20 Mar

Low Fat Cooking | Let’s Talk Salsa!

Forget the sodium-packed jarred stuff lining the shelves of your local grocery store, which can be so loaded with chemicals and preservatives (and other combinations of vowels and consonants that none of us can pronounce), the natural nutritional value is often lost among them. Salsa is an easy-to-prepare, wonderfully delicious and naturally heart-healthy snack that can be served in an endless number of ways. Once you perfect your first batch, you’ll find that your creative culinary side will invade your kitchen and, before you know it, you’ll be inventing recipes you never knew you had in you!

First, many salsa recipes contain fresh tomatoes. Fruit or vegetable you ask? Botanically, tomatoes are a fruit because technically, a fruit is defined as the edible portion of a plant that contains seeds whereas a vegetable consists of the edible stems, roots and leaves of a plant. So now that this century-old, burning question is out of the way, why are tomatoes valuable to our health? Tomatoes are not only an excellent natural source of Vitamins A and C, but they are one of the few foods that contain the natural antioxidant, lycopene. Research has shown that a diet rich in lycopene-containing foods, such as tomatoes, can actually reduce your risk of developing certain types of cancer, such as rectal, colon, prostate and stomach cancer, by as much as 60%. For the record, one medium tomato contains 35 calories, a mere ½ gram of fat, and 40% of the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin C. The good news is that tomatoes don’t appear to lose their nutritional value when grilled, roasted, steamed or otherwise cooked, as many vegetables can. In fact, some research shows that the nutritional composition of the tomato actually increases when cooked, such as in your favorite home made marinara sauces and soups! How’s that for diversity?
Tomatoes can be served in harmony with a variety of vegetables and fruits when making salsa. No matter how you slice it, they seem to compliment just about everything. Salsa can be served as a topping for chicken or seafood, and can be utilized as a great marinade for a steak on its way to the outdoor grill. Of course, the most traditional method of serving salsa is appetizer-style with tortilla chips. Keep in mind, however, that the typical tortilla chip contains 1 or more grams of saturated fat per chip. Given how easy it is to polish off a couple of baskets of these crunchy triangles with salsa over a margarita with some friends, that’s a lot of fat coursing through our unsuspecting veins! As an alternative, cut some fresh corn tortillas into triangle shapes, place in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until crisp. In fact, most Mexican restaurants these days will honor requests for baked tortillas vs. fried ones from their health-conscious patrons at no extra charge. It might take a little extra time to get them to your table, but the nutritional difference will be well worth your wait.