When you walk up to the vibrant yellow façade of Zarela restaurant on Manhattan’s East Side, you know you’re in for some really good authentic Mexican food. Established more than 20 years ago by chef and owner, Zarela Martinez, the eatery boasts much more than just salsa and guacamole.
On the menu, you will find everything from slow-roasted lamb in an ancho chile sauce to Yucatán-style pork shoulder served with a habanero chile and orange relish.
And if that doesn’t have your mouth watering yet — wait until you hear what Martinez cooked for FOXNews.com’s managing editor of health Dr. Manny Alvarez.
A selection of her recipes is featured in Alvarez’s new book, “The Hot Latin Diet: The Fast-Track Plan to a Bombshell Body.”
“If you think Latino food is heavy … if you think Latino food is going to make you fat, think again,” said Alvarez. “Latino food is incredibly diverse and full of healthy foods … especially power foods.”
According to Alvarez, “The Hot Latin Diet” is the first plan to incorporate the Top 7 Latin power foods.
“Practically everything in the Mexican kitchen, the original Mexican kitchen is a power food, “said Martinez. “Basic Mexican things are very healthy.”
Raised on a cattle ranch in Mexico, Martinez has been cooking since she was a small child.
“We made everything from scratch,” Martinez told FOXNews.com. “My whole life revolved around food and it still does.”
Seven Latin Power Foods:
These small yellow-green tomatoes pack a lot more than just flavor. Tomatillos are rich in folic acid and potassium as well as vitamins C and A — which makes them a great source for your daily antioxidant needs.
Also known as chickpeas, garbanzo beans are used in cooking throughout Latin America. They are high in fiber and very low in natural sugar content. These beans are also packed with protein which will give you a steady source of energy throughout the day.
Yes, avocados are high in fat — but good fat. The healthy monounsaturated oil in avocados will help you feel more satisfied after a meal and help lower your bad cholesterol and raise your good cholesterol.
Try to use garlic as often as possible in your cooking. It has immune-boosting properties and can even increase blood flow for a stronger libido. According to the book, the Spanish, Portuguese and French are credited with introducing garlic to the New World, where it is now used in all types of cooking.
All it takes is a half teaspoon a day of cinnamon to lower sugar levels in your blood, and studies have shown it helps aid in the prevention of diabetes. This spice is also high in antioxidants. A quick tip from the book: try sprinkling cinnamon on fruits and whole grains instead of sugar.
Bring on the heat! Chiles of all varieties, like chipotles, are high in minerals and antioxidants. Capsaicin, the active compound in chili peppers, is also known for its many health benefits. Studies have suggested that capsaicin can help reduce inflammation and provide natural pain relief.
One of the best things about cilantro is that it removes a lot of the toxins – especially heavy metals – from the body. So, if you want to detoxify, try using cilantro on a daily basis. All you need is a little handful.
After whipping up a quick salsa, Martinez showed Alvarez how to make one of her “go-to” recipes: chipotle paste.
“It’s one of my favorite building blocks,” Martinez said. “You can brush this paste on salmon, chicken or pork. You can even make pasta and add the paste to the sauce for a kick with meatballs.”
TIP: If you want to make a low-fat dip, take some of the chipotle paste and put it in a yogurt or a low-fat mayonnaise.
PASTA DE CHIPOTLE
(Recipe from "Food from my Heart", Zarela Martinez, Macmillan 1992)
1 Can (8 ounces) chiles chipotles en abodo
4-5 Garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
1 Tablespoon dried Mexican oregano
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
Place the chipotle chiles and their sauce in a blender or food
Processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until pureed, about
1 minute. Add the garlic, oregano, and oil process on pulse until combined but still slightly chunky.
Yield: about 1 cup
Next up on the menu, sautéed spinach, grilled salmon and ranch-style shrimp:
2 – 3 Tablespoons bacon grease or vegetable oil
1 Medium-sized tomato, chopped
3 Scallions, finely chopped
1 Garlic clove, minced
1 Jalapeno chile (seeded if desired, finely chopped)
2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro (l - 2 large sprigs)
1 10-ounce package fresh spinach or same amount loose, well rinsed, woody stems trimmed
Salt to taste
In large wide skillet, heat bacon grease or oil over high heat until a drop of water sputters on contact. Add chopped tomato, scallions, garlic, and jalapeno. Sauté rapidly for about 30 seconds. Add spinach in large handfuls, stirring to distribute. Cook spinach, uncovered, just until wilted; add salt to taste and serve at once.
SALMON AHUMADO AL CHIPOTLE
(Grill-smoked Salmon with Chipotle Mayonnaise)
2 Sides of a 6- to 9-pound salmon, skin on
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
2 – 3 canned chipotle chiles en adobo
3 Tablespoons Mexican oregano
2 – 4 Tablespoons olive oil, or as needed
1 Cup Mayonesa de Chipotle Jicama Escabechada
Run your fingers over salmon to find any pin bones and pull them out with tweezers.
In food processor or blender, puree garlic and chipotles (with sauce from can) with 1 tablespoon of the oregano. If too thick to blend, add 1 to 2 tablespoons water. Brush the paste over salmon on both sides. Use full amount for spiciest effect, less for milder flavor. Sprinkle remaining oregano over salmon on both sides. Season with salt to taste. Brush with olive oil and let rest at room temperature at least 15 minutes before grilling.
Add some mesquite chips or a small piece of wood to the coals; when it starts smoking, place the salmon on the grill, skin side down. Cover with a baking tray or disposable roasting pan to trap smoke. Cook for approximately 6 to 7 minutes on each side. The outside should be nice and brown, the center just barely cooked (very slightly translucent).
Serve at room temperature with Mayonesa de Chipotle and Jicama Escabechada.
MAYONESA DE CHIPOTLE
1 Cup commercially prepared mayonnaise
3 Tablespoons (or to taste) Pasta de Chipotle
Salt to taste
Combine mayonnaise and chipotle paste. Taste for seasoning and add salt if desired. Refrigerate unless using at once.
YIELD: about 1 cup.
1 Teaspoon whole cumin seed
1 Teaspoon anise seed
1 Teaspoon crushed black pepper
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
1 Teaspoon oregano
1 1/2 cups Pico de Gallo
1 Teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 lb. peeled medium shrimp
Toast the anise seed and cumin seed on a dry, hot large sauté pan, shaking the pan constantly, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Set aside.
Add vegetable oil to the pan and heat over high until almost smoky. Add the salsa and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often. Add the anise seed, cumin and oregano and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add the shrimp and cook for approximately 1 1/2 minutes on each side or until pink. Adjust seasoning. Serve immediately with lime wedges.
“The word magnificent does not express how delicious these dishes are,” Alvarez said. “The best is that they’re very good for you, very low in calories, full of nutrients, and they’re going help you live healthy, longer, happy, and you’re going lose weight.”
So, get out there and start cooking some HOT Latin food. ¡Buen provecho!