Can I still make good Mexican food without nightshades?
March 16, 2015 1:47 AM   Subscribe

I've been directed by my naturopath to avoid nightshades (tomatoes, peppers, chilies, and others) as a way to improve my eczema. It has been helping so far, but I'm finding I really, really miss Mexican food. I'm talking about the standard stuff: salsa, tacos, fajitas, chilli, YUM. Do you know of any good nightshade substitutes that could be used in these dishes? Or any alternative recipes for these items that do not contain the forbidden foods?
posted by figaro to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Gosh, this sounds really difficult. I totally understand really missing Mexican food. I'm not completely sure but I think cumin isn't a nightshade, right? Cumin is a key flavor component to Mexican food and what really takes it from "oh you put some chili in this" to "hey tacos!" Garlic is also important, and there's an herb that's commonly called Mexican oregano that will round it all out. Actually, that Penzeys page has a pretty good guacamole recipe that doesn't look like it has nightshades if you leave out the cayenne, right?

Do you like cilantro? Try blending cilantro, garlic, onions, and some toasted cumin for a green salsa. Traditionally I would also put a pepper in there and some roasted tomatillos but there's still a lot of good flavor without them. Toss some slivered cabbage in lime, put it on a tortilla with some poached fish and your sauce and you've got fish tacos.

Fajitas you could maybe do mushrooms and zucchini and corn in with your onions and meat instead of peppers, though it won't be the same. Try to focus on tasty instead of substitutions and I think you'll be happier with your results. Get (or make!) the best tortillas you can find. A good tortilla will make up for a lot, like wonderful bread can make or break a mediocre sandwich.

A while back there was a trend for watermelon salsa instead of tomato salsa. I'm not sure how well that would work without a pepper but there's plenty of recipes for them to try out. I thought they were especially good on pork.

This sounds like a challenge. I would look into picking up some serious cook books that break down various regions and cooking traditions of Mexican (and US Mexican) cuisine and really think through what flavors, textures, and forms you really crave. For example, if what you're really missing is Tex-Mex, you're in more luck, because I'm pretty sure queso and sour cream chicken enchiladas involve very few nightshades at all.
posted by Mizu at 2:20 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

What about cooked nightshades? I also have to avoid raw tomatoes, peppers, chilies etc but I seem to get a free pass with cooked and non-sulfurous dried ingredients, such as freshly roasted peppers. Another alternative is to use pear and apple, chopped, with lemon juice, onion, cilantro, and trying out other fruits like mango or melon to make salsas.
posted by parmanparman at 2:21 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Pineapple can give a lot the acid zing of tomato and makes a reasonable substitute where its sweetness is not a problem. Pineapple, red onion, and lime makes a nice salsa. Also, fire-roasted corn makes things taste "Mexican" to me. A quesadilla of Monterey jack and fire-roasted corn, with pineapple salsa and some nightshade-free guacamole would be quite tasty.
posted by apparently at 3:32 AM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Cook your meat/beans with cumin, garlic and smoky flavour - either liquid smoke or add some bits of smoked ham hock or similar. Salsa of diced cucumber, avocado and lime. You can add coriander (cilantro) if you like it (I don’t and it's fine without) or parsley. Fish tacos with a mango, red onion and corn salsa. I would be experimenting with other tart fruits that could match with savoury like pineapple, cranberry, raspberry - but this is hypothetical, I haven't actually tried. But if it's the heat of the peppers you miss, sorry - don't know of any substitutes for that.
posted by Athanassiel at 3:56 AM on March 16, 2015 [3 favorites]

Try making salsa with peaches? (Or you might even be able to buy it). It will be much sweeter than tomato salsa but texturally it's sort of similar. Don't know what you do for heat though... artificial capsaicin?
posted by mskyle at 4:06 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Beans and rice, with plenty of cumin, maybe substitute black pepper and mustard powder? (also, here's an link about someone cooking with pepper allergies)

A lot of the food (as we see it in the US) is very meat-based; go to a burrito bar and they'll fill up your tortilla with everything as you point at it, and you can make a reasonable meal just telling them nothing with chilis or tomato. It won't be spicy, though, so that takes some of the fun out.
posted by aimedwander at 5:03 AM on March 16, 2015

Coriander! Along with cumin and garlic, coriander will get you pretty far.
posted by alms at 5:22 AM on March 16, 2015

I make a widely acclaimed black bean dish with mushrooms, onion, liquid smoke, cumin, ground coriander and oregano. Often I cheat and throw in some bbq sauce at the end, but really it's just a bit of sweetness so you could just add a spoonful of sugar. I use this as a filling for burritos and tacos. It's unlikely to be anything like authentic Mexican food (I live in Australia and have never been to Mexico) but it is tasty, and could easily be nightshade free.
posted by Cheese Monster at 5:25 AM on March 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I made tacos last week and substituted mandarin oranges for the tomatoes. It worked surprisingly well.
posted by COD at 5:29 AM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Cheese Monster's beans with a good glug of balsamic vinegar instead of BBQ sauce would also work. Balsamic is amazing, it makes things rich and almost meaty. Still not spicy but yum!
posted by Athanassiel at 6:11 AM on March 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Sweet potato and black beans seasoned with cumin is a really delicious burrito or quesadilla filling. If you combined that with some fresh mango salsa (I use mango, cucumber, cilantro, red onion, and lime juice) then that would probably satisfy your craving.
posted by gatorae at 6:11 AM on March 16, 2015 [6 favorites]

It doesn't directly answer your question, but there is zero scientific evidence that avoiding nightshades treats eczema* (or that any herbal supplement treats eczema, according to a 2012 Cochrane Review on the subject). Of course, avoiding nightshades is unlikely to hurt you, but if you used evidence-based medical therapies for eczema, it would also solve your Mexican food problem!

* source - Cochrane review on dietary avoidances with eczema.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 6:48 AM on March 16, 2015 [31 favorites]

Many fresh fruits make a wonderful salsa diced up with onion, garlic, cilantro and lime. Green apples and mangoes now; stone fruit in the summer.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:01 AM on March 16, 2015

Mmmm, calabacitas (without the green chiles.)
posted by Squeak Attack at 8:11 AM on March 16, 2015

First, do a test to make sure you have to do this. Absolutely don't eat anything with nightshade for two weeks. A month would be better. Then eat something very nightshady and see if the eczema gets worse.

I can't eat nightshades because they make my joints hurt (self-tested many times). I usually can eat french fries and I wonder if it is something about them being deep fried. (neutralizing the offending toxin?) Last week I baked frozen steak fries and I hurt for a week. Now I wonder if the frozen fries were either made from potatoes that were green (more toxins) or baking did not neutralize the toxins like frying. So my advice is that if you find out you really are sensitive try cooking the hell out of a test batch of Mexican food and see if that works.
posted by cda at 8:38 AM on March 16, 2015

I don't eat nightshades (except potatoes). Here is what I eat at Mexican restaurants:

-Guacamole (recipe: avocado, onion, cilantro, lime/lemon juice, salt & pepper)
-Tacos (meat, onion, sour cream or cheese, cilantro)
-Fajitas (just don't eat the peppers that are usually mixed in with the meat & onions)
-Burritos (make sure there's no salsa)
posted by karbonokapi at 11:51 AM on March 16, 2015

Fresh ginger can add a bit of a tartness (tomato) and a zing (kinda like chili pepper).
posted by Neekee at 4:10 PM on March 16, 2015

Oh, just thought - it's a completely different flavour to chilli heat, but if you really want eye-catching, try wasabi.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:05 PM on March 16, 2015

Eye-watering, not catching. Stupid auto-correct.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:06 PM on March 16, 2015

Many of my nightshade-intolerant friends make what they call "nomato sauce." It looks like there are a few recipes out there, so google around and see which one sounds appealing to you. They tend to be focused on making it as a pasta sauce, but you could tweak the seasonings a bit to make it more Mexican!

You can also buy a bottled version online, and if you happen to live in the SF Bay Area, Mission: Heirloom in Berkeley has their own version, which you can have delivered to your doorstep by Good Eggs.
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:25 PM on March 16, 2015

I, too, avoid nightshade for various inflammatory conditions, but it's all part of a greater plan of avoiding things that make me break out in a rash/joints get filled with broken glass. Once you are aware of your sensitivities and your system has generally calmed down, you may find that you can occasionally treat yourself without causing a major flare-up.

Tomatoes may be particularly hard on your skin because they are pretty acidic, so any you get on your hands/face (if that's where your eczema is) might also be causing a topical reaction? You could try using the tomato-y thing more as a condiment than an entree--for example, I do a few spoonfuls of extra-spicy chili over brown rice with sour cream, and don't usually suffer, whereas a bowl of chili would have me praying for death.
posted by sarahkeebs at 9:13 PM on March 16, 2015

I avoid Nightshades due to psoriatic arthritis and have had good success, at least with the pain and arthritic symptoms. The psoriasis component has been more intractable, but, to essentially be free from the pain for going on thirty years now has been fantastic. Nightshades do cause my psoriasis to flare though - it's remarkable how quickly and to see the reddening brighten right up. Takes 48-72 hours to return to "normal."

When younger I eliminated nightshades which are fairly ubiquitous in our diets - "spices," paprika, garden pepper (hot peppers) and their "oleoresin components" in colorings and flavorings, potato starches in soups, all the way to vitamins - vitamin C with green pepper extracts as ingredients. The main nightshades are potatoes (white, Irish type, I substitute Okinawan or Japanese sweet potatoes - drier with texture more like white potatoes), garden peppers (green, hot, paprika, chili), tomatoes (tomatillos), egg plant and tobacco.

A few years I bought the "Arthritis-free cooking: There are no nightshades in this cookbook!" from Norma Childers No Nightshade Foundation and have finally been using it. It's available through Amazon or likely can be ordered through a bookstore.

It's a bit funky but I really missed chili con carne and have made many pots with the recipe in that cookbook and it's delicious. When I say funky, the cookbook mostly substitutes carrot or pumpkin and the canned pumpkin based "chili" is great. I've made excellent lasagne.

Give that a try; recipes for Mexican, Italian, etc dishes.

posted by WinstonJulia at 1:48 AM on May 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

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