If there’s one thing I can’t imagine my life without these days, it’s the joy of throwing a really good dinner party. I’ve always been a social person and, in fact, I remember putting together many themed get-togethers when I was in high school.
Back then, it was getting everyone to dress up in pirate costumes just for fun to celebrate the return of school. These days, with me weighing almost 100 pounds less than I did back then, I count down the days until I can invite my friends over again for a different kind of get together–this time it’s a themed dinner party.
Ever since I started cooking healthy, I’ve yearned to have others taste my dishes. It started slowly at first, sure, but now I have friends asking me when the next dinner is or even coming up with the themes for me to execute. And I love it!
There’s something about the combination of cooking for those I love, feeding them delicious and good-for-them meals, and just spending some quality time together that fills my heart with more joy than I can describe. Nothing motivates me to cook like making food for these special people, which is why I happily took on the challenge of making a healthy DIY taco bar dinner party in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month.
When I received an invitation to celebrate HHM (which runs from September 15-October 15) with some goodies from IMUSA, the maker of Hispanic and ethnic cookware, and McCormick spices, I jumped at the chance to try out an idea that I’ve been thinking about ever since my last dinner party back in early summer: a do-it-yourself taco bar!
I accepted the materials they sent me to try (a molcajete to make guacamole, a tortilla warmer and multi-colored salsa dishes from IMUSA, and various spices from McCormick) and figured out how I can incorporate these ingredients into my very own, healthy menu for Hispanic Heritage Month. Combining some of my favorite techniques for healthier cooking, I came up with 5 sure-fire ways to lighten up the meal.
1. Three-Way Guacamole: In order to add a little more fiber and veggies to heart-healthy guacamole, I opted to do three different versions. One had black beans, the other sweet corn and the third had green bell pepper. I also added different spices for flavor. Below are the exact ingredients for the three combinations I used. Instructions: combine all ingredients, mix well and serve with yellow and blue corn chips.
- Guacamole 1: 1 1/2 cup guacamole (homemade or store-bought), 1 15-ounce can black beans (drained and rinsed), 1 teaspoon ground cumin (I used McCormick)
- Guacamole 2: 1 1/2 cup guacamole (homemade or store-bought), 1 15-ounce can sweet corn (drained and rinsed), 1 1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro (I used McCormick)
- Guacamole 3: 1 1/2 cup guacamole (homemade or store-bought), 1 green bell pepper (deseeded and chopped), 1/2 teaspoon chili powder (I used McCormick)
2. Have a Vegetarian Option: I have a good amount of vegetarian and vegan friends, so I always make sure to have an option available for them. However, I think it’s a good policy to do this no matter what. Why? Because it will allow you to easily incorporate more veggies into your own diet, too. It doesn’t take much to serve yourself an extra spoonful of mushrooms or onions and peppers in order to infuse your meal with some vitamins and nutrients, instead of opting for more of the much more calorie-dense protein you’re having. By adding this, I kept my vegetarian friends happy–and my carnivore friends healthy.
- For the mushroms: Sautee 2 cups of chopped baby bella mushrooms in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once mushrooms are almost done, add McCormick Chicken Tinga seasoning mix (without the chicken!) and allow the mushrooms to reduce and the water from the mushrooms to evaporate, about 15-20 minutes.
- For the onions & peppers: 2 yellow onions, sliced, and 3 bell peppers (I bought them in a variety of colors), sliced. Sautee the onions first, for about 10 minutes, and then add the peppers. Season lightly with dried oregano, about 2 tablespoons, and cook until the peppers and onions are done, about another 10-15 minutes.
3. Try a Leaner Meat (Like Turkey): I’m no stranger to red meat. In fact, I grew up on it–like many Latinos. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with trading it in for something healthier, like turkey. Using the recipe directions on the back of McCormick’s Original Taco seasoning mix, which included the healthier option to make it with ground turkey, I cooked 1 pound of lean ground turkey to serve for the tacos. I also opted to add some leafy greens with a 5 ounce baby romaine mix sprinkled with olive oil and vinegar.
4. Don’t Forget The Veggies: Other than the leafy greens that I added with the ground turkey above, the mushrooms, and the onions and peppers mix, I decided we couldn’t go wrong with a more substantial vegetable dish that could be used as a taco topping or as a side dish. Typically, tacos are topped with Mexican cheese but I wanted to try a healthier option by combining a naturally low-fat cheese (feta) with some cucumbers and tomatoes, an idea that sprung from my love of Greek salads (minus the olives).
- Ingredients: 2 European cucumbers, chopped, 2 pints of grape tomatoes, halved, 8 ounces of feta cheese, crumbled. Instructions: Combine the chopped cucumbers, halved tomatoes and crumbled feta cheese in a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 teaspoon of vinegar and season as you like (I added a sprinkling of oregano, a sprinkling of cilantro and a pinch of chili powder for a kick). Combine the vegetables and cheese in a large bowl, then serve.
5. Add More to Your Side: As a Latina, I have to admit: it’s almost impossible for me to live without rice. I don’t include it in every meal these days and, when I do, I try to opt for brown rice–but there are other healthier-for-you options, too. Here’s what I did.
- Ingredients: 8-ounce McCormick Mexican Rice, prepared according to instructions, 1 10-ounce can of diced tomatoes with green chilies (though without would be fine, too), 1 15-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed, 1 15-ounce can of sweet corn, drained and rinsed. Instructions: After you have cooked the rice according to package instructions, combine it in a large bowl with the other ingredients. Mix it all together, then serve alongside your taco bar.
I have to say, the healthy taco party went over really well! In fact, almost too well–we had a ton of leftovers, all of which I made my friends take home so that they can continue with the HHM celebrating (through the delicious food, of course).
All in all, we ended up with a pretty filling taco. The combination of ground turkey, mushrooms, onions and peppers, tomato-cucumber-feta mixture, leafy greens and the Mexican rice on the side was definitely a lot of food. With everyone eating just a taco each and their bellies full, we settled in for a relaxing evening to enjoy in good company (and with some good wine). I must admit, it felt great that I got to celebrate this very special month with them–and all the while feeding my friends the healthy Latin food I love.
Have you ever thrown a Hispanic Heritage Month-themed party for loved ones?
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