France has its cuisine minceur, Mexico has cooks like Patricia Quintana, who espouse a trimmed down approach to traditional dishes that is aimed at reducing fats and calories.
Quintana, who lives in Mexico City, teaches cooking in private homes and has started her own catering business.
As to whether Mexican cookery is actually fattening, Quintana was noncommittal. The native inhabitants live on a diet of pork, chile, tortillas and beans, "and they're not fat," she said. "I think the way of getting fat is to eat too much."
To trim away calories, Quintana poaches and steams foods. She might add a little fat for flavor, but nowhere near the quantity that would be used in frying.
Lard, traditional in Mexican cookery, is still necessary for certain dishes like beans, frying tacos and quesadillas, cooking some kinds of meat and making tamales. Vegetable shortening would not give the same flavor, she said.
Instead of garnishing dishes with the thick, calorie-laden cream that is used in Mexico, she might add a spoonful of yogurt. And instead of coating chiles with batter and frying them, she serves them uncoated and unfried.
Some of the chiles were stuffed with gaucamole, others with a mixture of cottage cheese and yogurt. A combination of vegetables -- zucchini, corn, tomatoes, mushrooms and cilantro -- went into still other chiles. And several were filled with an unusual seafood picadillo made with shrimp, crab, tomatoes, olives, capers and raisins.
For stuffing, Quintana uses large, fresh poblano chiles, which had been peeled and soaked in salt water to reduce their piquancy. And she put some of the same fillings in dried poblanos, which are called ancho chiles.
The dark red anchos, which had been soaked until softened, contributed both color and a different flavor to the chili plate. Both kinds of chiles are marinated before stuffing in a mixture of oil, vinegar and herbs.
Quintana has written a cookbook, La Cocina Es un Juego ("Cooking Is a Game"), which has been translated into a billingual edition and which, she hopes, will be distributed in the United States. PATRICIA QUINTANA'S CHILES RELLENOS (12 servings) 12 to 14 fresh poblano chiles and/or
dried ancho chiles 1 cup mild vinegar (or 1/2 cup each
cider and white vinegars) 1/3 cup oil 1 tablespoon oregano Salt to taste 1 teaspoon pepper Zucchini stuffing (see below) Shrimp and crab stuffing (see
Below) Cottage cheese stuffing (see below) Guacamole stuffing (see below)
Broil fresh chiles on a wire rack set over a burner until blistered on all sides. Place chiles in plastic bag to sweat for 5 minutes. Peel chiles under cold running water. Make a small slit in side of chiles to remove seeds and veins. Soak in salted water for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain.
If using dried chiles; poach in water for 10 minutes. Make a small slit in side of chilles to remove seeds and veins. Drain.
Soak either fresh or fried chiles for 1 hour in a marinade made by combining vinegar, oil, oregano, salt to taste and pepper. Drain and fill with choice of stuffings. Serve cold, or at room temperature. ZUCCHINI STUFFING 1/3 cup olive oil 2 onions, finely chopped 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped 10 zucchini, finely diced Kernels from 4 ears corn 2 cups mushrooms, finely diced 4 to 5 tomatoes, broiled, peeled and
pureed 2 to 3 serrano chiles, chopped 1/3 cup epazote, chopped (or
cilantro) Salt Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions and garlic and cook until onion is transparent. Add zucchini, corn, mushrooms, tomatoes, chiles and epazote. Season with salt to taste and cook over low heat until thick. Fill chiles with mixture. SHRIMP AND CRAB STUFFING 1/3 cup oil 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped 1 1/2 large onions, chopped 1 pound large shrimp, peeled,
deveined and chopped 1 can (7 1/2 ounces) crab meat,
shredded 5 tomatoes, chopped 3 to 4 cups stuffed green olives,
chopped 1/4 cup raisins Salt to taste 1 teaspoon pepper
Heat oil, add garlic and onions and cook until tender. Add shrimp, crab, tomatoes, olives, raisins, salt to taste and pepper. Cook over low heat until mixture is thick and shrimp fully cooked. Fill chiles with mixture. COTTAGE CHEESE STUFFING 2 cups cottage cheese 1 cup plain yogurt 1/2 cup green onion stems, finely
chopped 1 tablespoon grated onion Salt to taste 1 teaspoon pepper
Combine cottage cheese, yogurt, green onions, grated onion, salt to taste and pepper. Fill chiles with mixture. GUACAMOLE STUFFING 3 to 4 cloves garlic 12 sprigs cilantro, chopped 6 to 8 large avocados Salt to taste 1 to 2 limes or lemons
In a mortar, grind garlic, cilantro, avocados and salt, or use blender. Add lime juice and mix well. Fill chiles with mixture.