When you see a pile of small Mexican watermelons in an outdoor market, you know you can dig into one without worrying. After all, it comes enclosed in its own wrapper. All you have to do is take it back to where you’re staying, put the melon under a faucet if you’re a stickler for sanitation, then pull out your trusty pocket knife, and cut off the size piece you want. It’s no wonder Mexican Artist Rodolfo Tamayo often included pieces of watermelon in his paintings, probably snacking when he wanted to take a break.
There are two kinds of healthy Mexican fruits and vegetables. Some that come in their own protective skin and some don’t but provide healthy nutrients whether you live in Mexico or are just visiting.
More of the “in their own wrapper” type are peas in the pod, avocados, oranges, tangerines (in Mexico, called clementinas), and bananas (plátanos) Although not a fruit, nuts and seeds are available too. All these are healthy snacks when the hunger bug hits and you would otherwise succumb to something that might cause problems.. Another is the onion, easy to unwrap (with fewer tears than its northamerican cousin, and add to a dish or slice and saute in a frying pan.
I often succumb to fresh fruit ice cream sold along the street in my adopted Mexican city. The vendors face inspection and the ingredients in the ice-cream are mixed with spoons, not human hands. I’ve never gotten sick from eating an ice-cream cone or, for that matter, drinking an agua de frutas made with purified water.
Preparing vegetable soup in Mexico is easy because you can buy a bag of cut up vegetables in the market or from street vendors. No worries if you cook the veggies for at least twenty minutes after reaching the simmer point — any microbes attached will give up the ghost. Soup, besides providing vitamins and fiber, has the advantage of keeping you full of liquid, important when the weather is hot or you’re at a higher altitude than you’re used to.
Now for the other kind of healthy fruits and vegetables that await you in Mexico. Many of them are already friends, common north of the border and south of it too. I’m thinking of carrots and beets, especially, both sweeter than the ones I remember in the U.S., and excellent sources of vitamins and fiber. A cup of either, cooked or steamed, can be added to a pint of milk, blended, then brought to a simmer for a few minutes. But you don’t need to make your own cream soup as it’s a popular first course in Mexican restaurants.
Chard (acelgas) is a less common choice in the United States but very popular in Mexico. A big inexpensive bunch of chard adds calcium as well as vitamins to the diet. The leaves are easy to wash. Cream of acelgas soup is riquísima.
You may have noticed that I haven’t said anything about tomatoes.
Pulp tomatoes are everywhere in Mexico, but sometimes I long for a round, vine-ripened US-variety tomato. You won’t find baking potatoes in Mexico either; you’ll just have to get used to rice, a staple in Mexico for at least a couple of centuries and often cooked in a blend of tomatoes, condiments and water.
Maybe you think incorporating fruits and vegetables into your eating means you won’t really be eating “Mexican.” I can assure you that you will be, otherwise why would the markets be full of pla’tanos, acelgas, and clementinas?