Heights restaurant offers healthier versions of Mexican favorites

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Mexican food doesn't have to be unhealthy, one restaurant co-owner tells Eyewitness News (KTRK)

When Mexican-born Marcela Perez was 14, her parents moved just south of the border. Being so close to the United States, Marcela's dad decided she should go live with her aunt in Houston to learn English for a year, "And I just never came back," says Perez.

She grew to love Houston and wanted to make the city her home. One day, her father asked her what she wanted to do with her life. Her father was a doctor and had hoped that Perez would follow in his footsteps, but Perez had other plans. "The question that changed my life forever was, 'What would you wake up to do every morning for free?' And I was like, 'Cook.' And he's like, 'Aww man.' And he say,
'Okay. Just be good at it.'"

And that was it! Perez spent more than a decade in the culinary industry, catering, cooking home meals for clients, and opening restaurants.

But last fall, Perez had the opportunity to open her own restaurant. She now co-owns Skinny Rita's Grille in the Heights. The restaurant concept is to offer healthier versions of our favorite Mexican dishes without sacrificing the flavor. This isn't a new concept for Perez, though. She's always found a passion in creating low-cal alternatives.

"It was very important for me to cook this way to be healthy one because I love to stay healthy. Two, it was challenging to me to change and tweak the Mexican cuisine into a healthier thing. For me, it was to stay with integrity, with best quality products."

Here are some of Perez's healthy substitutes:
- Skip the creamy sauces. Instead saute onions and garlic with your favorite in-season fruits until it
cooks down to a sauce.
- Skip the butter and lard. Perez only cooks with olive oil and coconut oil. Everything fried is fried in
coconut oil.
- Skip the cheese. Add avocado instead. It gives the creamy consistency of cheese without the
saturated fat.
- Skip the regular tortillas. Add cactus to your home-tortilla recipe. Cactus is high in phytochemicals
and is high in fiber.
- Skip the tortillas altogether. Use a mandolin to cut jicama into thin slices. Jicama makes a delicious
low-calorie taquito.
- Skip the pinto beans. Pinto beans lack nutritional value. Black beans contain four times the amount
of fiber as pinto beans, so use black beans instead.

Skinny Rita's Jicama Taquitos
Ingredients:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups vegetable stock
1 ea spaghetti squash
Extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp garlic, chopped
1 tsp chipotle pepper juice
tsp salt and white pepper
1 ea jicama, peeled
For Sauce:
2 ea mangos, diced
2 ea garlic cloves, chopped
yellow onion
ea habanero pepper, de-seeded (may substitute to jalapeno/serrano)
cup white wine
tsp salt and white pepper
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 ea cilantro sprig

To make the jicama tacos:
Clean and peel the jicama. Using a mandeline, slice the jicama into a very thin "tortilla".

To cook the quinoa:
In a pot, add 2 cups of vegetable stock with 1 cup of quinoa and let it boil. Cook it on medium heat until the water is absorbed. Using a fork, "fluff" the quinoa grain for texture.

To cook the spaghetti squash:
Pre-heat oven at 350 degrees. Cut the squash into half. Discard the seeds and drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive, oil the chipotle pepper juice, chopped garlic and salt and pepper. Make sure the squash is rubbed with this mixture. Bake for 25 minutes. Using a fork, shred the squash making spaghetti and your have stringy squash resembling pasta.

To cook the edamame:
In a pot, add water and bring it boil. Add the edamame beans and cook them for 2 minutes. Drain the water and place the beans in cold water to stop the cooking process. In a separate bowl, add the drained, cooked beans and season with a bit of extra virgin olive oil salt and pepper.

To make the habanero mango salsa:
In a pot, add the olive oil, onions, and garlic, and the habanero, let this cook for 5 minutes. Add the mango and wine and cook for 15 minutes. Transfer these ingredients into a blender, add cilantro and mix to make the sauce.

To assemble the tacos:
Place the jicama tortilla in your plate and add the quinoa, spaghetti squash and the edamame beans.
Drizzle the mango habanero salsa on top before serving.
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