“Healthy” Mexican Food: Spanish Rice Recipe
My friend posted up pics of a lovely meal of Mexican food, and anyone can see that her abuela taught that woman to cook. She even inherited her abuela’s gear, and her kitchen and methods are totally old school with a big mortar and pestle (Molcajete y Tejolote), ancient pots made of pottery shining with the patina of thousands of soups, sauces, stews and beans cooked over the decades, an old cast-iron tortilla press, and a giant wood fired comal (stone griddle) in the backyard under a covered patio, a true outdoor kitchen. These pictures triggered memories of walking around Downtown, Southwest Portland during the summer of 1997 looking for a bite to eat. During the prior few weeks, my psychotic traveling companion (Vlad the Inhaler) and I had already found excellent Chinese food (quick wok and big sit-down eateries), Italian, a French bakery/cafe, Indian and Persian buffets, a really good bagel shop near the courthouse, a tiny Greek shack near the river with a coal fired brick oven that only made these amazing puff pastries (savory or sweet) and Turkish coffees, and diners and burgers everywhere — corporate and mom and pop, but no actual Mexican food.
There were places touting themselves as Mexican restaurants, but all of them back then were on this kick to make “Healthy Mexican Food,” so much so that they all had that line somewhere on the marquee or in the name itself. They had cute icons like a pirate looking Micky Mouse and stupid, highly forgettable names, and every time Vlad and I would enter one of these abominations to the smiling faces of the staff welcoming us in a very Stepford meets Westworld manner, we would look at the menu and take a deep breath. The places never smelled correct with hints of wet ass and balls, and the menu explained why with burrito ingredients like tofu, bean sprouts, tempeh, smoked portobello mushrooms, etc. No carne asada, carnitas, or even pollo anywhere. Complete failure.
You see, you can’t really make “Healthy Mexican Food.” Like jumbo-shrimp and Central Intelligence Agency, “Healthy Mexican Food” is an oxymoron. Real Mexican food is lethal and meant to put lesser men into the ground as quickly as possible. It is machismo and cartel violence on a plate: beans full of lard, deep fried rice boiled in a vat of salt laden red sauce, high fat cuts of meat coated in salt and chilis that burn you twice, flour tortillas loaded with salt and fat and a day’s worth of carbohydrates, big chunks of fat and skin deep fried, and mountains of cheese everywhere. Killer cuisine. Vlad summed it up perfectly, “If someone handed me a burrito with tofu and bean sprouts in it and didn’t warn me and called it Mexican food, I’d be so pissed off I would probably beat them half to death on the spot.” And for once, he was right. I’ll take it to a kinder place to say that it’s not that it isn’t food, and in the correct context could even be pleasant like dating a Vegan whose clothing you wish to see on your bedroom floor, but it’s not Mexican food or a burrito; it’s a wrap, a wrap full of healthy sadness on a plate.
With that said, here’s my recipe for Spanish rice: go find a Mexican woman trained in the ancient arts of cooking by her mother, aunts, and grandmothers, or if you live in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico or West Texas, go to several hole in the wall, mom and pop Mexican restaurants until you find the joint that does the dish justice, which usually involves a deep fry vat with specialized baskets to hold rice for the quick 20 to 30 second dip before being boiled in the combo of water and salsa rojas, AKA red enchilada sauce. Good luck.