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¿Vege-Que? Healthy Eating Week Series

Submitted by on April 10, 2011 – 1:08 pm31 Comments

An Exploration of Healthy Food Choices

vegetarian week tiki tikiHi, I’m Carrie and I’m a Flexitarian.


It means, I eat meat and fish. But only sometimes. And usually not at home, like maybe only 3% of the time, because I do like ham and cheese sandwiches once in a while.

Anyway, growing up Carnivore Cuban and living in the South — home of the infamous Meat & Three — I didn’t ever think this would be me.

But, let me tell you lo que paso: I cooked and ate a pork chop cut from a heritage pig, one that lived and grew outside in the Tennessee hill country.

On this fated night, my husband and I took the first bite of our chops at the same time, looked across the table at each other, our eyes locked and we both said, at the same time: “Oh.My.God!” Simultaneous joy! You know the kind? That chop was nutty and juicy and greasy in the right kind of way. Still memorable.

In that moment, we knew it was the beginning of some changes — good ones.

We immediately stopped buying flavorless grocery store pork, considering that if we were going to eat pork, nothing but that amazing good stuff would do. Then, I started buying locally processed chicken and cut back on the top loin, a favorite indulgence.

The Cuban picadillo is now made with ground soy, the arroz con pollo became arroz con shrimp or tofu.


This week’s Tiki Tiki series — ¿Vege-Que? — is inspired by conversations had with other Latinos on the topic of being vegetarian, flexitarian, vegan and other mostly “unthinkable” non-meat life choices. It’s like most of us believe we’re not supposed to be vegetarian, we’re not supposed to go for veggie fajitas instead of the beef ones because, carajo, soy Latino! It’s culturally insulting, mi’ja, to give up meat. Or, so the general consensus goes.

But, times are changing. And more and more people are moving toward reducing — if not, eliminating — meat from their diets. About 7.3 million Americans are vegetarian; Meatless Mondays recipes are super popular all over the web; and the NYT columnist Mark Bittman has inspired “Vegan until Dinner” believers. Farmer’s markets, CSAs and local meat producers are on the rise.

To begin a conversation about Latinos, vegetarianism, flexitarianism and healthy eating we have collected wonderful essays and recipes that we’ll publish this week on the Tiki Tiki.

The essays are not designed to convince anyone to become a vegetarian only to show it is possible to eat delicious and satisfying non-meat meals, and still honor the spirit and flavor of our Latin culture.

And, I have purposely left out the politics of living meat-free, but we can talk about it in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter, if you like.

Given the obscenely high rates of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in the Latino population, these are the conversations we really should be having.

The Essays

  • Today: This intro essay on being Flexitarian and The ¿Vege-Que? Giveaways post.
  • Tuesday:  Roxanna Buil of The Yuca Diaries writes about the joy of discovering new vegetables and global flavors. Recipe: Spicy Eggplant Szechuan.
  • Wednesday: Lucia Lopez Plunkett, a California psychotherapist, on becoming vegetarian after her 2-year-old daughter was diagnosed with cancer. Recipe: “Te Quiero Dicen las Lentejas”  soup.
  • Thursday: A Tiki Tiki interview with Terry Hope Romero, the author of Viva Vegan, a delicious Latin-inspired collection of recipes. She shares her recipes for Arroz con Seitan, Un-dulce Leche and Seitan, a great meat substitute.
  • Friday: Yvonne Condes of Yvonne in LA cooks delicious gluten-free meals at home. Recipe: Tamales.
  • Saturday:  Daniela Garcia, a writer and publisher of That Mexican Girl, on when your mom owns a Mexican restaurant and you’re a vegetarian. Recipe: Vegetable Quesadillas.
  • Sunday: Links to favorite healthy food sites, recipes, resources and book suggestions. Giveaway winner announced in giveaway post.


grains for flexitarians

My Favorite Grains

On Becoming Flexitarian

So more on my story. About 18 months ago, my husband and I agreed to add more greens to our diet. I bought kale, Swiss chard and bok choy, learned to stir them up as a side dish, mix them with rice, add them to soups. Then, I cooked more with tofu, tempeh and seitan. I started trying new curries, increased our bean servings, started using more grains like farro, millet and quinoa. I searched out new spices and spice mixes. I spent a lot of time searching on 101 Cookbooks, All Recipes and Epicurious for filling, satisifying recipes that had great texture and color.

I found them, cooked them, loved them.

And then one day, we realized we had not bought meat in weeks. And we were happy. And eating well. And satisfied. (And no, none of this applies to the picky 7-year-old.)

Again, it has been about a year-and-a-half. And, the least thing I miss is chicken.

The Joy of Being Flexitarian

  • My grocery bill has shrunk.
  • Grocery shopping takes less time.
  • The Farmer’s Market is a colorful adventure.
  • Dinners are simple: Generally, I just pull some vegetables from the fridge, chop them up, roast or pan cook them, add a grain, maybe throw in some tofu or tempeh, some spices of choice and we’re done.
  • Our meals are much more interesting without meat because the combinations and flavors we come up with are so varied.
  • Grains are easy to cook and can be frozen, cutting down daily dinner prep time.
  • We’re big fans of fish, which is healthy, can be relatively inexpensive and is super easy to cook.
  • I don’t have to give up lechon in Miami, and I don’t have to pass up a taco truck lunch. We also don’t have to be the “difficult” dinner guest with food issues.
  • I feel better, physically and spiritually, though I haven’t lost a pound.

I know this is a crazy idea for a lot of you, but I don’t really believe it when someone says they never could eat without meat on the plate. I was that person once, and a new world or flavor has opened up. I truly have gained, rather than lost, by going Flexitarian.

And for the doubters, let me tell you, crispy seitan con garlicky mojo and a side of Cuban black beans and rice is pretty tremendo awesome.

Veggie Medley with Seitan

Carrie’s Whatever is in the Veg Bin Medley


  • asparagus, however much you want. I used six stalks.
  • cauliflower, however much you want. I used half a head.
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 2 handfuls, baby spinach
  • 3 cloves, garlic. Minced.
  • Seitan, either store-bought or homemade (recipe to come this week).
  • 1 cup grain of choice such as brown rice, basmati, or Israeli/Jerusalem couscous. Pictured above is Trader Joe’s Three Grains Blend (Rice, Barley & Spelt).
  • olive oil
  • Instructions:

    Cook your favorite grain.
    While the asparagus and cauliflower steam for five to seven minutes, place the seitan in a frying pan with a little bit of olive oil. Pan fry until the edges are crispy. Put aside in a warm oven.
    In the same pan, add more olive oil and cook the garlic, bell pepper, onion to desired tenderness. Add spinach and stir until wilted. Add any spices that make you happy.
    Stir the cooked grain, asparagus and cauliflower into your veggie mix. Add the seitan to the pan, or plate it.

    We add Bragg Liquid Aminos and Sriracha sauce at the table.

    Serves 2, depending on how much vegetable and grain you make. And, we make this all the time, but it never is exactly the same twice because we use whatever is available.

    What about you?

    Think you could be a Flexitarian? Are you already a Flexitarian?

    Check out the Giveaways

    Please be sure to read today’s ¿Vege-Que? Giveaways post to enter for some great prizes, including cookware from IMUSA, copies of Viva Vegan!, the e-book Healthy Snacks to Go; and new EatStrong trail mix and bars.

    ***You must comment in the giveaways post and in one essay, such as this one, this week to be entered to win.

    I look forward to our conversation this week, and click the share buttons below this essay to grow the habla habla.

    Share, por favor!


    • [...] luck and spread the word!The EssaysLinks will be added each day:Today: Intro post on the Series and The Joy of Being Flexitarian. Tuesday: Roxanna Buil of The Yuca Diaries writes about the joy of discovering new vegetables and [...]

    • Bren says:

      I’m a complete flexitarian. I don’t eat lechon or todos los mariscos, but I love pollo, carne, most fish and of course veggies—-so whatever I’m in the mood for, I go for! I don’t like to short myself at all. Not happening. There are days, even weeks (well never more than 10 days or so) that I can go w/out meat, but my body will surely let me know! Great series. I’ve already made it over to the YUCA diaries. Looking forward to everyone else’s stories.

    • Naomi says:

      I’m definitely a flexatarian although I’d like to go further veg-ward.
      Naomi´s last [fabulousness] ..Boars Head Giveaway

    • Marcela says:

      I have never ha Seitan so looking forward to learning more of that.

      I would definitely call myself a flexitarian! Although I have a weakness for cheese. Another of my weaknes, pan y tortilla!

      I love this recipe Carrie!
      One that is super easy and that we have on a weekly basis at home is roasted veggies over pasta.

      I cook whole wheat pasta as per the package.
      While pasta is cooking I get a roasting pan and add any veggies I have in the fridge. Cauliflower, green beans, mushrooms,etc and drizzle them with olive oil and add salt and pepper.
      I then mix them with the pasta. And …dinner!!
      The kids are sometimes picky but they love the plain pasta and I always have them pick two veggies from their plate that they HAVE to eat. They can pick whatever two they like and leave the rest. You can also sprinkle cheese on top! There I go with the cheese again!

    • Marcela says:

      Oops! I completely left out the part about roasting the veggies in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes or desired tenderness!!!! (:

    • Tracy says:

      I eat meat at almost every meal but my sister is vegetarian, (in fact, I’m ready to head to my kitchen now to make some special tamales for her.)

      A couple years ago, by chance, I read the book “Eating Animals” by Jonathan Safran Foer… I was so disgusted when I finished reading it I thought for sure I would never eat meat again. That lasted a couple days, (though it still sickens me to think about the images I can’t totally shake from my head.)

      I have incorporated more veggies into meals over the years though – as a result, the kids eat a lot of things other kids won’t and are willing to try new things. I love that… Carlos has also learned to like vegetables, (when I met him, the only vegetables he seemed to eat were the green peas in his Chinese fried rice and the lettuce on his cheeseburgers, which kinda doesn’t count. LOL.)

      Anyway – I don’t have any desire to be a vegetarian but I’m always looking to try new recipes so I look forward to this series! … Saving money at the grocery store is always welcome, too.
      Tracy´s last [fabulousness] ..Patriotism &amp Hot Dogs

    • Tracy says:

      BTW – your widget totally grabbed my last post on my blog about hot dogs. jajajaja… So wrong.
      Tracy´s last [fabulousness] ..Patriotism &amp Hot Dogs

    • Christina GP says:

      One thing I love most about your post is that I’m thinking I may be a flexitarian of sorts. I typically start with an all veggie meal off a menu and if I want a treat, that’s when I go for the red meat. Chicken is boring but fish is fun. Pork is good, but only if I see it being made in a caja china.

      My cooking project, over at La Cocina de Christina, is in serious need of veggies, but alas, that can wait until I’m done with the 629. No veggie’s (ok, hardly hardly any) are in Cocina al Minuto, which explains why veggies and hispanos are like water and oil. If you don’t grow up with them in your house, pero why would you think you’d love them? It takes adjusting.

      So thank you for the receta – and the arroz con tofu sounds divino.

    • Lydia says:

      We are definately flexitarians in my home! I buy meat, usually whatever is on sale-but we don’t use it for every meal. When we do eat meat it’s not the main star and we have gone weeks without eating meat at all. It helps keep our menu from getting too stale and I think it’s a healthier way to live anyway.
      Lydia´s last [fabulousness] ..So Now We’re Growing Pumpkins Y’all

    • Lexi says:

      You’ve inspired me! At the very least to try having one or two vege-que nights a week! I always make the meat the center of the meal. It would do my familia well to make the vegies the star of the plate. :)

    • Grace O'Donnell says:

      I could live on just arroz con frijoles. I never thought of adding tofu or something like that because “its not Cuban” but you have given me something to think about. Thanks

    • I’m a flexitarian! I used to eat tempeh and all that stuff a while back ago…time to start again. Personally, I could eat sushi every day.
      Blanca Stella´s last [fabulousness] ..Feromonas Del Amor En Una Botella

    • I’m married to an Argentinian guy and meat if a big thing for him. I’ve tried to go for a few days without any meats and I can do it but he is not willing to. I like how you started and It gave a push to try it again. Thank you for such a great post! =)
      Maybelline @ Naturalmente Mamá´s last [fabulousness] ..Ganadora del sorteo de Boon Inc

    • lisa renata says:

      I know I could easily become an Flexitarian (I didn’t even know there was such a label), because we do love our veggies around here.

      For the most part our diet consists of mostly organic chicken, organic turkey and wild caught fish, lots of local and home grown veggies and fruits. Red meat treats are left for elsewhere or when the hubby hunts down a deer (yes he hunts and yes we do enjoy venison meat ever so often). But we don’t have meat at every meal. In fact we have gone days without any sort of meat in our meals.

      I am very picky as to what goes in our bodies and try to purchase food that is fresh and organic. We tend to stay away from canned goods (unless it is in our disaster/emergency pack), and I cook mostly all our food from scratch.

      Thanks for the recipe. I will have to try.

    • Uchi says:

      I love your post !! I am not a flexitarian because I really like meat.
      I am an argentinean , so I can not say good bye to BIFE DE CHORIZO.
      My mantra is to enjoy, but not stop thinking about choosing mostly healthy ingredients and balance my diet. :)

      • Carrie says:

        Uchi, I totally agree. If you’re going to eat it all, pick the best of the best.

        When I was in Argentina and Uruguay for a couple of weeks, we called a vegetarian friend after about five days and begged for the name of a restaurant that had vegetables. They sent to a Chinese place!

        Mucho gusto!

    • Jenna says:

      I definitely don’t feel like I have to have meat every day–so I would call our diet ‘flexitarian.’ =) We eat a lot of rice bowls with a medley of stir-fried or sauteed veggies on top, with a couple fried eggs. We hadn’t cooked chicken for weeks and weeks, until this weekend when we were making a big meal for friends, and we didn’t miss it at all!
      Jenna´s last [fabulousness] ..Loving on Uncle Gus

    • Like Tracy, I don’t have any desire of becoming vege-que not only because I really enjoy eating a good piece of steak (preferably a Bife de Chorizo, like Uchi said!!), but also because I believe that the most important thing in diet (and in life, really) is balance. While we eat a lot of meat at home (from beef to fish), we also eat grains, legumes, veggies and fruits all the time.

      I’m not really sure where the misconception comes from (although I’m guessing it has something to do with Caribbean cuisine), but, at least in my country, we have absolutely no problem eating vegetables. In fact, I thank God every time I’m able to find Peruvian asparagus at my local supermarket! I grew up eating salads with a variety of veggies in it, depending on the season. I remember being served a whole cooked artichoke with small bowl of vinegar and oil next to it, so we could dump the leaves in it and then eat its meat. I have to say, though, that when I met my husband, who is Puerto Rican, I noticed he barely ate any veggies and I found it really strange.

      Really looking forward to this series, Carrie, because you never know what you might learn from others.
      Roxana A. Soto´s last [fabulousness] ..Baptisms as a Cultural Tradition

    • Monica says:

      Mira. Sometimes I think I could easily be vegetarian. Because I actually do love healthy foods. My husband does not. Well, I mean that he is the type that has to have meat on his dinner plate. And sometimes I just want to throw my plate out the window and go get a salad. Sabes?

      Love this post and even the recipe.

      Gracias for sharing it!
      Monica´s last [fabulousness] ..Free Winnie the Pooh Coloring Sheets

    • I REALLY enjoyed reading this post, Carrie. Never heard of the term “flexitarian,” but guess what? I now know I am one! The only reason why is because I hate cooking meat…it takes so much time. So, I’m totally happy with my rice, beans and veggies or tostones, etc. Of course, if mami comes around with pernil asado, I’ll totally say yes to that…LOL.

      On a serious note, this is a great conversation because we do need to learn more about other meal options. Eating healthier is, as you said, so much easier. And, if you learn some tricks, you’ll find the right pairing (condiments, etc.) to make it taste delicioso!
      angelica perez´s last [fabulousness] ..La Vida Cotidiana y Fantástica de Una Latina en Venezuela

    • Migdalia says:

      I love your post, it makes me realize how easy is to cook a nice, healthy dinner without any meat or animal products, I am so used to do so that I stopped counting my blessings, LOL. I love to toss green beans in a pan, with a little olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, a well chopped garlic clove, and a little sea salt and I covered it for several minutes until they become “al dente” and enjoyed them with Baked Salmon or just rice and beans!!! Very simple and delicious!!!

    • Silvia says:

      Carrie, love it, I want to be more flexitarian! When I lived in Mexico I use to eat meat 2 or3 times a week, but since a moved to US that number has increased, I will start making a commitment to reduce it again.

    • Jackie says:

      We have gone quasi-meatless, but more for budgetary reasons than anything.

      And now I am craving lechon asado, from your description earlier!

    • Patricia E says:

      We have moved away from the red meats, but still enjoy the poultry. I guess I just need to be a little adventureous and try new veggies like okra and eggplant. I do like the veggies, but I tend to stick the ones I know and that can get kind of boring.

    • Sue Valencia says:

      What a great post Carrie! I will let my MIL know that she can call us flexitarians. Everytime she tells her friends about me and my hubby (her beloved son) she tells them: oh, they´re vegetarians, they only eat fish! LOL! (To her THAT is being vegetarian).
      I feel very lucky to have grown up in a health conscious environment. My dad is a food engineer so before tofu or tempeh where even known in Mexico he started the first production plant there. Unluckily for me, I got to be his guinea pig for many a disguting experiments! Jajaja!
      Anyways, can´t wait to read the rest of yummy recipes so I can expand my menu! Un abrazo!
      Sue Valencia´s last [fabulousness] ..Luna Llena en Libra- operar y co-operar

    • Shana D says:

      I have never heard of a flexitarian but I am totally loving this idea. I do not buy red meat at all anymore & I have substituted all my beef recipes with chicken or fish.

    • [...] out the Vege-Que? Healthy Eating Week Series at the Tiki Tiki blog, great stories, and some yummy veggie and vegan recipes.  Find out what [...]

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