Mexican food made light, luscious

LOS ANGELES "When you get this great big plate that is smothered in sauce and cheese, in fact that's not real Mexican food. that's sort of 'Americanized' Mexican," says Deborah Schneider, executive chef of SOL Cocina Restaurant.

/*SOL Cocina*/ in Newport Beach hired Rancho La Puerta spa chef Deborah Schneider to serve up the difference as they were looking for real Baja cuisine.

"Real Mexican food's really light," says Schneider. "It has a lot of vegetables, a lot of fruit, a lot of grains. It's not really heavily meat-centered and that's kind of the attraction for me."

Schneider makes healthier guacamole and chips by taking 60-calorie corn tortillas and spraying them with salt water and oil. Then she bakes them, which provides less of both while keeping a nice crunchy taste. Out of the oven, she adds kosher salt, ground ancho chilies, ground Guajillo chilies and pepitas while they're warm.

Her guacamole is more like a meal. She takes smashed avocado and lime and adds rows of crumbled goat cheese, onion, cilantro, chopped Serrano chilies, tomatoes and pine nuts. The restaurant recipe even tops it with a few drops of tequila.

With all that's included, the fat from the dip is diluted by 50 percent.

Schneider says her grilled shrimp and arugula salad is the world's quickest salad to make.

"Honestly, you can make this from start to finish in like five minutes," she said.

Schneider adds marinated grilled shrimp, baby tomatoes, optional red onion, olive oil and salt in one bowl to toss, then squeezes half a lemon in. She plates it while the shrimp is still warm, careful to put the good stuff on top, making a salad that is low-calorie and luscious.

Another one of Schneider's innovative ideas is to offer a variety of mini tacos that are small bites but big in flavor.

"You can pack a lot of flavor into a little bite," Schneider said.

She features carne asada, carnitas and chicken mescal in two- to three-bite tacos.

"Each taco is about three bites, one if nobody is looking," she said.

Most women are happy with two, a nice calorie saver. Actually, all the foods offer plenty of produce and south-of-the-border spices that please the palate without piling a mass of fat on the plate.

"Look away from how we do things here, and look more from how they do it in Mexico," Schneider said.

SOL Cocina in Newport Beach provided recipes for some of their healthy Mexican plates.

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