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May 5, 2014 11:03 AM

Vegetable sides in Mexican cooking

Hey everybody,

I've been delving into Mexican a lot lately and I've noticed there are few traditional vegetable centric recipes. So far a few that I've found are:

-calabacitas con crema (a zucchini, corn, poblano chile dish with cream)
-vegetarian tacos/tamales, usually with hearty greens or mushroom fillings
-grilled knob onions
-nopal cactus (as a salad or grilled whole)
-grilled corn on the cob
-raw jicama with chile and lime

I'm really interested in how Mexican cooks would prepare carrots. Or cauliflower? Or other vegetables? What seasonings could be used and how would seasoning vary by region? If anyone knows a lot about Mexican vegetable cookery, I would love to learn more.

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  1. I don't know that much but I have made jimaca/pineapple salad which is delicious

    1. Carrots and cauliflower are old-world foods, so the preparation methods and seasonings are more likely to reflect Spanish influences than the Indigenous chiles, etc. They grow fine in the higher altitude temperate regions.

      Carrots are commonly pickled with onion and chiles. Zanahorias en Escabeche

      I suspect vegetables like this usually appear in soups and stews, rather than as stand alone sides. The division of meal into meat, starch, salad, and one or more vegetable sides is largely an American (USA) idea.

      A web search in Spanish might turn up more choices
      coliflor, zanahoria, calabaza. Viandas is a common Latin American term for starchy vegetables (especially root ones, but not exclusively so).

      5 Replies
      1. re: paulj

        I asked a similar question to a Mexican American friend years ago - his answer was they like to chop them (veg) up and put them in the dish - also in your salsas etc

        one signature of Mexican cooking is the combo of crisp fresh with the savory sauced - crunchy fresh jalapenos and tomatoes, salsas etc.

        This should not stop you (the OP) from getting inventive with Mexican flavors on vegetable dishes though - peppers, squash, cactus, chayote, tomatoes, tomatillos all factor wonderfully into Mexican foods.

        1. re: paulj

          Yeah, I have seen the carrot pickle pop up a few times. You brung up a good point about how most other cultures don't necessarily divide food groups like Americans do, which makes me wonder why that is. Also, I have tried searching for recipes in spanish for moles before and found some interesting results. Definitely gonna have to give it a try for vegetables too.

          1. re: paulj

            Zarela Martinzez - food and life of Oaxaca
            Her initial impression was that there weren't Oaxacan vegetable dishes, but then discovered that vegetables are common and taken for granted. Thus there's no need for explicit recipes.

            That said, she mentions lenten vegetable dishes and escabeches (pickles), but doesn't have much in the way of recipes. There's a green bean dish, and mixed cooked vegetable salad (along the lines of the Russian Salad that is so popular in Spain).

            1. re: paulj

              Here's a nice example of chunky vegetables in a Mexican stew - and lime and cilantro finish


              1. re: paulj

                That looks good! Often a caldo de res or puerco will have similar large vegetable pieces of corn, zucchini, and potatoes.

            2. One of the best sides I've ever had was squash blossoms. Can't tell you where I had it, or what was the preparation. It wasn't deep fried. There are preparation methods on the internet.

              2 Replies
              1. re: rudeboy

                I've seen squash blossoms used a lot in Oaxacan cuisine. The quesadillas they make with the blossoms and Oaxacan string cheese (kind of like mozzarella) look awesome.

                1. re: fierymango

                  Well, that's where I had my honeymoon, so it must have been Oaxaca. Thanks for jogging my memory - we were having a great time and may have been buzzed. I've been able to find them stateside since then......

              2. I saw this on "The Sandwich King" yesterday. Sounded good.

                Cup a 'Elotes

                I love corn. This will be on my sides menu. And I just happen to have some cotija cheese in my fridge and I see corn on the cob and poblano peppers are on sale.

                2 Replies
                1. re: boyzoma

                  THAT just got saved. I see a visit to my Latino market in my near future. This looks great. Thanks.

                  1. re: c oliver

                    Highly recommend. I get it from a trailer vendor outside of our market (Fiesta) and eat as I shop around. Very satisfying.

                2. Chiles toreados, Mexican coleslaw, rajas con queso, lots of various salads with ingredients ranging from jicama to cabbage, stuffed vegetables (chiles, calabazitas, flor de calabaza, nopales, chayotes, potatoes, lots can be stuffed), also green beans (ejotes), actually google any vegetable after recetas mexicanas para X vegetable, and you will get hits...

                  If you are looking for traditional vegetarian recipes and can read in Spanish I would suggest you google: "recetas mexicanas de cuaresma" (Cuaresma is Lent) and sift through to find non-seafood/fish ones, OR just google recetas mexicanas de cuaresmo que no lleven mariscos/pescado and see what turns up.

                  There are actually loads and loads of options for sides as well as soups and main dishes.

                  I googled up a thread for you to look at that has a cauliflower recipe as well as a linked eggplant recipe:

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: luckyfatima

                    Thanks for all of the info. I did some searching for ejotes recipes and found a lot of stuff including a simple dish of sauteed green beans in a base of diced onion, garlic, and tomato which makes sense from Spanish influence. I've also made a Mexican style slaw before from the link below, subbing cabbage for brussels sprouts and it was crazy good.