If we’re being honest, Tex-Mex food doesn’t have much of a reputation for copious amounts of fruits and vegetables. Unless you go out of your way to order a taco salad, you’ll probably wind up with a dinner plate that’s pretty heavy on carbs and protein but light on…well, practically anything else.
But with September being National Fruits and Veggies month, we thought it would be nice to take a moment to spotlight some prominent, plant-based ingredients in Tex-Mex cuisine:
As we’ve said before on this blog, avocados are one longtime Tex/Cal-Mex staple that have gained mainstream popularity in recent years. Despite its tough, unappealing exterior, this fruit’s flesh has a thick, creamy texture with a distinct flavor profile. The most popular culinary use for avocados is as the primary ingredient in guacamole (a Tex-Mex classic), but it can also be enjoyed raw, either as a side dish or a standalone healthy snack. Just watch out for the large seed in the center of the fruit! Although avocado pits are generally considered non-toxic, trying to bite through one is nearly always regarded as an unpleasant experience.
Nota bene: as the popularity of avocados has surged, so has the number of folks who wind up in the Emergency Room with hand injuries sustained while trying to slice them. Please see this blog post for a full guide to avoiding “avocado hand!”
From sweet bell peppers to spicy chili peppers, these fruits—not vegetables, as a lot of people believe them to be—are practically ubiquitous in Tex-Mex cooking! They’re also the main reason that Tex-Mex food has a reputation for being spicy. Now, different people have different tolerances for fiery foods; some diners wouldn’t dare put a sliced jalapeño in their mouth, and others get a genuine kick out of chomping down on habaneros. Proceed with caution, and if something on the menu contains the words “chili,” “spicy,” or “hot,” it may be wise to keep a glass of milk (or a dollop of sour cream) on standby for when you take your first bite.
Cilantro is technically an herb, but because the difference between herbs and vegetables is a bit muddy sometimes, we’re going to go ahead and include it on this list. It also deserves a mention because it’s hard to eat an entire Tex-Mex meal (from appetizer to the main course) without running into it at least once. This tangy, fragrant leafy green is commonly used to add a kick of flavor to salsa, rice, fajitas, street-style tacos, and even quesadillas.
Interestingly enough, while the majority of humans interpret cilantro as having a fresh, somewhat citrusy taste, a minority of people perceive it as extremely bitter or otherwise unpleasant—sometimes going so far as to say that the stuff tastes like soap or metal shavings. This may or may not have to do with genetics, but scientists haven’t quite reached a consensus on that theory. Regardless, if you’d like to try cooking Tex-Mex food at home but can’t stomach the idea of deliberately adding cilantro to a dish, try using parsley instead. It’s not an exact flavor match, but it’s usually close enough to please both cilantro-lovers and cilantro-haters alike.
Speaking of controversial tastes and flavors, onions are one of those vegetables that a large number of people either really love or really abhor! Often times, though, it’s more of a “texture” thing than anything else; the same people who wince at the idea of finding diced or slivered onions inside their burrito may not mind dipping their tortilla chips in salsa or pico de gallo that happens to include onions, nor will they turn up their nose at enchilada sauce that contains simmered, heavily-broken down onions.
The two most common types of onions that you’ll find in Tex-Mex foods are yellow onions and green onions (aka shallots). Yellow onions are usually used in the composition of entrées, and green onions are typically added to “finished” dishes as a garnish—especially when there’s sour cream involved.
Our advice: when you’re visiting a Tex-Mex restaurant for the first time (or ordering a new entrée at your favorite Tex-Mex place) and you’re not a fan of onions, don’t be afraid to ask your server if a certain dish contains them. The server will be able to tell you what to expect—and, if necessary, relay to the chef that you’d prefer that they leave the onions off of your plate.
Is there a fruit or vegetable that you can’t get enough of when it’s prepared Tex-Mex style? Some connoisseurs are content to simply enjoy the diced lettuce and tomato that comes with their taco platter, while others can’t imagine going out for Tex-Mex and not chowing down on avocado or chili peppers. Of course, we’re not judging anyone’s personal tastes in fiesta food. We’ve long maintained that the versatility (and adaptability) of this style of cuisine is one of the things that makes it so great!