Fat Mexican Women?

"Tell me," my boss's daughter once asked. "Why do all Mexican women get so fat?"

"What, do I look fat to you?" It was the first time I had been asked that question. I weighed at the time all of 104 lbs. if there was a brick in my coat pocket—I wish I had a brick so I could throw it at her!

"No. But someday you will be." She looked at me and smiled, but it was one of those mean smirky smiles. I did not smile back.

Since I never gave a satisfying answer to that question, this time I think I will ask

Eva Longoria

Salma Hayek

And even Frida Kahlo, "back from the dead", for their opinion on the subject.

And now that this burning question has been laid to rest—forever, I hope—I think it is only fair that I introduce you to this Mexican-style vegetable beef stew, a secret weapon in the fight against fat for those of us who vowed to lose some poundage early last month, only to see our resolve fall by the wayside when we were told that eating Mexican food will make us resemble a stuffed tamal. What can be more fatal to a diet than a bad carnitas taco craving when you are bored, bored, bored by some highly uninspiring processed "low fat" food that everyone tells you are supposed to eat in order to look good?

If you are thinking that this stew looks somehow familiar, you are partly right. It is the beefy cousin to my mother's caldo de pollo (the Mexican Chicken Stew that became our demon rooster's final resting place.) Take a bite of the tender boiled beef; taste the delicate sweetness of the corn-on-the-cob. Feel not a bit of guilt as you eat the calabacitas [zucchini], cabbage, garbanzos and even a small bit of not-so-terrible potato—all of them floating in a sea of clear beef broth that contains practically no fat, only sabor. This soup is best served when it's raining or snowing outside. Add a squeeze of lime and a spoonful of Mexican rice (optional, of course), and let your mind wander as you gaze out the window and contemplate the naked branches of the trees and dream of how fabulosa you are going to feel come la primavera [springtime].

Getting back the issue of "fat" Mexican women, perhaps it is just as well that I never responded to that woman's ridiculous question. She seemed proud of her designer clothing and semi-starved state, looking toda chupada y seca—like an unhappy bone that is sucked dry. I honestly don't think she would have understood. I decided right then and there that I wasn't going to sacrifice my health or my enjoyment of life just for the sake of trying to stay thin. I should thank her for that, although it was not quite the lesson she was expecting me to learn if she had known it.

I guess women are hardwired to want to look attractive (and to own a million sexy looking shoes), but why sacrifice our health or our self-esteem for the sake of some ideal imposed by a small group of stylemakers whose idea of the perfect woman is a giant in a size 2 dress? Not all of us will ever be slender or long of limb, nor should we want to be. I would be brokenhearted if any of my beloved sobrinas [nieces] ever started to believe that they were ugly just because they don't fit an unrealistic image of feminine beauty.

Our muchachas [girls] can be round-bellied or flat-bellied, tall or petite, g├╝eritas or morenitas [light or dark skinned], swan necked or no-necked, it doesn't matter. Teach them how to cook healthy Mexican food and tell them, yes, tell them everyday that they are beautiful.

Because they are.

Mexican Style Vegetable Beef Stew with Zucchini Squash, Corn & Cabbage

Caldo de rez con calabazas, elote y repollo

This stew contains no chiles or tomatoes—a surprise for those who think that Mexican food is all about bold flavors. Add a spoonful of hot chile salsa if you want some kick. Plus, you might think it a pain to keep boiling the beef and tossing out the water until there is no more foam, but you will be rewarded with a nice scum-free broth.

3 pounds beef shanks, thick sliced (I buy mine at the Mexican butcher's)

plenty of water

about ½ tablespoon salt

8 peppercorns; or, ½ teaspoon ground pepper

½ onion

2 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf

a pinch of dried thyme

3 thin-skinned white boiling potatoes, cut into not too small cubes (peeling is optional)

4 small or 1 large carrot, peeled and sliced in 1/2 inch to 1/4 inch disks depending on your preference

2 or 3 fresh ears of corn, cut to 2 to 3 inches

2 or 3 zucchini, sliced crosswise less than ½ inch

¼ head of cabbage, very coarsely chopped. You can add more if you like.

1 celery stalk, very thinly sliced, about 1/8 inch

fresh sprigs of cilantro

fresh limes cut into quarters

homemade chile salsa (click here for recipe); or, your favorite chile salsa

Mexican rice (click here for recipe)

Trim off any excess fat from along the edge of each beef shank. Rinse and place them in a large pot and cover them with water. Bring the water to a boil and then lower the heat to medium. When the water is full of foam, remove the beef and toss out the water. Wash and rinse the pot. Then, return the beef shanks to the pot and cover with water again. Repeat this process until the boiling water no longer foams up (up to 2 times). Then, add more water to the pot until the water level is about 1 inch to 1 ½ inches above the beef (about 12 or more cups).

Add ½ onion, garlic and salt, pepper corns, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to a boil, then set heat to low. Skim off any leftover foam that may rise to the top. Then cover the pot with a lid but make sure that it is vented. Simmer the beef for about 2 hours, or until the beef is very tender and practically falls off the bone. Fish out the onion and garlic and discard them. Remove the beef shanks from the pot. Trim off any leftover fat, etc. Discard the fat along with the bones. Cut the beef into large pieces, and put them back into the pot.

Now is the time to add the potatoes, corn and the sliced carrots. Bring to a boil. Then cover the pot and reduce heat to low and boil softly for about 30 minutes. Add the zucchini and celery. After about 15 minutes, add the cabbage and cook for about 10 minutes. Don't worry if any of the vegetables are still a little too crisp. The stew will continue to cook them after you turn off the heat.

Taste the broth. Does it need more salt and pepper? If you think that it needs more beefy flavor, you can cheat and add some beef bouillon to taste.

Use large bowls to serve this stew. Top with a generous helping of Mexican rice, a squeeze of lime, a bit of cilantro and salsa. Like with any stew, it tastes maravilloso the next day.

Serves 6 to 8 persons.


Sher from Tx said...

Amen Hermana!!
Coincidentally, I looked at your blog last weekend to see if you had a recipe for Caldo de Res..but you didn't...so I hunted all over the internet for one...there are so many versions! I made my own and it turned out delicioso! (pretty close to yours!)
I love your stories and your recipes <3<3

Chef E said...

How rude of her! I have to watch it sometimes, I put my own feet into my mouth, and often at the same time...I am over weight, but grew up thin, so I see both sides now...

I grew up knowing to eat healthy, and half my family was thin, half were over weight. Its metabolism and eating healthy portions, some people just have no clue, they generalize...

Love your site!

Gloria said...

Definitely very rude of her!! Humph!! I love caldo de res and I haven't made it for some time. About 3 years ago I started thinking of the word MODERATION and how it applied to food. I hear the chefs on the Food Network talk about it and so I started trying it. It's very hard to moderate when something is so delish, but I'm doing okay. Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't but I never deprive myself of delicious food. Your soup looks very good. Have a great weekend.

Tera said...

This post made me laugh. I just made caldo de pollo and homemade corn tortillas since I now must be on a gluten free diet the flour are gone forever. I just told my husband that evening when we had that meal how eating like my Mexican Grandparents will keep us thin. They are in their 80's and still thin, have been their whole lives. My grandmother heavier than she was at 40 but still thin not even llenita. What a stereotype. BTW I love to use the word chupada to describe a certain, emaciated look. There really isn't a literal translation to English, teehee.

cindylu said...

I've always loved caldo de res. My mom's version is pretty much the same. It was a great way to get us to eat all sorts of vegetables. I always added extra cabbage to mine.

That said, I'm super grateful for your blog. I grew up a chubby kid and gained even more weight as an adult. I never cooked, ate a lot of processed foods and ate out a lot. Then two years ago, I started Weight Watchers. Even though I was always helping my mom in the kitchen, I didn't know how to make anything from start to finish. Your recipes were a godsend (gracias!). I started cooking, following the WW plan, exercising and losing weight. I lost 60 lbs in a little over a year.

I see a lot of people complain that Mexican food as a whole is fattening and should be avoided if you want to lose or manage your weight. I hate that. Everyone has their fattening and light dishes.

Como canta Thalia: Amor a la Mexicana!

JodieMo said...

What a great post! Thank you for emphasizing that all girls are beautiful and that our individuality is what makes us all beautiful!

Anonymous said...

i love caldo de res. we had a cold night the other night and had to call my mom to get her recipe. i was only missing the marrow bone, she uses. but otherwise it was quite yummy!
well, as for that rude person, karma will bite her in arse

Lorena said...

I'm through listening to the seca style Bimbo bread crowd. I eat well, love life and home cooked food, have a loving husband, and wear the same dress size Marilyn Monroe wore which was not a size 6. Loving life,being healthy and eating well is a feminist issue. Power to the Hermanas!

Clementina said...

Hola, muchachas!
I think I struck a nerve. I suppose that we are all tired of killing ourselves just to look thin. What's wrong with curves?
Fashion Avenue, are you listening--or just pretending to?

Hidrofoare said...

I don’t agree with your boss’s daughter. From what I know, there are fat women all over the place. It doesn’t matter if you are Mexican, English, French or whatever. It all depends on your lifestyle. Anyway, going back to the subject, I don’t really know many Mexican people, but I have to agree that none of the ladies in the photos you posted are fat. They are far away from being fat. Anyway, I love your recipe and I’ll definitely try it soon. Thanks for sharing it.

Clementina said...

Hola, Hidrofoare!
I have to agree. It does depend on our lifestyle. Thankfully we don't all look alike, and beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Kathy said...

I would've slapped that....woman. Anyway, I came across your blog just now and love it. Real Mexican food. I saw the picture and immediately said, 'caldo de res!' The recipe is pretty similar to my mom's only she doesn't add celery. Most sites usually contain recipes that are not authentic or just not very good. When people think of Mexican food they think of greasy tortillas slathered in red, canned sauce and greasy cheese but that isn't the case. I hate it when people say that Mexican food is unhealthy. It can be, but I find that what they are calling greasy is actually Tex-Mex. Also, my grandma is about 63 years old and weighs only 105 lbs. When exactly will she get fat? You should've asked her why all American women get fat since the US IS the fattest country.

Clementina said...

Hola, Kathy
Glad you like it. Mi casa es su casa.

jennydraws said...

Clem, You are too cute. You look fabulous in your family picture too. Black leather coat and all. I think I will try out your stew tonight and think of all the silly anorexic woman who are missing out on mexican food.

Clementina said...

Hi Cutie!
Take care of yourself and let me know how your painting is turning out. I can't wait to see it when it is done. Love ya!

Catfish Tales said...

Hi Clementina! I'm coming to you by way of Tess. But your latest comment on her blog caught my eye, as my oldest brother and I were born in Hollywood (Hollywood West Hospital/ used to be La Brea Hospital). But that was many years ago, and I've since immigrated overseas where lifestyles I feel are more down-to-earth.

I also wanted to comment on this fat/thin commentary. Growing up in such an environment where looks are everything they shouldn't be, and having once been a performing artist/model myself, I'd say that in middle age it has taken me a long time to get over the unhealthy brainwashing and bizarre focus on something bound to fade with age. I agree with you and your friends that a focus on health and happiness is the key to a hopefully long and yet definitely happy life. Cheers

Clementina said...

Hola, Catfish Tales!
Thank you for your comment! Fortunately for me, I grew up in a culture that appreciates full figured women. And fortunately for the rest of the world, everyboday (well, almost everybody) is catching up. The madness has to stop. The wellbeing of all our precious girls and young women is at stake. It is time they see in the pages of fashion magazines girls that look just like them.

KarenJ said...

Tell your rude colleague that one of your readers said "I'm not Mexican and I'm fat." You don't need to mention that I love mexican food though now,living in Europe I have very little access to it or even the necessary ingredients. About once every month or two I fake it! I miss living near good, or sometimes even mediocre Mexican restaurants.

Clementina said...

Oh Karen J, you made me laugh out loud (!), but I have too many dear friends of who happen to be of European extraction that I consider family whose feelings I have to consider, so I can't ever bring myself to say that. (But I can certainly think it.)
Thanks for visiting!

old world sunflower said...

Luv, Luv your blog,and caldo de res, I grew up with it and still think it is good old comfort food!!
How rude of that woman, she must really see herself as all that and a bag of chips....Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder, glad you posted this!!

Yvette said...

I just came across your blog thanks to the New Latina article! I'm Yvette from Muy Bueno Cookbook. I’m so excited to "meet you"! I look forward to diving in to your blog! Viva la Comida Mexicana!

Clementina said...

Hola, Yvette
Thank you for visiting my cocinita. I love your blog! Cuidate mujer, y un fuerte abrazo!

Adal said...

Hi there, this is Adal in NY. I wanted to say hi, I really like this post on (Non)fat Mexican Women. I can believe you were asked that?! I mean, let's not generalize. In any case, your recipe is also great. In the picture I really see my grandma's caldo de res. Saludos de Edelman NY. Adal

Clementina said...

Gracias, Adal!
Enjoy the caldo, and save some for your abuelita.

Anonymous said...

You are absolutely right! When I don't call my daughter (who is 17) by her name, I call her either "Gorgeous" or "Fea", and she knows I mean the same thing with each: she will always be beautiful to me. And yes, caldo de res is terrific when made right. I like a spoonful of rice and a spritz of lemon juice in mine. Mhm, good. . .

Clementina said...

Hola, Anonymous!
How about calling her "feyita" [sic?]? It softens the blow. Funny how "fea" sounds so much nicer than its English equivalent. "Fea" [ugly] even sounds pretty.

La Dama said...

Ay, que vieja $£%^&!
we women come in all sizes y colores. quien se creai ella?
mmmm caldo de res.. my mom always makes for my dad even when its boiling hot,lol
gracias por la receta amor.

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Anonymous said...

Clem, our dad said once that Mexican women start off as'chulitas' and end up as 'chuletas'. To this I say: some people really like chuletas.
This is a relief for all us chulita/ chuletas!