Mexican Fried Rice With Chaya and Ground Pork

Chaya – aka Mexican tree spinach or Mayan spinach – is combined with lean ground pork, black beans, and Mexican herbs in a fried rice dish inspired by Asian fried rice. A healthy fiesta-in-a-bowl, Mexican Fried Rice With Chaya and Ground Pork gets garnished with cotija, avocado, and cilantro for a light and lively weeknight dinner.

Mexican Fried Rice With Chaya and Ground Pork
Old photo May 2016

I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, raw oysters or working for organized crime ‘associates,’ food, for me, has always been an adventure

~~ Anthony Bourdain

👩🏻‍🍳 Tamara Talks – What is Chaya?

Chaya is a large shrub native to the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.  A popular leafy vegetable in Yucatan cuisine, it is similar to spinach but stronger in flavor. Chaya leaves contain cyanogenic glycosides. Before you run the other way, they’re in good company; lima beans, almonds, sorghum, stone fruits, and bamboo shoots also contain cyanogenic glycosides. 

The leaves must be cooked prior to eating. 20 minutes at a low boil is sufficient. The raw leaves contain a toxic substance that is volatized when cooked. Small amounts of the raw leaves are well-tolerated (ie. in juice blends).

Nutrition Profile of Chaya

Nutritional information chaya versus spinach leaves (per 100g serving):

Chaya

Spinach

  • 85% water
  • 5.7 protein (%)
  • .4 fat (%)
  • 1.9 crude fiber (%)
  • 199.4 calcium (mg/100g)
  • 39 phosphorus (mg/100g)
  • 217 potassium (mg/100g)
  • 11.4 iron (mg/100g)
  • 91 % water
  • 3.2 protein (%)
  • .3 fat (%)
  • .9 crude fiber (%)
  • 101.3 calcium (mg/100g)
  • 30 phosphorus (mg/100g)
  • 147 potassium (mg/100g)
  • 5.7 iron (mg/100g)

The levels of Chaya leaf nutrients are two to threefold greater than most edible leafy green vegetables, and like spinach it provides appreciable amounts of several essential mineral macronutrients necessary for human health.

~~ Chaya, A Super Green of the Mayan Diet: Mayan Diet Series Part 1, Dr. J.E. Williams

While not yet widely available in markets, it is easily grown in warmer climates like the southern United States. For more on chaya, see Nutritional and Health Benefits of Tree Spinach.

Mexican Fried Rice With Chaya and Ground Pork

I discovered chaya on a recent excursion with my husband to the McAllen Fireman’s Park Farmers Market. One of the merchant farmers enthusiastically explained how and where the plant grows, and sent us home with a recipes brochure and a bag of lush, healthy-looking chaya leaves.

Given my propensity for cooking with new and unfamiliar ingredients, my “wheels” immediately began spinning. My first thought was to make a Mexican version of dolmades (stuffed grape leaves). The chaya look sturdier than the brine-packed grape leaves I purchase to make dolmades.

Eventually, though, I abandoned the idea of the elaborate and complicated dish in favor of a simple, quick customizeable dish that can be adapted to other leafy greens… Thus, the idea of a Mexican Fried Rice With Chaya and Ground Pork was born.

If you’re looking for more healthy chaya (aka tree spinach) recipes, check out my Low Carb Mexican Cauliflower Rice Bowls, and expect more in the future!

🍚 About This Mexican Fried Rice

Mexican Fried Rice With Chaya and Ground Pork

This dish can be quite simple and quick to prepare, or it can be more elaborate and time consuming. The choice is up to you. On one end of the spectrum, you utilize leftover rice and pre-made red chile sauce. On the other end of the spectrum, you make your own Ancho-Guajillo Chile Sauce and need to cook the rice. 

For the best results when making fried rice, use Chinese-style medium grain rice, jasmine rice, or sushi rice. You can use either white or brown rice. The rice should either be cooked fresh, spread on a tray, and allowed to cool for five minutes, or alternatively transferred to a loosely covered container and refrigerated for at least 12 hours and up to three days.

My preference is to make the chile sauce, although I wouldn’t rule out using a good quality red sauce like Roadrunner Chile Company Hatch New Mexico Red Chile Sauce. If you’re making your own sauce, stem and seed the dried ancho and guajillo chiles, and cover them with boiling water to soften 30 minutes. A quicker alternative (but still homemade) is New Mexico red chile sauce that starts with ground red chile powder.

  • chaya – A good substitute for Mexican tree spinach is spinach or even kale. The spinach can be added and wilted, while the kale will need more cooking time like the chaya.
  • coconut or vegetable oil
  • lean ground pork – Substitute turkey, chicken, bison, beef, even elk if you prefer.
  • onion
  • garlic
  • ground cumin
  • Mexican oregano
  • cooked rice
  • red chile sauce – You can use homemade red chile sauce (New Mexico style), or your favorite prepared red chile sauce. This is a chile sauce rather than a salsa. This Hatch chile sauce is a great option!
  • cooked black beans
  • corn – Frozen, canned, or fresh from the cob are all fine.
  • cilantro

Prepare the chaya (if using) – Clip the stems from the chaya leaves. Cover with water, and boil gently for 20 minutes. Rinse with cold water, drain, and chop. Set aside. While the chaya boils, prep the remaining ingredients, saving garnishes for last.

Prepare the ground pork – Fry the ground pork (or other ground meat) with the onion and garlic, until browned. Add the cumin and Mexican oregano, and stir-fry until fragrant. If the meat is super lean, add a bit of oil to keep it all from sticking. When cooked, scrape mixture into a prep bowl and set aside. Wipe the wok or sauté pan clean.

The finished Mexican fried rice in a skillet alongside garnishes of cotija, cilantro, avocado, lime wedges, red chile sauce.

Finish the fried rice – Heat the remaining oil. Stir-fry the cooked rice. Stir in the red chile sauce until rice is coated. Add the ground meat mixture (or onions and garlic mixture) back into the pan, along with the black beans, corn, chopped chaya (or other greens), and cilantro. Give it all a couple of minutes in the wok or pan on high heat stiring constantly.

To Serve

Divide among 4 plates. Top with preferred garnishes, and enjoy!

💭 Tips

As I mentioned in the post, chaya is not widely available (though I’m hoping it will be eventually!). It must be cooked prior to eating. Simply boil it 20 minutes, rinse, drain, chop. My 1 bunch when cooked yielded about 3/4 cup chopped.

Spinach and baby kale can be substituted with no pre-cooking; kale would benefit from the leaves being boiled for a few minutes prior to being stir-fried.

I use a 90% lean ground pork, but feel free to substitute your favorite ground meat or omit for a healthy vegetarian option (with egg and the black beans and rice, you’re good on protein).

Leftover rice is always best for fried rice. If you make it the day you make the fried rice, be sure it is completely cooled and a bit dry. I lay it out on a baking sheet.

I love, love, love this Ancho-Guajillo Chile Sauce You can substitute your own favorite, but it needs to be a chile sauce rather than a salsa.

Have fun with the garnishes. You might do scrambled and sliced egg in the same way you would for Asian fried rice. A runny poached or fried egg would also be delicious, and a great way to bump up the protein for a vegetarian main dish!

I like to use a good, heavy wok. A large saute pan is fine. A non-stick surface will make it easier.

The prep and cook times vary according to whether or not you’re using chaya, whether you’re using leftover rice or not, etc. Rice takes about 20 minutes, and you can make it while the chaya cooks.

🥬 Substitutions

Mexican Fried Rice With Chaya and Ground Pork is extremely versatile. Omit the ground meat, and top it with scrambled and sliced egg (as you do for Asian fried rice)… or better yet, top it with a runny poached egg! My favorite   😀

You may prefer ground beef, chicken, or turkey to the pork. You can vary the vegetables and/or the beans as well. I can also vouch for the fact that it is delicious for breakfast! Leftovers are easily rejuvenated with a quick sauté in a non-stick pan. This is one healthy Mexican one-pot dish you’ve simply got to try!

If you’re not convinced on the chaya, but want to make the recipe, spinach or baby kale can go in at the end. If using more mature, sturdier greens, blanch them first.

Mexican fried rice with chaya and pork in a white plate with a cloth napkin and a Scotch ale.
Old photo 2016

🍻 Pairing Suggestions

By the way, the fried rice was really good with a dark beer – this is a Real Ale Scotch Ale. Fantástico! I think the dish stands up well to a full-bodied dark beer like a stout or porter too…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this (probably) unfamiliar ingredient…

Signature in red and green with chiles and limes. Healthyish Latin cuisine.
Yield: 4 servings

Mexican Fried Rice With Chaya and Ground Pork

A white bowl of Mexican fried rice with chaya and ground pork topped with cotija, cilantro, and avocado on a burlap background.

This Mexican fried rice is inspired by Asian fried rice. This flavor-packed one-dish meal is stir-fried with red chile sauce, cumin, Mexican oregano, black beans, corn, and ground pork. It then gets topped with your favorite fresh garnishes like cotija, avocado, cilantro, and lime!

Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 35 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 to 2 bundles chaya , (see notes)
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil, divided use
  • 1 pound lean ground pork, (see notes)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
  • 4 cups cooked rice, (see notes)
  • 2 tablespoons red chile sauce, (see notes)
  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped

Suggested Garnishes

  • lime wedges
  • cilantro
  • scallions
  • red chile sauce, (see notes)
  • avocado
  • crumbled cotija
  • egg , (see notes)

Instructions

  1. Clip the stems from the chaya leaves. Cover with water, and boil gently for 20 minutes. Rinse with cold water, drain, and chop. Set aside.
  2. While chaya leaves boil, prep the ingredients for the fried rice and the garnishes.
  3. Fry the ground pork (or other ground meat) with the onion and garlic, until thoroughly browned. Add the cumin and Mexican oregano, and stir-fry and addition minute or two until fragrant. If the meat is super lean, add a bit of oil to keep it all from sticking. If making it vegetarian, omit the meat, and fry the onion, garlic, and spices in a bit of oil. When cooked, scrape mixture into a prep bowl and set aside.
  4. Wipe the wok or saute pan clean. Heat the remaining oil. Stir-fry half the rice. Stir in the red chile sauce until rice is coated.
  5. Add the ground meat mixture (or onions and garlic mixture) back into the pan, along with the black beans, corn, chopped chaya (or other greens), and cilantro. Give it all a couple of minutes in the wok or pan on high heat stiring constantly.

To Serve

  1. Divide among 4 plates. Top with preferred garnishes, and enjoy!

Notes

As I mentioned in the post, chaya is not widely available (though I'm hoping it will be eventually!). It must be cooked prior to eating. Simply boil it 20 minutes, rinse, drain, chop. My 1 bunch when cooked yielded about 3/4 cup chopped. Spinach can be substituted with no pre-cooking; kale would benefit from the leaves being boiled for a few minutes prior to being stir-fried. Baby kale and chard would also be good options.

I use a 90% lean ground pork, but feel free to substitute your favorite ground meat or omit for a healthy vegetarian option (with egg and the black beans and rice, you're good on protein).

See the post for additional information on frying rice. You can use leftover rice or freshly made rice.

I love, love, love this Ancho-Guajillo Chile Sauce You can substitute your own favorite, but it needs to be a chile sauce rather than a salsa.

Have fun with the garnishes. You might do scrambled and sliced egg in the same way you would for Asian fried rice. A runny poached or fried egg would also be delicious, and a great way to bump up the protein for a vegetarian main dish!

I like to use a good, heavy wok. A large saute pan is fine. A non-stick surface will make it easier.

The prep and cook times vary according to whether or not you're using chaya, whether you're using leftover rice or not, etc. Rice takes about 20 minutes, and you can make it while the chaya cooks.

Macronutrients are an approximation only from MyFitnessPal.com, and do not include garnishes.

Nutrition Information:

Yield:

4

Serving Size:

4 Servings

Amount Per Serving: Calories: 422Total Fat: 11gCarbohydrates: 47gProtein: 32g

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Share this post!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

16 Comments

  1. Thank you very much i’ve been looking for some way to use the Mayan spinach that grows in my yard! Almost impossible to stop it growing, a friend gave me one plant 15 years ago and I think we have 50 at least. All you have to do to get a new plant is cut the top off an old one the old one will grow and so will the top!

    1. I’m so jealous Timothy! I love chaya, and can only get it in McAllen if I go to the (very hot) farmers market. This recipe really needs updating, but I do think it’s good. Thanks for taking time to comment!

  2. What a lovely recipe 🙂 I’m pretty sure I can’t buy chaya in Slovenia, but will try and substitute with spinach from my garden. Can’t wait to make it!

    1. I guess we’re like-minded foodies! I love discovering new ingredients, and it makes me crazy if I’m reading up on one and can’t get it… Good luck with your quest Claudia!

  3. I had never heard of Chaya before, I love that it packed with so much nutrition! Thanks for the tip in your notes about adding egg to this dish, I bet a runny, fried egg would be delicious with this Mexican fried rice!

  4. I love a little danger in my cooking–even if the danger is totally in my head. 😉 This sounds like such an interesting ingredient to cook with. I wonder if I could get my hands on some here in SoCal. I will have to look! The dish itself looks delish and I love those big chunks of avocado and cotija in there.

    1. I am guessing you can find it in southern California (I’m a native 🙂 ) if not in the grocery stores, in farmers markets. It’s so easy to grow, I’m thinking of getting a cutting and growing it in a pot in my back yard! Thanks Tracy!