quicker and easier. But that might not be your priority. If you're not familiar with whole foods, let's start there.

By "whole foods," I'm not talking about the upscale supermarket chain. There isn't one strict definition, but whole foods simply means trying to eat foods as much in their natural state as possible -- the way people used to eat. It doesn't necessarily mean eating organic, raw or vegetarian, although all of these ways of eating can be incorporated if you choose. Broadly speaking, by eating whole foods you're eating unprocessed, unrefined, fresh, local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. Many whole foods proponents strive to avoid high-fructose corn syrup and GMOs (genetically modified organisms) along with artificial ingredients. Cooking the whole-foods way takes longer, but you know exactly what's going into everything you eat.

Now that you have an idea of what whole foods means, let's get back to thinking about Mexican food. If you cook like many people cook Mexican -- an Americanized version -- you could make it almost entirely out of boxes and cans (including the meat). Some people can't conceive of making tacos at home without a packet of seasoning, for example. But isn't that seasoning just herbs and spices? Nope. In addition to chili powder, salt and other spices, many packets contain monosodium glutamate (MSG) and butylated hydroxytolune (BHT), both common food additives that are supposed to enhance and protect flavor.

Next, we'll look at how you can stock your pantry with whole food ingredients to make some classic Mexican holiday foods.