Editor’s Note: This is the third in the series, ¿Vege-Que? — A Week of Healthy Eating, ongoing from April 11 to 17 on the Tiki Tiki. Please visit the first post to learn more about the series and enter for the chance to win some awesome prizes.
Health scare leads to change
My goal in life is to be the most authentic “me” I can be.
What’s that, you ask?
While that goal is one I grapple with daily, becoming a vegetarian was a decision I made effortlessly. It came while trying to gain empowerment during a powerless time in my life. After seeing my daughter, at the age of 2, go through countless procedures and hospitalizations for chemotherapy and radiation to treat cancer, I decided it was time to initiate change by starting with the “wo-man in the mirror,” to quote a famous Jackson.
One challenge was how to make my favorite dishes, the ones my Mami taught me without using meat. The process is, well, still in process, but let me share with you how it’s going so far, a year-and-a-half later.
To begin, I had to drop some of my favorite Mexican recipes and foods, including caldito de pollo, cocido (I love soup!), and anything made with chicken (taquitos, sigh, I am still in mourning).
I also had to forgo going out to eat at some restaurants. I’ve learned that eateries that didn’t offer vegetarian dishes weren’t really places I liked going to in the first place.
Eating Healthy is a Family Focus
Being vegetarian has forced me to place importance on nutrition and healthy choices for my family, which I feel we deserve. These days there are so many healthy options out there, it’s not often I’m put out. Although I don’t impose my vegetarian beliefs on anyone, I do teach my children about the importance of eating healthy every day.
My daughter’s illness coincided with my father’s diagnosis of diabetes and high blood pressure. Therefore, the importance of nutrition became high in my family, and brought my mother and I together to learn new and creative ways to make healthy traditional meals.
As it turns out, traditional Mexican food has many dishes that do not contain meat and are really good for you. I’ve either kept some recipes as is, or tweaked some ingredients to reduce fat or sugar.
Beans are highly respected in our family, and who could argue, my daughter asks almost daily for her tostada (baked) and frijoles (refried without oil or lard) and cheese (organic). Beans are also a nice addition to my tofu scramble with plenty of vegetables all wrapped up in a warm whole wheat tortilla.
Ever heard of nopales? Who knew they are rich in vitamins, fiber and minerals. Since I became a vegetarian, I’ve noticed a difference in how I feel. My doctor shows me my blood work proudly stating: “You can’t even tell you’re a vegetarian.”
Reconnecting With My Roots
Most importantly, becoming a vegetarian was really a process in reconnecting with my family, my cultural roots and my true self. It has been a journey in rediscovering my family’s traditional recipes and contributing my own as well.
The first cooking lesson my mother ever gave me was this one: “Cuando se cocina, se hace las comida con amor.”
She’s right, and it’s a lesson I use universally in many areas in my life. Now, I look forward to eating my meals knowing what I make has my family’s best interest at heart, and oh how delicious! What better way to nurture the soul than through meals created with so much history and love behind them?
I hope you enjoy one of my favorite recipes that nourish both my heart (good source of iron and vitamins) and soul:
Lucia’s “Te Quiero, Dicen las Lentejas” Soup
- Packaged green or brown lentils
- ½ to 1-lb tomatillos
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 1 package soy chorizo (I only use half)
Prepare lentils according to package directions. I add half of a medium onion and two or three cloves of garlic to the water for added flavor.
While the lentils are cooking, clean and wash the tomatillos and quarter them. Rinse the cilantro and add both to a blender with a little boiling water so the ingredients mix well. Puree, set aside.
Sauté the soy chorizo in a pan using non-stick cooking spray or olive oil. I use about half of the soy chorizo but more or less can be used depending on taste. When the lentils are done cooking, add the cilantro and tomatillo to the lentils stirring well. Add soy chorizo and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Add salt to taste.
What about You?
Are you thinking of making dietary and lifestyle chances to improve your health? Your family’s health?
Check out the Giveaways
Please be sure to read the ¿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.
Lucia Lopez Plunkett, PhD., is a bilingual/bicultural psychotherapist from California. Lucia is married with two young children who inspire her every day.